By Kevin O'Connor

When the Celtics led by 24 points late in the third quarter, Isaiah Canaan rumbled down the lane for what looked like an easy layup. But Marcus Smart shuffled over, got his feet set, and took a charge to the chest.

With such a huge lead, Smart would’ve been excused if he stepped aside and let Canaan score, but his effort illustrated Boston’s punch first approach in Sunday’s 112-92 win.

“We didn’t want to make the mistake a lot of teams made by just looking at their record,” Smart said to reporters after the game. “We wanted to come out and make sure we punched them in the mouth first.”

The Sixers might have the NBA’s worst record, but they’ve been competitive since acquiring Ish Smith. Entering Sunday, since Christmas the Sixers were 5-8 with a -3.1 Net Rating, a significant improvement prior to Smith’s arrival.

But the Celtics came out sweltering hot and built an 11-point lead five minutes into the game. The difference eventually swelled to 18 points in the first half behind an explosive shooting effort.

The Celtics were flying around defensively, which led to easy transition opportunities, and they drained their threes. Smart and Jae Crowder combined for 28 of Boston’s 58 first-half points, hitting six total threes.

“We wanted to play better than [we did last time against the Sixers],” Stevens said after the game. “It doesn’t mean you will. It doesn’t mean you’ll make shots. It doesn’t mean you’re gonna make enough to win. But I thought our guys were pretty locked in tonight.”


The Celtics led by 15 at halftime, but Stevens expressed at halftime that his team needed to come out strong in the second half, which is exactly what they did. “We never let [the lead] dip below 17 or 19, so I felt good about that,” Stevens said.

Stevens can also feel good about the fact he was able to rest four of his starters (Crowder, Thomas, Jared Sullinger, and Isaiah Thomas) for most of the fourth quarter.

“We’ve had very few games in December or January where it’s not been to the wire,” Stevens said. “And so, that’s a positive I guess. We try to take that into account if we’re playing games like that with less practice, monitoring time on their feet otherwise outside of game day.”

The Celtics will complete the second night of a back-to-back on Monday night against the Wizards, winners of five of their last seven. The Celtics recently defeated the Wizards 119-117 after Crowder’s thrilling game-winning layup.