The offensive numbers will jump off the box score for Rajon Rondo, who turned in 16 points and 13 assists over 32 minutes while sparking the Boston offense Tuesday night. But it was Rondo's decision to step up his defensive play that allowed Boston to run away with the victory.
And as both coach Doc Rivers and Kevin Garnett stressed, it truly seemed like a decision by Rondo to elevate that portion of his game. Sixers guard Jrue Holiday connected on all four shots he took in the first quarter, scoring 11 points as the 76ers raced to a two-point lead after one frame.
Holiday missed his final eight shots and didn't score another point the rest of the night.
"When he decided to guard and he decided to slow down Holiday, then [Philadelphia's] whole offense slowed down also," said Garnett. The 76ers mustered a mere 32 second-half points.
Added Rivers: "I don't even know what he had [for stats]. He was aggressive, attacking and shooting. He's getting himself ready, you can just feel that. But I don't know if he played with great focus all game, right now you can say that about any of our guys."
Here's what we know for sure: Rondo has been much better since getting a mental health/pinkie health day last month in Minnesota. He responded with back-to-back 22-point outings, including a 14-assist effort in San Antonio, then followed with a double-double in Atlanta.
He admitted after Tuesday's game that he "wouldn't say I'm feeling 100 percent, but I'm doing OK." And whether he's coasting a bit toward the finish line is open to debate. But when he's engaged, the Celtics sure look like a tough team to beat.
"Well, you expect Rajon to play that way every night," captain Paul Pierce said. "He's set a standard for himself over the last couple of years with his play, so it's no surprise when I look up and he has these type of numbers. I just think his next step is just being more consistent with it, to when he's putting up 13, 14, 15 assists every night, but that comes as you get older. I was in that position too as a young player, just learning how to be consistent with it. I think as Rondo goes, we go. And when he has these monster assist games, we usually win."
--RAY'S CONFIDENCE METER NEVER SHIFTS--
Whether he's in a minor funk, or the Celtics as a team simply aren't generating enough shots for him, Ray Allen responded with one of his better outings in recent games, connecting on 5-of-7 shots, including the only 3-pointer he attempted, while registering 13 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and a steal over 35:19.
Allen, who has rarely come close to his season average of 12.4 attempts per game over the last eight contests, not topping that mark since putting up 16 shots against the Knicks on March 21, has still managed to contribute double digits in points over each of those games, finding ways to maximize his output on limited attempts.
Ironically, Allen missed as many free throw attempts as shots, clanging two technical-foul free throws while going 2-for-4 at the charity stripe Tuesday. But Rivers isn't worried about his confidence.
"Ray never lost his confidence; he just couldn’t make a shot," Rivers said. "Ray is shooting anything leather. He is. He’s not going to lose confidence. He’s going to struggle like we all struggle at times, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen Ray lack confidence."
--LAYUP LINE: MURPHY'S MINUTES; COLLINS' PRAISE; DOC ON MESSAGES--
* Troy Murphy returned to the active roster after being sidelined since rolling his ankle in practice March 24. He played the final 2:48 and did not register a shot, while grabbing one rebound.
"I'm more interested in the team; I'm not focused on any one guy," Rivers said before Tuesday's game. "Right now, with all the [injuries] we've had, I'm not going to focus on one guy."
The lack of playing time keeps Murphy in an uphill battle to show he deserves potential minutes in the postseason rotation.
* Philadelphia coach Doug Collins offered lofty praise for Boston as the Celtics emerged with the most decisive win in this four-game regular-season series, which Boston won 3-1.
“We ran up against a team that played probably as well as they’ve played in a long time," said Collins. "I talked to Doc after the game -- 29 assists, they executed brilliantly, they had two or three really great defensive spurts. To start the third quarter, we fought to get back in and we cut it to four again, and then they had another defensive spurt. I told our guys how that’s really what championship teams do, they might not play it for 48 minutes, but they’re going to lock you down for stretches and win those what I call five-minute skirmishes. And I thought they won two five-minute skirmishes in the second half, which I really thought gave them separation.
"Delonte West really helps them, Jeff Green has played very well against us, and they played a very, very good game. Rondo once again leading their team, Ray Allen shooting a high percentage. So when they play like that, it should make Doc smile, because they’re one of the best teams in the league.”
* Rivers downplayed the idea that Boston sent a message against a potential first-round playoff foe.
"No, no. Not at all," Rivers said. "I just think we won today, and they lost today. And they’re going to watch film and we’re going to watch film. But it’s good to win.”