PHILADELPHIA – Paul Pierce was way off his usual game, but his teammates picked up the scoring slack.

Against the sinking Philadelphia 76ers, that was easily enough for a win Friday night.

Rajon Rondo had 16 points and 11 assists, Kevin Garnett scored 22 points, Ray Allen had 16 and the Boston Celtics handed the Philadelphia 76ers their fifth straight loss, 96-86.

“We’re a veteran team; we know how to play,” Garnett said. “It’s just (about) when we want to put our heads together, go out and execute and do the things we’ve worked on. I think the second half of the season is when you really get into what you do. It’s just focus. When we want to do it, we do it. Some nights we get lazy.”

Rondo was anything but lazy in the second half and sparked the Celtics in the third quarter. He was scoreless on four shots through the first half, but scored three straight driving layups off the pick-and-roll that broke a tie and put Boston ahead, 60-54.

Rondo finished with 14 points in the quarter and nearly had a triple-double through three. He finished with six rebounds.

Rondo said he was simply trying to get aggressive and find a way to get to the foul line. Coach Doc Rivers said Rondo delivered exactly when the Celtics needed him.

“We just didn’t have anything going at that one stretch and then we ran two plays and Rondo was fantastic in them,” Rivers said.

Rondo’s production was needed because of an unusual off night from Pierce, who was limited to seven points and missed 8 of 9 shots.

“I kept looking at my hand, wondering what was wrong,” Pierce said. “I felt real good out there but the shots weren’t falling.”

Garnett and Allen were there to make up the difference. They went 15 of 25 from the floor.

Glen Davis had 12 points for the Celtics, who couldn’t put away the Sixers until the end.

Rondo missed a dunk down the lane that the Sixers used to score two free throws on the other end and slice the deficit to 90-85. The Celtics didn’t let the Sixers score a field goal over the final three minutes and sealed it from the foul line to win their third straight game.

Lou Williams led the 76ers with 22 points. Elton Brand had 17.

The Sixers have played some of their best basketball against the NBA’s top teams. Turning that effort into victories has been a problem. Andre Iguodala scored 14 points.

“If you want to model yourself after a good team, you look at a team with a lot of vets who play the game the right way,” Iguodala said.

Once one of the NBA’s top rivalries, Boston-Philadelphia has cooled over the last two decades. Still, play was chippy in the first half, with Kendrick Perkins of Boston and Marreese Speights of Philadelphia whistled for technicals.

Brand, who missed two games with right Achilles tendinitis, made a strong return in the first quarter. He scored 12 points and the Sixers shot 57 percent from the floor to lead, 25-23.

But Brand only scored five points the rest of the way. He was bloodied late in the game and sat out for a spell to change jerseys. He returned for the final minutes.

“Last few games, for two, three quarters it was a pretty solid performance throughout the game, but we really need to get the (wins),” Brand said.


NOTES: Michael Finley, who was granted his release from San Antonio earlier this week, will join the Celtics today. Rivers expects Finley to debut Sunday against Washington. “We don’t know where we’re going to fit him in, but adding a veteran can never hurt,” Rivers said.


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