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Sometimes, it’s better to be good than lucky. When you’re on an eight-game winning streak, it’s always better to be both. Going for their ninth straight win, the Celtics were in serious jeopardy of losing the streak late in their game against the Philadelphia 76ers when Andre Iguodala (14 points, 11 assists) hit a hook shoot to give Philly a 101-100 lead with 6.6 seconds to go.
Leave it to Rajon Rondo to have it all figured out. The C’s point guard zipped an alley-oop pass to Kevin Garnett, who hit the game-winning basket with 1.1 seconds to go, giving the Celtics the 102-101 victory.
“Rajon threw a perfect pass and I just banked it,” Garnett told reporters after the game. “The crazy part about all that is that I messed that play up so many times in practice. It’s only right that the basketball gods gave it to me tonight. It was a good win for us, a grind-out win. This team has been playing unbelievably.”
The Sixers loss snapped Philly’s five-game home win streak, and gave the Celtics an impressive 18-4 record to begin the season, tops in the Eastern Conference.
It was a tight game all night, as neither team ever led by more than eight points. The Celtics shot 56% from the field, but trailed for much of the third quarter and at times near the end of the game. Why was it still so close? Shaquille O’Neal was out with a knee injury (and Jermaine O’Neal was out as usual), so the Celtics were left with Semih Erden and Garnett as their only two “true” big men (apologies to Glen ‘Big Baby’ Davis, who, despite finishing with 16 points and seven boards off the bench, is not a traditional “true” big).
As a result, Elton Brand and Spencer Hawes helped the Sixers clean up on the glass. Philly grabbed an eye-popping 15 offensive rebounds to the Celtics’ 5. With all of the extra second chances, it’s no wonder the Sixers had so much fight in them. Brand finished with 13 points and 14 rebounds (6 offensive boards), while Hawes collected seven rebounds of his own. The Sixers as a team out-rebounded the Celtics 39-33.
Ray Allen led all scorers with 23 points on an efficient 7-10 from the field and 2-3 from beyond the arc. Rondo, meanwhile, played nearly every minute of the game and finished with 19 points, 14 assists, and three steals and another complete effort. The hero of the evening, Garnett, finished with 14 points, six boards, two steals, and three blocked shots.
Paul Pierce never got into a shooting groove, going just 3-8 in finishing with 10 points. The captain helped the C’s clean up a bit on the boards though, collecting a team-high eight rebounds.
The Celtics will go for their tenth straight victory on Saturday night against the Bobcats in Charlotte.