PHILADELPHIA - Celtics forward Paul Pierce fondly remembers how his then-struggling team played the role of spoiler last season by winning a road game against the eventual NBA champion Spurs. Now, in just a short time, the Celtics have flipped roles to become an elite team with a bull's-eye on its back.
And by the looks of the Celtics' 113-103 win against the struggling Philadelphia 76ers last night at
"We haven't been in this position," Pierce said. "I don't think any of us have been in this position. We're learning each and every night. We're seeing how teams are coming out [motivated], even in the warm-ups."
Boston improved to an NBA-best 15-2, is 6-2 on the road, and has won four straight. Kevin Garnett scored a team-high 22 points and Pierce had a double-double of 19 points and 12 assists. Boston's bench scored 46 points, including 32 points and seven 3-pointers from Eddie House and James Posey.
"Right now, our big question mark is consistency," Garnett said. "Tonight was a great story of that."
The Sixers (5-13) shot 55.7 percent from the field, which is a team season high and an opponents' high against Boston. Philadelphia had two players score more than 20 in Andre Miller (26 points, 12 assists) and Andre Iguodala (24 points). Boston entered tops in the NBA in opponents' points per game and field goal percentage.
"It doesn't matter if the game is against the best or worst team in the league," Iguodala said. "We want to come out and win the game."
Said Pierce: "They were getting easy baskets. We were able to slow them down in the second half."
The Sixers have the worst record in the Atlantic Division. The atmosphere was sleepy, with many seats empty. And the Sixers were playing their first game with a new president and general manager in Ed Stefanski after president and GM Billy King was fired Tuesday.
"Guys are motivated when a new guy is in town because they want to show him they can do some things," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said.
The Sixers made 14 of 19 shots to shoot 73.7 percent from the field and didn't have a turnover as they completed the first quarter with a 32-26 lead. Philadelphia made eight straight field goals in the first from the 7:12 mark until there were 31.1 seconds left. Although the Celtics outscored Philadelphia, 26-25, in the second quarter, they were still down, 57-52, at halftime.
Philadelphia was 1 point shy of tying a season high for a Celtics opponent in the first half and scored a team season high for a half. The Sixers shot 60 percent in the first half, while Boston shot 51.2. Miller had 19 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds in the first half, while Iguodala added 14 points.
"We got their best," said Celtics guard Ray Allen, who scored 12 points. "They made shots over the top."
And when the Celtics got into the locker room, Rivers had some choice motivational words for his underachieving team, including ripping point guards Rajon Rondo and House for Miller's play.
"It wasn't pretty," Garnett said. "Doc, that's what I love about him, he's not afraid to get in your [tail]. He's not afraid to tell you that you're messing up. He's not afraid of challenging guys and letting us know that this is what needs to be done. And we respond.
"And I love it. I love the fact that he's not nonchalant. He doesn't care who you are, what the facts are in this league. He respects everybody, but he knows when we are not playing to our capabilities and he came in and got us going a little bit. It was good."
The Celtics opened the third quarter with a 5-0 run to tie the game at 57 on an Allen 3-pointer at the 10:26 mark. Pierce scored 10 points in the third as Boston outscored the Sixers, 31-23, to take an 83-80 lead.
"Sometimes we make it hard on ourselves," Garnett said. "But in the second, we got a little more relaxed, poised, and ran our stuff."
The Celtics used a 12-2 run, including a trey by Posey and two by House, to take a 95-88 lead with 7:03 left. A Tony Allen lay-in gave Boston a 100-90 lead with 5:19 remaining. The motivated Sixers couldn't any closer than 6 the rest of the way.
"It was a good game for the first 45 minutes," Miller said. "We had a few lapses on defense. But those guys shot the 3-point shot. It was a good effort. We defended well, but they had the big shots."
Marc J. Spears can be reached at email@example.com.