Most teams in the NBA would consider a game against the Philadelphia 76ers a walkover. Over the last season, the opposite has been true for the Boston Celtics.
The Sixers had won just five of their last 47 regular season games dating back to last year, and a whopping three of those wins had come against the Celtics, prior to Wednesday’s tilt with the Celtics in Philadelphia.
That kind of success gave the Sixers hope heading into Wednesday’s matchup, as they pressed to end a ten-game losing streak to start their regular season season. Philly’s hope diminished in the second half of the contest, as Brandon Bass (season-high 23 points) and Jared Sullinger (season-high 22 points) carried the Celtics to a 101-90 win at Wells Fargo Center.
The win did not come without a scare though. For much of the first half, Philadelphia’s recent stretch of success against Boston continued. The hosts led by as many as nine points early, thanks to a host of Celtics miscues (ten turnovers) and second chance opportunities (nine offensive rebounds) for the Sixers.
Meanwhile, Boston’s offense and starting lineup looked to be out of sync from the opening tip, as the team managed to score just 46 first half points, a major step back for their offense from recent performances.
With the possibility of a four-game losing streak looming, Brad Stevens showed an important willingness to ride his deep bench over the final three quarters. Bass was rewarded for his strong play on both ends with a season-high 32 minutes to go along with his 23 points. With Avery Bradley struggling, Marcus Thornton played his longest stint of the season, scoring a season-high 13 points and chipping in with three steals on the defensive end.
Even Phil Pressey got into the act in the second half, helping jump-start the Celtics offense while Rajon Rondo (nine points, 13 assists) appeared somewhat hampered after turning his left ankle in the third quarter.
Stevens’ commitment to riding the hot hand of his players, and not just turning to his starts late in game out of habit will be a crucial tool as this season continues. The head coach has a tough job in maintaining a balancing act amongst a very even roster, but he also needs to know when to push the right buttons. He did so, Wednesday night.
Perhaps the most encouraging part of the win however is the fact the Celtics may have found their finisher late in games with Sullinger. The big man scored 18 of his 22 points in the second half, including 11 in the fourth quarter, helping the Celtics pull away late for a double digit win.
After struggling mightily to close out games for several contests in the past few weeks, it was a refreshing to see the Celtics finish strong late -- even if it came against the worst team in the league.