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The Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers met up Wednesday night in a clash of Atlantic Division rivals. Boston was coming off of a dramatic overtime victory in New York against the Knicks, where Kevin Garnett drained a last second bucket to win the game. Tonight was another high-scoring affair, with both teams in foul trouble early in the fourth quarter. Thankfully, the Celtics held on to their slim lead through the last few seconds of the game and won, 113-110.
The player of the game tonight was Paul Pierce. He led all scorers with 27 points, to go along with his 6 rebounds and 6 assists, not to mention a block and a steal. As the game went on, Paul Pierce’s game got stronger, as he continued to penetrate, shoot the three, and play effective defense. This is not to downplay the performances of any other of the Celtics’ starting five. Every starter, plus Eddie House, scored in double digits against Philadelphia. The C’s were especially good at getting to the free-throw line tonight, getting to the line 13 more times than the 76ers (39 vs 26).
Generally, despite all this the offense never seemed to get into a rhythm until the fourth quarter. The first three quarters were marked by cold shooting and inconsistent offense. The Boston bench, once heralded for its depth, was no help at all, getting almost doubled by the limited Philadelphia bench and generally raising more questions than answering them. What is wrong with Rasheed Wallace? Is he a big man or just a cold perimeter shooter? And when will Eddie House‘s shot return? Thankfully, a strong 8-0 run by the Celtics midway through the third kept them in the game until their offense was able to wear down Philadelphia’s defense in the fourth.
Obviously the Celtics defense has seen better nights, allowing 110 points against a not usually strong shooting team in Philadelphia. While they did a good job blocking out inside, this left them incredibly vulnerable to the three point shot. And Philadelphia kept itself in the game by way of the three, shooting 65% from beyond the arc (13-20). Every time the Celtics would open up a lead, the 76ers would respond with another three-point shot to keep the game close. Difficulty with defending the three is becoming a consistent issue, especially when comparing Celtics losses. Their loss to Phoenix was also marked by an inability to defend the perimeter. The Celtics are strong inside, but they must have the speed to cover the perimeter as well, otherwise good shooting teams will eat them alive.
The Celtics have now squeaked by two easily beatable teams, and they have not looked good in the process. This is a team that is consistently underachieving defensively and is shooting cold on offense. Only Paul Pierce, who is having a career year, stands out on the offense. Otherwise, this team is a far cry from where it was only a month ago. Maybe it’s age, but with as much rest as the Celtics are getting between games, that excuse is starting to wear thin. The Celtics must improve their game, and fast, or they will quickly find themselves dropping further and further in the playoff seedings.