It's been quite some time since the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers were in an all-out race for the Atlantic Division crown. The last time the two finished one-two in the division was the 2008-09 regular season, but it wasn't exactly a race -- Boston (62-20) finished 21 games ahead of Philadelphia (41-41).
Alas, here we are, almost in mid-April, and the Celtics and Sixers are separated by two games atop the Atlantic Division standings. Boston (31-24) will attempt to build its division lead up to three games with 10 left to play as they host Philadelphia (29-26) on Easter Sunday at 6 p.m. EST inside TD Garden in Boston, MA (TV/Radio: CSNNE/WEEI).
These two teams have been going in opposite directions since their last meeting on March 23, when Philly walked off with a 99-86 win. Boston would win five in a row -- including a victory over the Miami Heat -- and six of eight overall while Philly would go on to drop five of its next seven, including an 88-82 defeat at the hands of the Orlando Magic on Saturday.
In the Sixers' win over Boston in late March, Elton Brand turned back the clock and had an impressive 20-point, four-steal game and Philadelphia used a huge third quarter, in which it outscored Boston by twenty (37-17), to down the Celts. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett each scored 20, and despite shooting 48.6 percent from the field, Boston couldn't get the win.
The loss was only a secondary concern for the Celtics, who lost swingman Mickael Pietrus after he fell on his back and suffered a closed head injury during the second quarter. Pietrus was removed from the court on a stretcher and was taken for tests at a Philadelphia hospital, where it was ruled that he had a concussion. Pietrus has not played since that game.
Pietrus' injury would allow for Avery Bradley to get extra minutes and eventually start when Ray Allen's sore right ankle kept him out for several games. In that time, Bradley became a dual threat, as he began to hit his stride on offense. Allen returned to the starting lineup against San Antonio this past Wednesday, but Bradley would start the next night in Chicago and again on Saturday against the Indiana Pacers.
Led by 24 points from Pierce -- 13 of which he scored in the third quarter -- the Celtics beat the Pacers, 86-72, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Boston led 24-19 after on quarter and outscored the opposition 19-14 in the second quarter to take a 43-33 lead into halftime. At one point, the Celtics led by 15 in the opening half. Indiana made up some ground in the third quarter, holding Boston to 16 points, but a 27-point fourth was more than enough for Boston to bury Indy.
Philadelphia didn't have as much success in its game Saturday, as a 20-20 night from Dwight Howard (20 points, 22 rebounds) put the game out of reach. Thaddeus Young led the 76ers with 20 points off the bench in the loss, and none of Philly's starters scored more than seven points. Philadelphia was held to 39.7 percent shooting.
Boston heads back out on the road for its next game, a rematch with the always dangerous Miami Heat on Tuesday, before returning home to face the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night.