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BOSTON (CBS) – The Boston Celtics look to close out their longest road trip of the season by claiming first place in the Atlantic Division.
But to do so, the Celtics will have to beat the 76ers in Philadelphia. The last time they tried to do that, also on the back-end of a back-to-back, the results were, to put it lightly, ugly.
“They beat us,” head coach Doc Rivers said of the March 7th 103-71 loss. “And we have to figure something out against them. I have no idea what it is yet, but we have enough time.”
Time is actually one thing the Celtics don’t have. They lost an hour, traveling from Milwaukee after a 100-91 win Wednesday night. But with the results from three weeks ago, the Celtics won’t let a little less time get in the way of revenge.
“They handled us pretty well, so we know going in that we have some business we need to take care of,” said Ray Allen, who had just two points after missing all five shots from the field in the loss. “Definitely, it comes to the forefront when you play them again; you never forget that. Whenever you watch them on TV, you hold a bad feeling about that until you can get back to them and you can cleanse that.”
Luckily for the Celtics, they’ve been playing much better basketball on the trip, with the contributions coming from everyone on the floor.
It has all started with Kevin Garnett, who has been carrying the team since his move to center. His defense has made the difference in the Celtics’ wins, and he is averaging 17.6 points and 8.6 rebounds on the current road swing.
Paul Pierce also woke up Thursday night, breaking out of a mini foul-induced slump, scoring a team-high 25 points to go with nine rebounds. Pierce scored 11 points in the first quarter, with 10 more in the third, on 10-for-15 shooting. He would like to see some more consistency down the stretch, starting with himself.
“It’s been up and down; we’ve won one, win two, lose two. We’re just trying to develop a little more consistency,” Pierce said, adding a win in Philly would put the trip over the edge as far as success. “This is a mentally strong group. We understand it’s been a long trip. This is a group that wants to get the next win to make it a great trip.”
But it hasn’t just been the stars of the team that have stepped up. Greg Stiemsma, seeing more action with the lack of front court depth, tied a career-high with six blocks Wednesday night. Mickael Pietrus has come on strong as of late, both on the offensive and defensive end. The streaky shooter is hot right now, hitting 11-of-20 three pointers in the last five games, and 17 of his last 30 shots from the field.
The Celtics will have to be aggressive if they want to beat the young and energetic 76ers Friday night. They might get some help in way of reinforcements, as seven-foot center Ryan Hollins is expected to join the team (although his playing status is still up in the air). Hollins won’t light the world on fire with his play, but any depth in the front court will be a welcome addition.
A win Friday night will give the Celtics the division lead, and some much-needed confidence entering the final five weeks of the season.
No, they probably won’t be playing much longer after those five weeks, but playing inspired and quality basketball is not a bad way to head into the playoffs.