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CELTICS 110, 76ERS 80

Celtics deep-six 76ers

Six-game skid is halted as offense finally gets rolling

PHILADELPHIA -- Statistically, it was the Celtics' biggest win of the season. Psychologically, the same could also be said.

Interim head coach John Carroll earned his first victory and Boston snapped a six-game losing streak in resounding fashion last night. The Celtics did more than defeat the Sixers, 110-80, at the Wachovia Center, they dismantled them. Boston used a combination of offensive efficiency (53 percent shooting), up-tempo basketball (24 fast-break points), active defense (17 steals), and quarter-to-quarter consistency.

The Celtics admitted they have rarely played such a well-executed game this season. They followed the game plan laid out by Carroll and never relented, never suffered any of the mental lapses that have cost them games recently.

"It wasn't just that it was [my] first win," said Carroll. "It was the quality of the game. I just enjoyed watching our guys play basketball the way I had hoped they could play over the last week or so. They finally put it together tonight and didn't look back once they did.

"We had a game plan going in. It was basically to shut down the paint and not let the ball get to the rim. We were wonderful in terms of our hands, our activeness, and our deflections. We were able to not only know what the game plan was, but actually carry it out."

The night began with great promise for the Celtics as they made their first eight field goal attempts and built a 17-point (24-7) advantage with 6 minutes 14 seconds remaining in the first quarter. Boston (23-29) experienced a scoring lull after its opening run, but overall, its offense did not disappoint. Shooting 55 percent in the first half, the Celtics entered the break ahead, 59-39.

The Celtics' ability to put points on the board in bulk helped them withstand a 16-3 run that helped the Sixers close within 4 points (27-23) late in the opening quarter. A few minutes into the second, the Sixers briefly threatened to cut the Celtics' lead to single digits. But Ricky Davis came through with a pair of midrange jumpers followed by a 3-pointer from Paul Pierce as Boston began an 18-6 run.

Pierce (35 points) capped the run with another 3-pointer, establishing a 59-37 Boston advantage 35.1 seconds before halftime. The 59 points scored by the Celtics represented a season high for a Sixers opponent in any half.

"It was the first-quarter run that really set the tone," said Davis, who scored 20 points in 28 minutes off the bench. "Guys off the bench are playing hard. We know how to win. We've had that taste in our mouth. We've been working hard in practice and waiting for the ball to fall our way."

Pierce and the Celtics' bench proved too much for the Sixers, who committed a season-high 25 turnovers. Turning in his best offensive performance in recent weeks, Pierce finished 10 for 18 from the field. With major contributions from Walter McCarty (16 points, 9 rebounds), Marcus Banks (8 points plus tough defense on Allen Iverson), and Davis, the Boston bench outscored Philadelphia's, 50-24.

Boston held Philadelphia to 38 percent from the floor, allowing only Glenn Robinson to find any kind of scoring rhythm. But that happened only in the first half when he scored 17 of his 19 points. Iverson went 5 for 20 from the floor with Mike James and Banks drawing the defensive assignment and deserving much of the credit for The Answer's ineffectiveness. It was clearly an atypical night for Iverson as he missed a layup, an open 19-footer, and a free throw in succession in the closing minutes of the second quarter. Philadelphia is 1-9 when Iverson scores fewer than 20 points.

"That was the plan, to try and get some momentum going after the last game [a 96-73 win over the Lakers Thursday], but [the Celtics] just came right out and jumped right on us, and we were never able to recover," said Iverson, whose Sixers suffered their worst defeat of the season after their biggest victory. "I don't want to say that we're taking them lightly, because we know that we need every game to try to get into the playoffs. We've already dug a hole for ourselves and we are just trying to get up out of it."

The Celtics can relate. With the win, Boston hangs on to eighth place in the Eastern Conference. Oddly enough, the Celtics may be able to make up ground as they stay on the road for most of February.

The victory again highlighted Boston's ability to play better away from the FleetCenter. The Celtics are 11-17 at home and (12-12) on the road. They heard plenty of boos last night, but this time they were directed at their opponent. The sellout crowd let Iverson and Co. know how disappointed they were with the home team's performance, especially as the deficit grew in the second half. The Celtics led by as many as 33 points late in the final quarter.

"It was a big win for us," said Pierce. "For one, it keeps us in the playoff race and takes us off the slide. I'm just happy the guys stuck with it. We kept our concentration and didn't get down after the last couple of games that we felt we should have won. Hopefully, we can build off this win."

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