BOSTON — For awhile on Friday night, it looked like the Celtics were going to revert to their early season collapsing tendencies.
After building a 26-point lead in the second quarter, the Celtics fought off a feisty rally from the Philadelphia 76ers in the second half. The undermanned Sixers, who were missing Massachusetts native Michael Carter-Williams (toe), trimmed Boston’s sizable lead to just three points in the early stages of the fourth quarter.
In what was a refreshing change of pace though, the Celtics did not crumble against the lowly Sixers, holding their ground instead. Jared Sullinger scored seven of his team-high 22 points in the final frame, enabling the hosts to pull away in the game’s closing minutes for a 108-97 victory. The third-year power forward was the star of the night after being re-inserted into the starting lineup, posting eight rebounds and a career-high seven assists in 30 minutes.
Sullinger led a well-balanced Celtics offense that featured six players in double figures and big contributions from the bench (45 total points). The win extended Boston’s winning streak to three games and more importantly, showed head coach Brad Stevens that this young group has progressed from their early season end-of-game woes.
“You go through all these situations so many times in a year,” Stevens said after the game. “I was really happy with how we responded. I thought we responded really well. I mean, we went right back up to 15 [after the Sixers’ rally] and that’s hard to do, especially when things just aren’t going your direction.”
Stevens continued: “Knock on wood, because this can change – sometimes it’s just dependent on the game you’re playing whether the ball bounces in or not, but we’ve been good in those [late game] moments in really the most part of the last month. We had a little bit of an adjustment, obviously, after (Rajon) Rondo was traded, and Jeff (Green) was traded, but in close games – or you know we’ve had to come back in a couple of these games – I feel like for the most part it’s been a positive in the last eight minutes of games. So that’s encouraging from where we started the year.”
Marcus Thornton (16 points) echoed that sentiment in the Celtics locker room.
“A few weeks ago we probably would have got rattled,” Thornton said of the Sixers comeback. “Probably wouldn’t have come out with the game. We’re starting to gel as a team and starting to play for one another and that’s a great thing.”
The Celtics will attempt to close out a challenging four games in five nights stretch on a winning note Saturday night against the Bucks in Milwaukee.