BOSTON (AP) - The Boston Celtics turned consecutive games against teams they're jockeying with for playoff positioning into a notice for the rest of the Eastern Conference: They have every intention of breaking off a postseason run.
Kevin Garnett scored 20 points and Rajon Rondo dished out double-digit assists for his 17th consecutive game, finishing with 15 to help lead Boston to a 103-79 win over the struggling Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday night.
One night earlier, the Celtics posted a double-digit win at Indiana, a team one spot ahead of them in the East's playoff chase.
``We know what's at stake,' said forward Paul Pierce, who had 17 points. ``A fourth seed, maybe a third.'
Brandon Bass and Avery Bradley each added 18 points as the Celtics won for the seventh time in nine games, improving their Atlantic Division lead to three games over both the 76ers and New York Knicks.
Last week, Boston coach Doc Rivers blasted his team after a tough loss in Chicago.
``I think that was just Doc blowing off steam,' Pierce said. ``We've got a room full of veterans. I don't think we need any more motivation.'
Two seasons ago, Boston was in a similar place in the standings late in the season and made a run to the NBA Finals before falling to the Lakers in seven games.
``This team is taking it to another level. They make you look bad. Did it to Miami last Sunday, did it to Indiana and now they did it to us,' Philadelphia coach Doug Collins said. ``They are going to be a handful and I wouldn't want to play them in the playoffs. When Boston locks in they are really tough to play against. It's going to be very interesting. I wouldn't blink on Boston. Everybody wants to talk about Miami and Chicago.'
Nikola Vucevic led Philadelphia with 14 points and Andre Iguodala had 13. The 76ers have dropped 10 of 14, falling out of first in the Atlantic and forced to compete for the final playoff spot in the East. They are tied with the Knicks for seventh place, one game ahead of Milwaukee.
Coming off their 86-72 win over the Pacers, the Celtics broke this one open early in the second quarter.
Boston led 25-22 after one and outscored the 76ers 20-4 to start the second, pulling to a 45-26 lead on Bradley's runner in the lane. Ray Allen, coming off the bench for the third straight game, ignited the spree with eight points. His 3-pointer from the right wing gave Boston its first double-digit advantage (34-24) 3:04 into the quarter.
The Celtics held Philadelphia to 27.3 percent shooting in the second quarter (6 of 22). The 76ers missed 12 of their first 13 shots.
Rivers is most impressed by his team's play on the defensive end during the current run.
``The defense is real good, guys are locked in,' he said. ``I don't care how well you play, your offense is going to fail you sometimes. But if you come with the right mind-set, your defense never should, and it'll always give you a chance to win a game.'
Philadelphia entered the game with the league's best scoring defense, but the Celtics had things pretty easy in the opening half, getting open looks and numerous drives into the lane.
The 76ers may feel like things are slipping away after an impressive 20-9 start.
``We are tied with the Knicks and they have the tiebreaker,' 76ers forward Elton Brand said. ``Definitely bad right now and we need to get out of this slump.'
Boston led 50-36 at halftime, shooting 57.6 percent (19 of 33) in the opening 24 minutes.
The Celtics then turned it into a rout with an 18-4 run coming out of the break, pushing the lead to 68-40 on Bradley's 3 from the right wing. Garnett scored eight of Boston's first 13 points, driving for a few easy buckets off Rondo's feeds.
The Celtics led 84-63 after three quarters.
Philadelphia made a run early in the final quarter, closing to 86-70 on Lou Williams' breakaway layup, but Sasha Pavlovic hit a 3-pointer to give the Celtics a 91-72 lead and they were never tested the rest of the way.
NOTES: The 76ers, who fell to 10-15 on the road, play eight of their final 10 games away from home. ... Boston travels to Miami for a Tuesday night matchup against the Heat, a little over a week after blowing them out, 91-72, at home. ... The Celtics improved to 20-9 at TD Garden.
The Associated Press News Service
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