Celtics 84, 76ers 80

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Celtics get message in the late going

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By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / December 23, 2010

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Any ordinary game day, and Ray Allen wouldn’t have gotten out of bed until 8 a.m. But yesterday, thanks to the holiday season, he had man-of-the house duties.

He had to be up at 5:45 to make sure his family got to the airport in time to catch a flight to Orlando for the Celtics’ Christmas Day game. Tuesday night, while Allen was in bed, knowing he had a date with the Philadelphia 76ers less than 24 hours away, the thought of Z’s were tempting him to pass the buck.

“I was like, ‘Aw, I don’t think I’m going to do it, I’m going to get somebody to take them to the airport,’ ’’ he said.

But he was up at that early hour, and being a creature of habit it threw a huge monkey wrench in his routine. When game day came, he wasn’t the only sluggish Celtic.

Both shootaround and practice were sloppy, an unwanted side effect of the holidays.

And once last night’s game began, things didn’t get a whole lot better. But the Celtics hung in and eventually beat the Sixers, 84-80, at the Garden, claiming their 14th straight victory.

“That’s one thing coaches have always said, going into the holiday, is keep your focus,’’ Allen said. “You’ve got a lot of family in town coming and going, you’re worried about holiday shopping, and rightfully so. You see teams losing games right around this time of year that they shouldn’t because their focus isn’t where it needs to be.’’

The Celtics didn’t have to look any farther than the night before when the Lakers — despite being warned by Kobe Bryant — got a bag of coal shoved down their throats by the Bucks. The Sixers nearly snapped the Celtics’ win streak in its early stages, and coach Doc Rivers warned his team that they easily could spoil their holiday.

For three quarters, the Celtics’ vital signs were low. They took all of seven free throws through three quarters, and were shooting just 42.2 percent. Paul Pierce missed eight of his first 10 shots. Glen Davis and Marquis Daniels were a combined 3 of 13. The rims seemed to shrink a couple inches every time they took a shot.

Rivers fired off all the things that were going wrong.

No transition baskets.

No ball movement offensively.

Pierce brought the ball up entirely too much.

The team wasn’t getting into sets until the shot clock had run down to eight seconds.

“It’s wasn’t about Philly,’’ Rivers said. “It’s the season. The holiday season, this is the stretch. It’s just a tough mental focus stretch. When you go home from practice, they [family] don’t want to hear about practice. The family wants to hear about, ‘Let’s go shopping,’ and all that other stuff. And it’s tough. This is a tough little stretch for every team.’’

It wasn’t until the final five minutes when things finally started to click. The Celtics cobbled together free throws and timely shots to stay within striking distance. Eventually, Pierce drilled a 19-footer that put the Celtics ahead, 82-78. The Celtics never looked back, extending their winning streak to the longest in the NBA since they won 19 straight in 2008.

Even though they missed 12 of their 16 fourth-quarter shots, the Celtics went 12 of 14 from the line.

“We got great execution down the stretch,’’ Rivers said. “I don’t know where it came from. Really, it’s amazing. You don’t execute for 42 minutes and then you execute, it’s amazing sometimes. But that’s winning time.’’

Allen led the way with 22 points. He was also the only Celtics starter without a foul. He knocked down a pair of free throws with 5.6 seconds left to more or less seal the win. Kevin Garnett scored 12 points on 4-of-10 shooting. Shaquille O’Neal was a rebound shy of a double-double, going for 13 points and nine boards.

It was one of those nights when the Celtics didn’t have to be great, just good enough, but they realize they’re at a point in the season when it’s easy to be distracted.

“It’s human nature,’’ Allen said. “We can’t get caught up in that cycle of inconsistency. For us, we need to be here and be present.’’

’Tis the season.

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