PHILADELPHIA - The Celtics entered yesterday with the best defense in the NBA. But if you didn't know better, you probably wouldn't have guessed that last night.
After a lackluster defensive start, the Celtics picked it up to defeat the struggling 76ers, 113-103, at the Wachovia Center. Boston improved to an NBA-best 15-2, is 6-2 on the road, and has won four straight. Kevin Garnett scored 22 points, Paul Pierce had 19, and reserves James Posey and Eddie House added 17 and 15, respectively.
The Sixers (5-13) shot 55.7 percent from the field, a team season high and an opponents' high against Boston this season. The previous high vs. the Celtics in field goal percentage was Orlando - 50.8 percent Nov. 18.
Philadelphia had two players score more than 20 points: Andre Miller (26 points, 12 assists) and Andre Iguodala (24 points).
This contest had all the makings of a trap game for the hot Celtics.
The Sixers had the worst record in the Atlantic Division and entered the game with only five wins. The atmosphere was sleepy, with many empty red seats. And the Sixers were playing their first game with a new president and general manager in Ed Stefanski.
"Guys are motivated when a new guy is in town because they want to show him they can do some things," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said during yesterday morning's shootaround. "But what we've got to be concerned about is us. We just have to be ready."
The Celtics couldn't have been ready for the Sixers' offense in the first quarter.
The Sixers made 16 of 19 shots (73.7 percent) and didn't have a turnover as they completed the period with a 32-26 lead. Philadelphia made eight straight field goals from the 7:12 mark until there were 31.1 seconds left.
Miller had 13 points and five assists in the opening quarter, while Iguodala added 11 points. The Sixers scored a season high for first-quarter points as a team and for a Celtics foe. Boston was able to stay within reach by shooting 57.1 percent (12 of 21) in the first.
The Sixers stayed hot in the second quarter as they took a 42-31 lead on a Samuel Dalembert 3-point play. Philadelphia went ahead, 55-44, on two Miller free throws with 2:02 remaining. The Celtics, however, finished the second with an 8-2 run that was completed with an emphatic Garnett putback dunk and scream that sliced their deficit to 57-52 with 3.8 seconds left before halftime.
Miller, who has been the subject of trade rumors, had 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds at halftime, while Iguodala made 6 of 7 shots for 14 points. The Sixers shot 60 percent, while the Celtics shot 51.2 percent. Philadelphia outrebounded Boston, 19-11.
Philadelphia was 1 point shy of tying a season high for a Celtics opponent in the first half. Orlando scored 58 against the visiting Celtics. The Sixers scored a season high for a half. Boston entered the game tops in the NBA in opponent's points and field goal percentage.
The Celtics opened up the third quarter with a 5-0 run to tie the game at 57 on a Ray Allen 3-pointer at the 10:26 mark. Pierce gave Boston the lead back at 59-57 on a 15-foot jumper with 9:47 remaining in the third. Two Pierce free throws gave the Celtics a 73-70 lead with 2:57 left in the third. A 3-point play by Miller brought the Sixers within 80-79 with 6.9 seconds remaining in the quarter. But Rajon Rondo dribbled the length of the court to make a lay-in with 0.8 seconds left to give Boston an 83-80 lead.