Celtics romp past Sixers
Transition offense sparks easy victory
Starting Avery Bradley definitely has improved the Celtics defensively. And, now, the Celtics are converting stops into offensive production.
The Celtics made 58.8 percent of their field goal attempts in taking a 103-79 victory over Philadelphia at TD Garden Sunday, by far their most efficient shooting game of the season and the fourth time in six games they have held an opponent to fewer than 80 points.
Kevin Garnett scored 20 points, Bradley and Brandon Bass added 18, and Paul Pierce had 17 as the Celtic starters shot 64 percent from the field. Rajon Rondo was the only starter to fail to score in double figures, but he handed out 15 assists, his 17th successive double-digit assist game.
This was the last meeting of the regular season between the teams and the Sixers won the three-game series. But this result also erased some of the Celtics’ memories of the defeats against Philadelphia, by an average margin of 22.5 points.
The Celtics (32-24) also stretched their Atlantic Division lead to three games over the Sixers with 10 contests left, starting with a visit to Miami Tuesday.
“Last two games, really, the defense has had just great intensity,’’ Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “I thought we had active hands. You know, I thought the second unit in the second quarter was as good as you can get - not only defensively, but our rebounding from the guard spot.
“And then offensively the ball never stayed in the same place. It just moved. And it was like the ball found the open guy. I told our guys at halftime I thought that was the best pick-setting game we’ve had. And I thought the game in Indiana was the best until today.’’
The Celtics wrapped up this contest in the second quarter as Ray Allen - in a bench role for the third successive game since recovering from an ankle strain - scored 8 of his 10 points.
The Sixers went 8:04 without a field goal in the second quarter before Garnett was called for goaltending on a Spencer Hawes drive. The Celtics stretched their lead to 45-26 on Bradley’s layup with 4:03 remaining in the half, capping an 18-2 run over a 6:41 span. The 76ers were 6 for 22 in the quarter.
The Celtics poured it on early in the second half, leading by as many as 28 points.
Rondo got to double-figure assists early in third quarter, handing out five in a 3:32 span. Pierce increased the lead to 77-49 with a 3-pointer with 3:48 remaining. Rondo had nine assists (to five teammates) and added two shot-clock jumpers in the quarter.
Though the Celtics are in the midst of an 11-games-in-15-days stretch, and were playing back-to-back games, they were fresh enough to impose their will.
“Maybe it’s good for us because it seems like we’re playing our best basketball right now, in this crucial stretch,’’ Pierce said. “Definitely, we have a sense of urgency right now. We understand what’s at stake, you know - the fourth seed, possibly a three seed, the division title, playing well going into the playoffs.
“You know, we haven’t been consistent the whole year. Second half of the season - we’re usually consistent the first part, then the second half we’ve been inconsistent. So, we’ve kind of reversed that role, I guess, this season. What better time than this time of the year? Everybody’s getting confidence, against some pretty good teams, so we know we can play with anybody in the Eastern Conference.’’
Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at email@example.com.