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For almost three quarters, nothing was going the Boston Celtics’ way. The Philadelphia 76ers were playing a switching, active and stingy defense that confused and offset the Celtics offensive ball movement. Even when the Celtics got good looks at the basket, the ball always seemed to rim out at the last second, leading to under 40 percent shooting. And it seemed as if the 76ers drew a foul every time they shot the ball, getting to the free-throw line 23 more times. But even when nothing seemed to go right for the Celtics, they still found a way to win. Ray Allen scored 22 points for the Celtics, who beat the 76ers 84-80 Wednesday night in Boston. The win pushes Boston’s winning streak to 14, fifth longest in franchise history.
Allen was the star for the Celtics Wednesday night. His 22 points came with four rebounds and six assists. He played 23 minutes of turnover-free basketball. At times, he was the only person scoring. The Celtics ended the first quarter with a 10-0 run that gave them a 23-17 lead. Allen scored eight of those ten points to go along with his 11 first-quarter points. He has been an offensive force through this 14-game win streak, averaging 17 points per game during that stretch. He sits just two three-pointers shy of 2,500 for his career. They could easily come as a Christmas present to Boston fans against Orlando on Saturday.
The 76ers went into halftime leading 44-38, but the tide turned in the third quarter. First, Paul Pierce– up until now completely contained by Philadelphia shooting guard Andre Iguodala– hit two shots in a row, including a three-pointer, to cut Philadelphia’s lead to 48-47. Pierce missed his next shot, an 18-foot jumper, but as it bounced around, Shaquille O’Neal got good positioning under the basket, went up and tipped it in, keeping the Philadelphia lead to just 50-49.
The Celtics later went up 54-50 on a Nate Robinson three-pointer (one of three) and two free-throws, but the 76ers came back to tie it 54-54. Then it was time for more O’Neal, with some help from Marquis Daniels. Daniels started the play by dribbling underneath the basket, before turning and find O’Neal, who took the pass and slammed it home with authority, giving the Celtics a 56-55 lead. The 76ers reclaimed the lead on their next possession, but the Celtics answered right back with the same two players. This time, Daniels threw an alley-oop to O’Neal, who slammed it down with one hand, giving the Celtics a 1-point lead again and re-energizing the TD Garden crowd.
The Celtics closed the third quarter with another Daniels assist (five total, to go along with four points and four rebounds), this time to Von Wafer, who hit a three-pointer to put the Celtics up 64-59. The quarter ended with the Celtics up 64-61.
The 76ers went on an 11-4 run through just under the first seven minutes of the fourth quarter, going up 72-68. But on their next possession, Pierce stole the ball and beat his man to the basket, slamming it home to cut the lead to 72-70. After the dunk, Pierce was loud and emotional, imploring teammate and fan alike to rally behind him. The Celtics responded with a far more aggressive offense that finally broke the 76ers defense and started drawing fouls. Although three Celtics players finished the game with four or more fouls, only a 76er- power forward Elton Brand– actually fouled out.
The Celtics out-shot the 76ers from the foul line 14-2 in the fourth quarter. Two O’Neal free throws (13 total points, nine rebounds) kept Philadelphia’s lead to two points (74-72). After Kevin Garnett (12 points, seven rebounds for the game) tied the game with his signature 19-foot jump shot, two Pierce free throws put the Celtics up 78-76. The 76ers tied it again, but Allen gave the Celtics an 80-78 lead with two more free throws. Pierce pushed the lead to 82-78 with a 19-footer with 1:36 left.
Philadelphia scored on their next possession, cutting Boston’s lead to 82-80, then fouled O’Neal with a minute left in the game. O’Neal missed his two free throws (the only two missed free throws by the Celtics in the fourth quarter), but good defense (a Robinson steal and a Garnett block) on the 76ers next two possessions gave the Celtics the ball with the lead, and the 76ers had to foul Allen and put him on the line. Allen was perfect (as usual), the 76ers missed their last shot, and the game ended.
The Celtics used their size to bully the 76ers and control the inside game. The Celtics out-shot the 76ers 34-18 in the paint. They also out-rebounded the 76ers 43-40, only allowing Philadelphia six offensive rebounds (Boston had 12). The Celtics rotated successfully on defense and kept the 76ers to mainly two-point jump shots, not allowing them to go inside for easy scores. Keeping Philadelphia outside of the paint created bottlenecks for the 76ers, which led to 13 turnovers (Celtics only committed 10) and 14 fast break points (76ers only had seven).