Celtics 96, 76ers 86

Paul Pierce was way off his usual game. Rajon Rondo and the

other two in the Big Three picked up the scoring slack.

Against the sinking 76ers, that was easily enough for a win.

Rondo had 16 points and 11 assists, Kevin Garnett scored 22

points, Ray Allen had 16 and the Boston Celtics handed the

Philadelphia 76ers their fifth straight loss, 96-86 on Friday

night.

“We’re a veteran team, we know how to play,” Garnett said,

“It’s just (about) when we want to put our heads together, go out

and execute and do the things we have worked on. I think the second

half of the season is when you really get into what you do. It’s

just focus. When we want to do it, we do it. Some nights we get

lazy.”

Rondo was anything but lazy in the second half and sparked the

Celtics in the third quarter. He was scoreless on four shots

through the first half before coming alive and pushing Boston past

the Sixers in the third. He scored three straight driving layups

off the pick-and-roll that broke a tie and put Boston ahead 60-54.

He finished with 14 in the quarter and nearly had a triple-double

through three. He finished with six rebounds.

Rondo said he was simply trying to get aggressive and find a way

to get to the free-throw line. Coach Doc Rivers said Rondo

delivered exactly when the Celtics needed him.

“We just didn’t have anything going at that one stretch and

then we ran two plays and Rondo was fantastic in them,” Rivers

said.

Rondo’s production was needed because of an unusual off night

from Pierce. Pierce, Boston’s leading scorer at 17.9 points a game,

was limited to only seven points and he missed eight of nine

shots.

“I kept looking at my hand wondering what was wrong,” Pierce

said. “I felt real good out there. But the shots weren’t

falling.”

Garnett and Allen – who form the Big Three with Pierce – were

there to make up the difference. They went 15 for 25 from the floor

and had the hundreds of fans in Celtics green that invaded Philly

going wild.

Glen Davis had 12 for the Celtics. The aging Celtics – they just

added Michael Finley – couldn’t put away the lowly Sixers until the

end.

Rondo missed a dunk down the lane that the Sixers used to score

two free throws on the other end and slice the deficit to 90-85.

The Celtics didn’t let the Sixers score a field goal over the final

3 minutes and sealed it from the free-throw line to win their third

straight game.

Lou Williams led the 76ers with 22 points, and Elton Brand had

17.

The Sixers have played some of their best basketball this season

against the NBA’s top teams. Turning that effort into victories has

been problematic. Andre Iguodala scored 14 points.

“If you want to model yourself after a good team, you look at a

team with a lot of vets who play the game the right way,” Iguodala

said.

Once one of the NBA’s top rivalries, Boston-Philadelphia has

cooled over the last two decades. Still, play was chippy in the

first half, with both Boston’s Kendrick Perkins and Philadelphia

Marreese Speights whistled for technical fouls.

Brand, who missed two games with right Achilles’ tendinitis,

made a strong return in the first quarter. He scored 12 points and

the Sixers shot 57 percent from the floor to lead 25-23.

Brand, though, only scored five points the rest of the way. He

was bloodied late in the game and sat out for a spell because he

had to change jerseys. He returned for the final minutes.

“Last few games, for 2 1/2, three quarters it was a pretty

solid performance throughout the game but we really need to get the

Ws,” Brand said.

Once a double-double regular in his prime, Brand grabbed only

four rebounds in 33 minutes. Garnett led Boston’s attack on the

glass and the Celtics outrebounded Philadelphia 41-30.

NOTES: Finley, who asked for and was granted his release from

the San Antonio Spurs earlier this week, will join the Celtics on

Saturday. Rivers expects Finley to debut the next day against the

Washington Wizards. “We don’t know where we’re going to fit him

in, but adding a veteran can never hurt,” Rivers said. Finley

sprained his left ankle early this season and appeared in just 25

games for San Antonio. … Celtics G Tony Allen (hip) did not play.

… Allen Iverson, who will not return to the 76ers, still has his

nameplate over his locker and clothes hanging inside.