Paul Pierce puts his signature on Boston’s 14th straight win

Don’t be surprised when, before the February trade deadline, Miami and Orlando are attached to trade rumors involving guys like Jodie Meeks and Lou Williams. Don’t be alarmed when Erik Spoelstra and Stan Van Gundy begin consulting Doug Collins like he’s Robert Duvall in The Godfather, or when Dwyane Wade and Dwight Howard suddenly sidle up to Andre Iguodala like he’s their new best friend. The reason? Apparently the Sixers have the secret to keeping the Celtics in check. Although the last two Boston/Philly games have been W’s for the green team — the national TV matchup in Philly a couple weeks ago, and last night’s contest in Boston — they have each gone down to the wire, with the Celtics needing to employ their full bag of tricks to survive … Considering the Sixers just had their asses handed to them in a 45-point loss to Chicago the previous night, you weren’t expecting much here. But strong performances by Elton Brand (16 pts, 12 rebs) and Jrue Holiday (15 pts, 5 rebs, 5 asts), and tough D against Paul Pierce (4-15 FG) and Kevin Garnett (4-10 FG) kept this one close … It was tied with about 1:30 to go, Celtics possession. Pierce got the rock, and — exactly one week since the last time he did it — hit a fadeaway jumper off a screen-and-roll going to his right for the go-ahead bucket. On the other end, Iguodala got to the rim but was met by a wall of Shaq and Big Baby, who sent his shot back. Boston played keep-away and eventually Philly had to foul Ray Allen (22 pts). And speaking of predictable, you know what happened next … Before Pierce’s dagger, the biggest highlights of the night came from Shaq. The big Boston Pop had two huge dunks, including one in the third quarter on a lob from Marquis Daniels where Diesel looked like he left about 50 pounds on the ground and got up old-school style … Carmelo Anthony was out, but Kenyon Martin, Birdman and Chauncey Billups were all back in the lineup for Denver’s tip against San Antonio. Sparked by Chauncey (20 pts, 7 asts, 12-12 FT) and a big third quarter from J.R. Smith (22 pts), the Nuggets were up by one going into the fourth before Gregg Popovich went to a zone defense that discombobulated Denver’s offense. With under three minutes to go, San Antonio took the lead for good when Manu Ginobili brought the ball up and absolutely lost J.R. on a step-back move at the three-point line that gave Manu an open trey while one of J.R. sprained one of his neck tattoos. A couple trips later Gary Neal hit a three, then after the Nuggets failed to convert a few opportunities, Neal stuck a jumper in transition that pretty much sealed it. Credit Neal (22 pts) for making his mark on this game without having another face-to-sack meeting with Smith … Our thoughts and prayers go out to Carmelo and his family following the death of his sister. Carmelo will miss the Christmas Day game in Oklahoma City …

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