Celtics 113, 76ers 110

Net asset

Effort not perfect but Pierce, Celtics add to win column

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / November 26, 2009

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Things are not going quite as the Celtics envisioned. But they are adjusting to circumstances, improvising when unexpected situations occur.

Last night, the Celtics did some role-switching. Rajon Rondo provided a key, last-second jumper and Paul Pierce the clinching defensive stops as they took a 113-110 win over the Philadelphia 76ers at TD Garden.

Rondo has hardly established himself as a perimeter threat and has converted only four free throws this season. But, with the result on the line, he hit a contested, fadeaway 15-footer at the shot-clock buzzer.

That shot gave the Celtics, who host Toronto tomorrow, a 109-105 lead with 9.6 seconds remaining. And that possession was set up as Pierce drew a charge from Andre Iguodala with 34.3 seconds remaining.

Then, Pierce made certain the Sixers would not have a chance for a tying 3-pointer in the closing seconds, putting Jason Kapono on the foul line with 1.4 seconds on the clock.

Not that Pierce ignored his other responsibilities, the captain scoring 27 points, inspiring his teammates, and going the entire second half.

“He’s been the MVP, to me,’’ coach Doc Rivers said. “Not only just with his play but all over. He was on guys in the second quarter and then halftime, about our play. There’s the defensive urgency, getting out on the shots. Stop making excuses. He’s doing everything you ask him to do. He’s guarding guys, he’s rebounding, he’s making big shots, he’s taking charges. I mean, I don’t know what else. He can cook Thanksgiving dinner for someone and then he’ll be doing it all. He’s been terrific.’’

But the Celtics’ inconsistency in the game symbolized their recent struggles.

Earlier in the season, the Celtics seemed like a dominant team, defeating the Sixers, 105-74, in Philadelphia Nov. 3. But, lately, the Celtics (11-4) have either started games slowly or finished them ineffectively. This time, they started strong and finished efficiently, but they had problems with the Sixers’ athleticism and perimeter shooting for much of the contest.

“I told our guys at halftime they were making it an athletic contest and we were not making it a physical contest,’’ Rivers said. “What I meant by that, all the long rebounds, they were just hitting the ball to keep the ball alive, and then race to see who can get to it first. I told them, until we box out and physically put bodies on guys, that would continue. I thought we did a much better job in the second half.’’

Instead of extending a 7-point advantage late in the opening quarter, the Celtics faltered, falling behind by as many as 7 in the second quarter. Then, the starters seemed determined to make a stand at the start of the second half. Again, the Sixers rallied, taking an 85-79 lead after three quarters.

Then, Rondo took over as the Celtics went to a three-guard setup to start the final quarter.

Rondo’s dribble penetration changed the dynamic, as he had 8 points and 3 assists in the final quarter. The Sixers started missing layups and free throws and the Celtics started making nearly everything, converting eight of their first 10 shots. Again, though, the Sixers stayed in contention, despite converting only once from the field in the first 7:21 of the final quarter.

Marquis Daniels scored off a Rondo feed for a 102-92 lead with 5:41 remaining. And the Celtics still appeared to be in command as Kevin Garnett scored on a pick and roll for a 106-98 lead with 3:04 left.

But the Celtics would not score again from the field until Rondo’s jumper.

The Sixers got a 3-pointer from Kapono, a Jrue Holiday drive, and two Iguodala foul shots to pull within 107-105 with 1:20 to play. A Ray Allen layup rolled off the rim, but Iguodala charged into Pierce, Rondo hit the jumper, and the Celtics turned the final seconds into a foul-shooting contest.

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