PHILADELPHIA (AP) - So much for Boston's grim outlook once Rajon Rondo was lost for the season.
Avery Bradley has followed the trusted blueprint of dogged defense and impact scoring to help push the Celtics up the standings.
Bradley scored a season-high 22 points, and Paul Pierce had 18 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Boston Celtics to a 109-101 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night.
Kevin Garnett scored 18 points to help the Celtics improve to 12-4 since Rondo was lost with a torn knee ligament. The Celtics entered in seventh place, but were no more than two games behind the next three teams ahead in the standings. Bradley was 10 of 15 and chipped in seven rebounds and five assists, the kind of numbers needed for the Celtics to slip into a coveted top-four spot for the playoffs.
``My teammates have confidence in me and I have confidence in myself,' Bradley said. ``When I have an open shot, I have to take it. That's how we play on this team. It helps us when I do that.'
Led by Pierce, the Celtics controlled the game and used a 9-0 run midway through the fourth quarter to seal the win. Last May, these two teams went to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. On Wednesday, the Sixers lost for the ninth time in 10 games and are well out of the playoff race.
Jrue Holiday had 18 points and 10 assists for the Sixers, and Thaddeus Young had 19 points and 10 rebounds. Evan Turner scored 18 points.
``We kept competing, trying to bring effort,' Turner said. ``But it's rough. They hit 3s and made some tough shots.'
The Sixers beat the Celtics twice this season after stretching the Celtics to seven games in last year's playoff series. But the Sixers are a team in free-fall because of injuries and a roster ill-equipped to handle the losses of postseason standouts Andre Iguodala and Lou Williams.
There was some mild concern late in the fourth period when Holiday, their All-Star point guard, was hurt. Holiday grabbed his right ankle and hobbled back on defense after an awkward drive. He hopped on one foot after a steal attempt went nowhere, but did stay in the game.
Nothing much went right for the Sixers.
``We just missed too many easy shots,' said Royal Ivey, who scored 10 points.
Like so many teams over the last 15 years, the Sixers had no real answer for Pierce. He hit his first four 3-point attempts, each one more crushing than the last. When the Sixers went on a mini-run to close within eight, Pierce and Jason Terry connected on consecutive 3s to build a comfortable lead.
Pierce had averaged 21.8 points over 54 career games against the 76ers.
At one point in the first half, both teams were 15 of 32 from the field. The Celtics found other ways to separate themselves from the Sixers: Boston went to the free-throw line and made 3s. The Sixers missed 9 of 11 3-point attempts in the first half and were 0 for 3 from the free-throw line.
The Sixers finished 5 of 21 on 3s and 14 of 18 on foul shots They did score 64 points in the paint.
But they only made 41 of a whopping 100 shots from the floor. The Celtics shot a solid 5 percent in the third (11 of 20) and 53 percent (10 of 19) in the fourth to methodically build to a 15-point lead.
``It was who could score the most. That's not the way we want to play the game,' Garnett said.
Boston got sloppy at the end of the third quarter and had three turnovers in the final 90 seconds. That helped the Sixers score six straight points and slice the lead to five. Jordan Crawford opened the fourth period with a pair of 3-pointers that made it 91-76 and the Celtics never let up from there.
Crawford's points and production off the bench were needed for a veteran team with another game Wednesday night at Indiana. He scored 12 points and fellow reserve Jeff Green added 16. Pierce's perfection helped the Celtics go 11 of 19 from 3-point range.
``That's the new us in a lot of ways, the ball finds the open guy,' coach Doc Rivers said. ``It's simple, but it's hard to do unless you buy in. Everyone has bought in.'
NOTES: Injured 76ers C Andrew Bynum (knees) was re-examined in New York on Tuesday by Dr. David Altchek. GM Tony DiLeo said surgery remained an option. ... Sixers G Nick Young (sprained left ankle) did not play. ... The 76ers will play two preseason games in Europe. They'll play Uxue Bilbao on Oct. 6 in Bilbao, Spain, and the Oklahoma City Thunder on Oct. 8 in Manchester, England.
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