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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

In case you forgot: the Celtics are still NBA title contenders this season

In their malaise down the stretch this season, it's often easy to gloss over the fact that when they're right, the Boston Celtics could still deliver Banner 18 in June.

The win in San Antonio last week was great and along those lines, last night's 99-82 victory against the Philadelphia 76ers at the TD Garden was especially vital.

Boston (54-23) tied Miami for second place in the Eastern Conference in the win but they could very well see the Sixers (40-38) in the first round of the playoffs.

Therefore, it was promising to see them put away Philly and completely shutdown their offense in the second half (holding them to a Butler-esque 32 points).

Jermaine O'Neal (9 points) and Jeff Green (8 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks) were the unlikely sparks to what was one of Boston's best team efforts of the season.

Paul Pierce led the Celts with 18 points, Rajon Rondo had 16 points and 13 assists while Kevin Garnett (14 points) and Ray Allen (13 points) also scored in double figures.

It wasn't their best game in terms of production but Delonte West (6 points), Nenad Krstic (8 points), Green and Glen Davis (7 points) all looked solid off the bench for Boston. How they perform together in the playoffs will provide many answers to the riddle that is the NBA postseason.

Elton Brand (12 points) was one of four Sixers starter in double digits scoring but they were all kept in check. Jrue Holiday had 11 points in the first half but he was scoreless in the second half. Andre Iguodala and Jodie Meeks added 10 points apiece.

The shocking part for Philly was that rookie Evan Turner paced them with a team-high 21 points off the bench. He's had a disappointing season thus far but he showed last night why he was the No. 2 pick (behind John Wall) last summer.

Philadelphia led 26-24 after the first quarter but Boston took a 54-50 lead into halftime. The third quarter (21-15 Celtics) and fourth quarter (24-17) weren't pretty by any means, but they featured the type of lockdown defense that Boston needs to advance past the second round of the playoffs this season.

The Celtics shot 52.6% to 39.3% for the Sixers. Boston made three more free throws (15-12) and dished out 12 more assists (29-17). Philadelphia had three more steals (9-6) and four less turnovers (15-11) but Boston made five more blocks (8-3).

Boston travels to Chicago tomorrow night as the Bulls (up 3 games on Boston and Miami) look to seal the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics haven't played the Bulls in a while and Chicago has been playing incredibly well lately-propelled by MVP Derrick Rose.

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