PHILADELPHIA -- The Miami Heat is the talk of the NBA, on a 15-game winning streak that has separated them from everyone in the Eastern Conference.
But the 16-game stretch that the Boston Celtics have put together has to be just as impressive, maybe even more so. That's because Boston has done its damage in those games without Rajon Rondo, who is among the few elite point guards in the NBA.
Credit it to coaching, or to veteran leadership or just the know-how of winning, Boston has navigated its way around the potential devastating loss and has somehow turned it into a positive. That roll continued Tuesday as the Celtics laid a 109-101 loss on the Sixers at the Wells Fargo Center.
Avery Bradley, who missed the first 30 games of the season after double shoulder surgery, is now manning the point for the Celtics. He is known more for his tenacious defense than his offensive ability. He did his usual job on the defensive end, limiting Jrue Holiday to 6-for-17 shooting and forcing five turnovers. But he was also able to collect 22 points, seven rebounds and five assists. And the usual suspects, Kevin Garnett (18 points) and Paul Pierce (18, 11 rebounds, seven assists), did their usual dirty work as Boston improved to 32-27 and 12-4 without Rondo, who is done for the season with a torn ACL. The Sixers dropped to 23-36, have lost nine of 10 and are 7 1/2 games out of the final playoff spot in the East.
Amazingly, the Celtics have been able to change their whole offensive scheme in mid-season and without the player who controlled the ball most of the time. Instead of Rondo facilitating and racking up his usual mind-boggling assist totals, Boston has become a team that moves the ball around the court with speed and precision. Of their 42 field goals Tuesday, 34 were made from an assist.
"They are playing as a cohesive group, moving the ball, getting to the right spots and knocking down shots," said Royal Ivey, who started in place of injured Nick Young and scored 10 points. "They are playing together as a unit and they're playing real well. They're playing at a quicker pace, they move the ball. Rondo kind of (has) the ball when he is there, but now it's swing, swing, swing, open shots and guys are knocking down open shots."
It was the ones they drilled from long range that particularly harmed the Sixers as Boston made 11 of 19 from beyond the arc and had an 18-point advantage from there.
Thaddeus Young collected 19 points and 10 rebounds while Holiday also had a double-double with 18 points and 10 assists, as seven Sixers reached double scoring figures.
While Boston's lead grew to as many as 15 early in the fourth quarter, the Sixers had a chance to get back into it after scoring seven straight points and then a rebound off a Boston miss led to a fastbreak. But Dorell Wright (10 points) threw a bad pass in the open court that turned into a Pierce three, then Jason Terry drilled another trey after an Evan Turner basket and the Celtics grew the lead back to 12. The threat pretty much ended there.
"They had 34 assists and in a game like that Rondo would get 18 of them," said Sixers coach Doug Collins. "They had five guys with four or more, so they're different. They're a different team now. Avery Bradley on that ball is tough. Rondo is a roamer. He does a lot of roams, he steals, he's a great rebounder, not a guy who is going to shoot a lot of threes. They're a different team. I'm not saying they're better. They're different."
Different or better hasn't really mattered as winning is what the Celtics have been doing without one of their aces. It's something good teams find a way to do, even if it's a total change to the norm.
"Rondo is a big piece, but they've got guys -- Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry, Jeff Green, Avery Bradley filling in for Rondo," Ivey said. "They're a good group, seasoned guys. They have a lot of veterans and they know how to win. They've been to the pinnacle of basketball. They lost a soldier and now they're fighting."
Guard Nick Young was out for his third straight game with a sprained ankle. It is questionable whether he'll be available for the three-game road trip that begins Wednesday in Atlanta ... The NBA announced the Sixers would play two preseason games abroad. Eight NBA teams will play in a total of eight cities in six countries. The Sixers will face Uxue Bilbao Basket in Bilbao, Spain, on Oct. 6 then face the Oklahoma City Thunder 2 days later in Manchester, England ... When asked if Andrew Bynum would be available for comment before the game, the Sixers said he was visiting Dr. Jonathan Glashow at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York.
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