By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Boston Celtics can beat good teams. The Boston Celtics can beat good teams on the road. The Boston Celtics can beat good teams on the road without their star player.
It doesn’t really make much sense, but we’ll take it. While it’s been an extremely frustrating first half of the season, the underachieving Celtics are actually pretty good against good teams this year. With their 112-109 win over the 76ers in Philadelphia on Tuesday, Boston improved to 3-0 against their Atlantic Division foe. They’re 7-3 overall the other top teams in the East: 1-1 against the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks, 2-1 against Toronto, and 1-1 against Indiana.
Tuesday’s victory moves Boston ahead of Philadelphia for fourth place in the East standings, and gives them the head-to-head tiebreaker against their rival Sixers. That could be huge come April when teams are jostling for playoff positioning.
The Celtics did it Tuesday night without Kyrie Irving, who sat out the game with a knee injury. The Celtics continued their trend of winning games without their star player, though this time they actually beat a good team. Brad Stevens’ crew looked like they were having loads of fun in Philly, with just about everyone contributing in a well-rounded effort.
Gordon Hayward led the way in his best overall game this season, dropping a team-high 26 points. He hit six of his seven attempts from downtown, including a momentum-swinging triple with under two minutes left. Hayward took a feed from a driving Marcus Morris in the corner, and buried the shot to give Boston a 105-103 lead with 1:50 to go. The Celtics never trailed after the Hayward make, which ended a 7-0 Philly run.
Boston also got 20 points and 10 rebound from Jayson Tatum, with Morris chipping in with 17 points and eight boards. Al Horford played his usual stellar D against Joel Embiid, frustrating the Philly big all night. Marcus Smart was an abysmal 3-for-14 from the floor and missed all eight of his three-point attempts, but came up with one of the biggest baskets of the night. The guard took full advantage of a wide open lane and Philadelphia’s sudden disdain for playing defense, finishing with a way-too-easy dunk to essentially seal the victory for the Celtics.
After blowing their last two games — at home — to the Lakers and Clippers, Tuesday’s win was a much-needed boost for the Celtics.
“Good teams have clunkers, but good teams respond to those with the right effort and approach,” Stevens said after the victory. “That was a good one and now we’ve got another tough one tomorrow night and we’ll see if we can play well again. We’re going to have to play with the same kind of purpose.”
The Celtics host the Detroit Pistons Wednesday night in their final game ahead of the All-Star break. Tied for fourth place in the Eastern Conference was not how things were supposed to go, and there have been far too many frustrating evenings for anyone’s liking. Tuesday night’s results add to that frustration; proof that they can indeed be the beasts that many predicted they would be over the summer.
But it was a reminder that as much as they’ve struggled this season, the Celtics can still beat good teams when they want to. If they can get out of their own way and put it all together over the final two months of the regular season, maybe they can make some noise in the playoffs after all.