Essentially, the Sixers and the Celtics are traveling over the same path. As both teams carved apart their rosters and set off on complete overhauls, the 2013-14 season shaped up to be difficult all the way around.
Even with Boston’s 114-108 victory over the Sixers at the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday night (see Instant Replay), there isn’t much separating the teams. Both are young and inexperienced with first-year NBA head coaches taking on the hard task of putting the pieces back together.
But where the Celtics (17-33) have it over the Sixers (15-35) is obvious. When Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green are on the floor, any team has a chance.
Green scored a game-high 36 points on 11 for 18 shooting, including 5 for 7 from three-point range. He scored 17 points in the third quarter and single-handily put the Celtics on the way to the victory.
Clinging to a two-possession lead with 8:47 left in the third quarter, Green scored 13 points in a row and 17 of the next 19 for the Celtics. He hit three three-pointers and went 6 for 6 from the line as the deficit grew to 12 points for the Sixers.
“It felt like it was a lot more,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said of Green’s 17-point run in the third.
It only felt like more because the Sixers couldn’t do anything about it. With Rondo controlling the tempo of the game in a season-high 32 minutes, the Celtics always had an answer. That proved to be especially frustrating during the fourth quarter when the Sixers had six chances to cut the Celtics’ lead to one possession over the final nine minutes of the game.
Instead, the Sixers never got closer than three points with those six chances ending with three turnovers and four missed shots.
It was very frustrating for the Sixers to be so close only to let it slip away.
“It’s kind of the story of the year,” said Spencer Hawes, who had 13 points and 14 rebounds. “We battle back, but it takes so much energy to get back into games. We have to start giving ourselves a little pad to be on the other end absorbing it and having that little burst to finish them off.”
In his eighth game back following knee surgery, Rondo had a season-high 11 assists and came one rebound and one basket away from a triple-double. In a game in which all of the intangibles were equal -- the Sixers had 16 turnovers, Boston had 15; the Sixers had 47 rebounds with 13 offensive, Boston had 48 and 12 -- Rondo shifted the balance.
Facing off against rookie Michael Carter-Williams, who was named the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for January before the game, Rondo played like a conductor.
“He’s their compass,” Brown said about Rondo. “He’s just like Chris Paul where he has that cocky side that you just love where he’s in control of the game. It’s his ball and he’s going to dribble at a pace that he wants to and around who he wants to. Maybe he’s going to shoot it or maybe he’s going to drop it off. He navigates the lane freely.”
Carter-Williams had his eyes wide open while playing against Rondo, too. Though the knee surgery has left the Celtics’ point guard just slightly slower than normal, the basketball IQ and court savvy were as fine-tuned as ever.
There was plenty for the Sixers’ rookie to pick up on.
“He’s definitely a pass-first point guard,” said Carter-Williams, who had 11 points on 16 shots with six assists and four turnovers. “He’s a great passer who always finds his teammates and he’s the leader out there.”
Certainly, Carter-Williams is working to develop into a leader like Rondo. And despite the early-season accolades, it’s been a rocky road for the rookie. For instance, Carter-Williams had half of his assists during the first half, but the team was only able to find two shots in the opening half for leading scorer Evan Turner. Thad Young made up some of the difference with 12 of his team-high 20 in the first half, but the Sixers rarely run plays just for Young.
Turner squeezed off 11 shots for 12 points in the second half, however, he created a few of those for himself.
Afterwards, Turner said his shots came when available.
“It was just the flow of the game,” Turner said. “That was pretty much it.”
With Rondo back on the floor, the flow of the game had been decided and there was nothing the Sixers did to steal it away.