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First impressions: Celtics 96, 76ers 86

Instant reaction after the Boston Celtics posted a 96-86 triumph over the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night at the Wachovia Center:

How the game was won: Boston’s starters shrugged off a quiet first half as Rajon Rondo (16 points, 11assists, 6 rebounds) sparked the Celtics into opening a comfortable advantage late in the third quarter. Kevin Garnett added 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting with 8 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals. Lou Williams paced Philadelphia with a team-high 22 points.

Turning point: The Celtics never gained much separation from the 76ers, but Rondo scored the final three points of the third quarter, then Rasheed Wallace and Glen Davis made layups to open the fourth frame putting Boston on top, 76-67, with 10:21 to play. The Celtics hung on from there.

Stat of the game: The Celtics did a nice job getting to the charity stripe, shooting 27 free throws (compared to Philadelphia’s 12). Boston made 22 of those 27 attempts overall (81.5 percent).

Unsung hero: Davis highlighted a solid bench effort by connecting on 5-of-8 shots for 12 points with 6 rebounds (three offensive) and a team-best plus/minus rating of plus-10 (shared by Wallace).

What it means: The Celtics have won three in a row for the first time since opening the second half of the season with a trio of wins on the west coast. (You’d have to go back to late December for the last three-game streak before that). It wasn’t pretty as Philadelphia hung close much of the way, but it also rarely seemed in jeopardy. Boston’s starters generated 27 total points in the first half, but combined for 67 points overall.