at TD Garden, 7:30 p.m. | CSN, WEEI (850 AM)
GAME PREVIEW (via Stats Inc.)
The Philadelphia 76ers have come closer than anyone to knocking off the Celtics during Boston's 13-game winning streak.
While that may have been Philadelphia at its best, its latest game certainly represented the worst.
Boston looks to extend the NBA's longest run of success this season Wednesday night against the visiting 76ers, who will have a 45-point defeat fresh in their minds as they look to avenge their last-second loss to the Celtics.
The Celtics (22-4) have rarely been tested during their 13 consecutive victories, shooting 52.1 percent and winning by more than five points all but three times.
Boston shot 55.9 percent at Philadelphia on Dec. 9, but still had to sweat out its ninth straight win. Kevin Garnett banked in a shot off Rajon Rondo's alley-oop pass with 1.4 seconds left to lift the Celtics to a 102-101 victory.
"What a heartbreaking loss," 76ers coach Doug Collins said. "They have so many different ways that they can attack on the offensive end. ... It would have been an incredible win for us."
Rondo finished with 19 points and 14 assists, but he won't be around for the rematch. The NBA assist leader has missed Boston's last two games with a sprained left ankle and might be out until early January.
The Celtics got Shaquille O'Neal back in the lineup Sunday against Indiana after a four-game absence, but Paul Pierce stole the show. The eight-time All-Star had 18 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds in a 99-88 win -- his first triple-double since March 8, 2006, against Philadelphia.
Pierce has 22 assists in the two games without Rondo as Boston has averaged 25.5 -- just 0.4 fewer than what it produces when Rondo is in the lineup.
"We're putting (Pierce) in Rondo's spot, and making him the facilitator," coach Doc Rivers said. "With this team, especially with the injuries we have, he's been a great utility guy."
Boston might get another big man back Wednesday. Jermaine O'Neal has missed 18 consecutive games while recovering from left knee soreness, but is back practicing and says he's "50/50" to face Philadelphia.
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FORSBERG'S THREE THINGS TO WATCH
Philly's psyche: The Celtics broke their hearts with a buzzer-beating lob from Rajon Rondo to Kevin Garnett earlier this month and the 76ers are coming off a brutal 45-point shellacking at the hands of the Chicago Bulls. In the middle of a brutal eight-game road trip that resumes out west the day after Christmas and includes visits to Denver, Golden State, Phoenix, and the Los Angeles Lakers, all before the ball drops on New Year's Eve., this stretch has potential to deflate a Philadelphia team that had won 8 of 11 (losing only to the Celtics, Lakers, and Hawks) before the Bulls' thrashing on Tuesday. Can Philadelphia pick itself up on its final game before a three-day Christmas break?
Trap game? All that said, Boston can't start looking ahead to a Christmas showdown with a new-look Magic squad. Just look what happened last year when Philadelphia invaded the Garden the week before Christmas and stunned a Boston squad riding an 11-game winning streak. The key stat that night: Second-chance points killed Boston, including Elton Brand's tip-in with 7.7 seconds remaining to lift the 76ers to a 98-97 triumph.
Taking care of business: While the Celtics' 13-game winning streak has been defined by words like "gritty" and "gutsy," in part due to the injuries they've withstood, Boston could be as healthy as ever this evening (save for Rondo and his left ankle sprain). Well rested, playing at home, and going against a road-weary team, there's no reason Boston shouldn't take care of business and carry that long streak into the holiday showdown in Orlando. As Shaquille O'Neal summed up the win streak Sunday: "Beat the teams we’re supposed to; Take care of home; Stay above .500 on the road road; and we’ll have a good year. We're not really worrying about streaks, just one game at a time."