Rapid Reaction: Celtics 103, 76ers 79

David Butler II-US Presswire

Celtics Paul Pierce finds a way to deliver the ball in traffic against the 76ers on Sunday.BOSTON -- Rapid reaction after the Boston Celtics defeated the Philadelphia 76ers 103-79 Sunday evening at TD Garden:


Kevin Garnett scored a team-high 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting and finished a ridiculous plus-29 over less than 28 minutes of action as the Celtics throttled the 76ers and secured a vice grip on the Atlantic Division. Paul Pierce scored 11 of his 17 points in the first quarter and enjoyed a breezy night with a mere 28:31 of action that culminated with him and KG grooving on the bench as Gino danced on the JumboTron with the team up 20 with 2:28 to play. Avery Bradley and Brandon Bass finished with 18 points apiece for Boston. Reserve big man Nikola Vucevic scored a team-high 14 points for a Philadelphia team that shot just 38.2 percent (29 of 76).


For the second straight night, the Celtics busted the game open behind a unit featuring Bradley, Garnett, Sasha Pavlovic, Ray Allen and Greg Stiemsma at the start of the second quarter. Nursing a 3-point cushion entering the frame, the Celtics allowed only one field goal (and that came off a putback of a blocked shot) over the first 8:47 and Boston's lead ballooned to 19. The 76ers were 1 of 13 to start the quarter and turned the ball over five times during that span.


A little more on the second unit dominance: Over the first six minutes against Indiana on Saturday night, the Pacers missed their first 11 shots against the same unit while Boston increased its lead by 12 (pushing it as high as 17). That means that during the 12-minute span at the start of the second quarter the last two nights, Boston is a combined plus-28 with opponents connecting on just 1 of 25 shots during that span with that fivesome on the floor.


The honor for this one has to go to some defense from that key stretch. Pavlovic might have provided the key moment, delivering a left-handed swat of a Thaddeus Young layup attempt while it was a one-possession game. The 76ers would go eight minutes before their next field goal given Boston's relentless defense. Right before Pavlovic's block, Stiemsma delivered one of his own (but Vucevic got the carom and delivered a putback).


One of the benefits of shuffling Allen to a reserve role has been a renewed focus on establishing Pierce offensively early on. It continues to pay dividends as Pierce scored 11 first-quarter points (on 5-of-7 shooting) to set the tone for the Celtics.


While not the prettiest of the stretch, Rajon Rondo dished out 15 assists over 29:13 to push his double-digit assist streak to 17 games. Rondo handed out six assists in the first quarter but had a sloppy first half, turning the ball over five times, which was about the only thing that let the 76ers hang around as long as they did. Rondo cleaned things up after the break and didn't turn the ball over in the second half.


E'Twaun Moore got to play the final 4:22, while JaJuan Johnson appeared for the last 2:28. Neither scored.


For the second straight Sunday, the Celtics produced a confidence-inspiring win. Sure, the Philadelphia 76ers are a hot mess, but that's not Boston's problem. The Celtics emerged with a three-game cushion atop the Atlantic Division and it's hard to imagine them fumbling it away (particularly given Philly's recent woes -- the 76ers are now tied with the Knicks for the final playoff spots in the East with Milwaukee only a game back). The division title is hardly a primary goal for the Celtics, but wearing that crown ensures the team of no worse than the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference. The schedule remains daunting for Boston, but this stretch heavy on playoff foes is coming to a close. The Celtics fly to Miami and will rest up before a back-to-back that starts with a visit to the Heat on Tuesday, then closes back home against Atlanta on Wednesday. If Boston can build off these wins over Indy and Philly, it's not out of the realm of possibility for them to make a run at the No. 3 seed -- the Pacers hold a two-game edge through Sunday's action.