Paul Pierce  could see it. Doc Rivers  could see it. So could Kevin Garnett . All of the Celtics ‘ leaders essentially said the same thing following Tuesday’s 99-82 win over the 76ers at TD Garden. The Celtics are slowly but surely getting in playoff form, and if they are going anywhere, they’re going to need Rajon Rondo  to get them there.
Rondo had 16 points and 13 assists and led the charge all night long as the Celtics were pressed early and often by a young Philadelphia team trying to show it could be a legitimate threat come the playoffs if the two meet in the first round.
“You expect Rajon to play that way every night,” Pierce said. “He’s set a standard for himself over the last couple of years with his play. It’s no surprise when I look up and he has those type of numbers. I just think his next step is being more consistent with it to where he’s putting up 13, 14, 15 assists every night, but that comes as you get older. I was in that position, too, as a young player, just learning how to be consistent with it. As Rondo goes, we go. When he has these monster assist games, we usually win.”
“He was just aggressive and attacking and shooting,” Rivers said of Rondo, his prized floor general. “You can see he’s getting himself ready, you can just feel that. I don’t know if he plays with great focus all game right now, or if any of our guys do. But you can see what they’re all doing. They’re in some ways sharpening their tools in spurts. It’s tough for coaches. You’d like for them to do that and keep doing it. But they know where they’re at.”
As for team consistency, the captain said the Celtics showed enough to overcome the Sixers, learning from recent history where they have had a hard time protecting a double-digit lead.
Like Tuesday, when they came out and scored the first nine points of the third quarter and kept the Sixers scoreless on 0-for-9 shooting until 6:19 remaining. That was followed up by a 10-1 Philly run that cut the Boston lead back to 64-60 with 4:02 left in the third. Timeout time for Doc.
“I thought we did a good job,” Pierce said of responding to Philly’s third-quarter run that brought the Sixers back to within four. “We had a better sense of urgency coming out of the timeout. We’ve been talking the last couple of games, we’ve built up 10-point leads and teams got back into it, as you saw in the first half. I think we did a better job of holding the lead, a little bit more solid. Doc always says when we get these leads, we get a little bit lackadaisical. Just the simple plays are the ones we need to make, and I think we did that for the most part.
‘I really liked the way we played in the second half. Came out in the third quarter with more a sense of urgency, a lot more solid on defense. We are trying to build going into the playoffs, try and gather some momentum. You never know, we may face the 76ers in the playoffs, so it’s good to get this win.’
They certainly won’t have the same margin of error on Thursday night in Chicago as they try to draw to within two games of the first-place Bulls in the East.
“Just used to be in playoff atmosphere settings,” Pierce said of getting ready for a big regular-season game. “You play a game in Chicago with a lot on the line for our seeds. Some guys haven’t been in a lot of big games. A lot of these guys have. It puts you in those moments to where you can say, ‘This is the type of atmosphere you going to be in every night once the playoffs start.’ You don’t have a lot of those games on the schedule, but Chicago is one of those games this week.”