When record keepers reach back for the qualifier "since the inception of the shot clock," it signals an offensive performance of historically poor proportions. Such was the case last night as Philadelphia treated a sold-out FleetCenter to a series of scoring lows. Between shooting percentages and point totals, not a quarter went by when the Sixers did not add their names to the bottom of one list or another. Between the Boston defense and Philadelphia inaccuracy, there was no reprieve.
With the Sixers shooting 27 percent (24 for 89), the Celtics easily defeated their divisional rival, 89-65. It was no contest after halftime, when the home team held a 42-23 lead. The 23 points set a Philadelphia franchise record for fewest points scored in a half since the inception of the shot clock. The number also set a Boston franchise record for the fewest points allowed in a half since the inception of the shot clock. And for the record, the Sixers shot just 22 percent in the first half, including 8 percent (1 for 12) from 3-point range.
Statistics like those placed any thoughts about the absence of Allen Iverson (right knee) beyond secondary. Not even The Answer would have solved all the problems the Sixers faced finding the basket. The Celtics' hustle on defense certainly deserves some credit. But the Sixers also missed a fair amount of open shots, particularly in the first half.
"They missed some good shots early, and I think it just kind of fed into what was going on," said interim Boston coach John Carroll. "There was like a 20-14 spot [at the end of the first quarter], and from that point on, it just seemed like they struggled, maybe because of our defense, our contesting shots, our taking away the paint. We made them really have to work to score."
Philadelphia never recovered from its poor start. The Sixers shot 26 percent (7 for 27) and scored 14 points in the first quarter. They shot 17 percent (3 for 18) and scored just 9 points in the second.
It was surprising that the Philadelphia offense would stay so off the mark. After all, the game had significant playoff implications. The victory moved Boston into sole possession of eighth place in the Eastern Conference, half a game ahead of Cleveland. It also gave the Celtics the head-to-head tiebreaker edge (3-1) over the Sixers.
"We missed a few early and kind of got frustrated," said Philadelphia's Kyle Korver (15 points). "We took some shots maybe we didn't want to take. But we missed a lot of wide open shots, and that's just the way it is sometimes. Unfortunately, it had to happen tonight, as big a game as this is."
Boston first distanced itself from Phildelphia near the end of the first quarter, when it started a 9-0 run that carried over into the second. Ricky Davis capped the run with a 3-pointer that gave the Celtics a 25-14 lead with 9:52 remaining in the second. Davis, who continues to make important contributions off the bench, scored all of his team-high 13 points in the first half. (Jiri Welsch and Mark Blount also finished with 13 points each.)
The Celtics' second and ultimately decisive run started when Jumaine Jones hit a 3-pointer with 6:34 remaining in the half. The basket began an 11-0 spurt. Chucky Atkins zipped a pass to Brandon Hunter for a dunk to cap the run, leaving Boston ahead, 42-21, with less than two minutes to play in the first half. Atkins had no trouble finding his teammates early in the game, entering halftime with nine of his season-high 10 assists.
With Atkins directing the offense for more than half the game, Boston shot 48 percent and finished with a 24 assists. The Celtics outscored the Sixers, 44-22 in the paint, 17-4 in second chance points, and 21-5 on the fast break.
Entering the second half, the only real question was whether the Celtics would be able to maintain their focus and their large lead. They finished the third ahead, 60-41, handing the Sixers even more dubious distinctions. With 41 points through three quarters, the visitors set another franchise low since the inception of the shot clock. The 41 points allowed by the Celtics through three quarters was also a franchise low with the shot clock.
Boston led by as many as 25 points, making it 54-29 when Blount hit a 16-footer with 5:18 left in the third quarter. And the Celtics' edge never dropped below 16 points in the fourth. That was more a formality than anything else. Starters Paul Pierce, Atkins, and McCarty spent the quarter on the bench. The final challenge for Boston was trying to keep Philadelphia below 60 points. But that game was up when Korver hit a 3-pointer from the right corner with 1:04 remaining.
"It's getting toward the playoff time, so when we get a team down, especially here in the FleetCenter, we have to put them away," said Atkins. "These last nine games, we need to be in a playoff-type mentality."