Celtics fight back to stave off Sixers, 99-82


Celtics fight back to stave off Sixers, 99-82

By A.Sherrod Blakely

BOSTON Uh-oh. Here we go again.

The Boston Celtics' double-digit lead in the third quarter was trimmed to just a handful of points.

And then, they did something we haven't seen them do much of lately when put in that predicament -- fight back.

The lead was soon pushed back to double digits as the Celtics steadily pulled away for a 99-82 win over Philadelphia Tuesday night.

We've seen the Celtics (54-23) deliver some masterful performances this season, with Tuesday's win ranking among their more complete performances.

"We ran up against a team that played probably as well as they've played in a long time," said Sixers coach Doug Collins.

Although the final score doesn't speak to how close the game was for most of the night, there was little doubt about which team was better.

And while much of the talk leading up to the game centered around it being a playoff preview - if the players were today, these two would meet in the first round - Celtics coach Doc Rivers didn't see his team's win being any kind of statement-like victory.

"Not at all," Rivers said. "I just think we won today, and they lost, and they're going to watch film and we're going to watch film. But it's a good win."

Especially when you consider the second-half slump that has engulfed this team far too many times lately, was never an issue.

In the third quarter, a jumper by Kevin Garnett gave the Celtics a 63-50 lead, their largest of the game at that time.

The Sixers responded by scoring 10 of the next 11 points to cut Boston's lead to 64-60.

Lately, that was the kind of run that set up an even bigger run by Boston's opponents.

But rather than continue to slump, the Celtics surged ahead by closing out the quarter with an 11-5 run to take a 75-65 lead into the fourth.

"It was nice, and we did it while subbing," said Rivers. "So to me that was even more important."

Paul Pierce, who had 18 points - all coming after the first quarter - echoed similar sentiments about the Celtics' strong play to close out the third quarter.

"We had a better sense of urgency, coming out of that time-out with 3:59 to play in the third," Pierce said. "The last couple games, we built up 10-point leads and teams got right back in to it. We did a better job of holding the lead, and being a little bit more solid."

Fueling Boston's strong play was Rajon Rondo, who continues to play at a level we haven't seen since the start of the season when he was among the top players in the NBA.

On Tuesday, he had a near double-double of 12 points and nine assists by halftime before finishing with 16 points and 13 assists for his 30th double-double this season.

"He was just aggressive, attacking and shooting," Rivers said. "You can see, he's getting himself ready for the playoffs."

And it wasn't just his scoring that gave the Sixers problems.

After Sixers point guard Jrue Holiday had 11 points in the first quarter, Rondo was part of a Celtics defense that kept him scoreless for the rest of the game.

For the game, Boston limited the Sixers to just 39.3 percent shooting, which included just 31.8 percent in the fourth.

"It started with Rondo," said Kevin Garnett, referring to Boston's strong play defensively. "He started to put pressure on the ball and I thought it just trickled down. I thought when we needed to get stops we got stops. multiple stops. After that, it was pretty much over."

And so now the Celtics move on to where they'll face the Chicago Bulls, yet another opponent that they might see at some point in the postseason.

Chances are at some point in that game, the Celtics will be have a lead and have it challenged by the Bulls who sit atop the Eastern Conference standings.

But Boston comes into that game off a night when as the game got tight, for a change, they didn't.

"Hopefully we can play a lot more games like this," Pierce said. "Just try to finish off the season on a good note."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached atsblakely@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Horford-Celtics partnership gives both stability, chance to win


Horford-Celtics partnership gives both stability, chance to win

BOSTON –  This is not where Al Horford thought he would be right now.
Back in May, the Atlanta Hawks had just been swept out of the playoffs by the soon-to-be NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
Disappointed with the outcome obviously, Horford was a free agent-to-be who was confident that he would be back in Atlanta and the Hawks would retool by adding to their core group which he was a major part of, and they would be back to making another run at it this season.
First there was the draft night trade of point guard Jeff Teague to the Indiana Pacers. 
And during Horford's negotiations with the Hawks in July, they were also negotiating with Dwight Howard and ultimately signed the Atlanta native to a three-year, $70.5 million contract. 
Before the Howard deal was complete, the Celtics had already made a strong impression on Horford during their presentation to him. 
So the choice was pretty clear.
Return to Atlanta and potentially have a major logjam up front with himself, Howard and Paul Millsap, or join a Celtics team that’s on the rise where his five-tool skillset – passing, rebounding, defending, scoring and making those around him better – could be put to great use on a team that’s clearly on the rise. 
Horford chose the latter, giving both himself and the Celtics exactly what they wanted – stability and a chance to win at the highest of levels.
The first shot to see how this basketball marriage looks on the floor will be tonight when the Celtics kick off the 2016-2017 season at the TD Garden against the Brooklyn Nets. 
The preseason isn’t the best indicator of what’s on the horizon now that games count, but Horford’s presence was undeniable.
Boston’s starters which includes Horford, Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and Amir Johnson, each finished with a positive, double-digit plus/minus in the preseason. 
“He just makes the game so much easier for all of us,” Johnson told CSNNE.com. “He can do so many things out there at both ends of the floor. He’s going to be big for us this season.”
And his impact can be felt both on the floor and inside the locker room, similar to what he brought to the Atlanta Hawks.
“With the way that I go about it is, I’m trying to win,” Horford told CSNNE.com. “I’m gonna work, put in my work, try to help guys get better not only on the court but off the court as well. That’s how I carry myself.”
 And it is that approach to the game that has made his transition to the Celtics a relatively seamless one. 
Horford holds many fond memories of his time in Atlanta, a place that will always be near and dear to his heart. 
But he’s a Celtic now, coming in with the same single-minded focus that drives this organization to continue pursuing the only thing that truly matters to them – an NBA title. 
"Even though I’m leaving a lot behind, as a player you always want to be in the best position you can,” Horford said. “I felt for me being on this team would put me in a position to be able to contend and win an NBA championship. That’s my ultimate goal.”

Rozier's confidence, hard work earning him more minutes in Celtics rotation


Rozier's confidence, hard work earning him more minutes in Celtics rotation

BOSTON – You’ll have to pardon Terry Rozier if he doesn’t have that deer-in-the-headlights look about him when he takes to the floor tonight for what should be the first of many meaningful stretches of playing time.
You see, being harassed with the defensive pressure of Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart while trying to become a pest to Isaiah Thomas (which I’m told Rozier is frequently in practice), has instilled in Rozier the kind of confidence that’s not easily shaken.
That’s one of the main reasons why the Celtics aren’t freaking out about the departure of Evan Turner to Portland this offseason and more recently the sprained left ankle injury to Marcus Smart that’ll keep him out for a few games.
When it comes to filling those two voids, all eyes will be on Rozier.
“When somebody’s hurt, the next guy has to step up,” Thomas said. “Terry has shown he’s ready for that opportunity. He’s worked very hard this summer. I’m proud of him. I’ve been in that position before. He’s been waiting for that opportunity. He’s ready.”
Rozier had an impressive run during summer league as Boston’s best player. And in training camp, he hasn’t let up in being one of the standout performers.
It has led to the second-year guard being exactly where he thought his hard work in the offseason would take him to, and that’s a prominent spot in the Celtics’ rotation.
And in doing so, Rozier knows it’ll likely mean taking some minutes from his veteran teammates like Isaiah Thomas who he credits for always being there to help him grow as a player.
“I’m trying to get better, but I want to play too,” Rozier told CSNNE.com. “Getting his (Thomas’) minutes, anybody’s minutes, I’m going for it. But I know he’s not going to lighten up and make it easy for me. I know that. I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
It certainly looks like it for Rozier who has shown growth in just about every phase of his game since he was selected by Boston with the 16th overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft.
There were many who questioned Danny Ainge’s decision to draft a guard so high when he already had Thomas, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart in the fold.
But Rozier has shown the promise that Ainge saw in him coming out of Louisville.

Now it’s just a matter of Rozier getting the kind of minutes and producing, that will ultimately validate the trust and faith Ainge and his coaching staff showed in selecting Rozier.
For Rozier, not being looked upon all that favorably is just par for the course when it comes to his basketball career.
“I’ve been doubted all my life,” Rozier said. “It ain’t hurt me. I always tell myself, ‘they’re gonna fall in love with me because I play hard and they’re gonna fall in love with my intensity level. People didn’t know who I was when I came here; that’s fine. They’ll fall in love with me and my game sooner or later.”