PHILADELPHIA — With a nearly healthy roster at his disposal and a plethora of options, Celtics coach Brad Stevens spent Wednesday night mixing and matching lineup combinations as his ever-changing team begins to develop chemistry and rhythm.
With Rajon Rondo looking more like an All-Star-caliber guard, Jeff Green responding from a stretch of poor games to dominate offensively, and Jared Sullinger nabbing rebounds, the Celtics led for the final 27 minutes and earned an impressive 114-108 win over the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center.
Green scored 30 of his 36 points in the first three quarters, resembling the player who dropped 39 on the Washington Wizards Jan. 22. Rondo finished with 8 points, 11 assists, and 9 rebounds in an efficient 32 minutes. Sullinger had 19 points and 10 rebounds.
It was the first time the Celtics won back-to-back games since Dec. 13 and 16, and they played with a renewed confidence, especially Rondo, who looked as fluid and comfortable as he has since returning from knee surgery Jan. 17.
He reached double-digit assists for the second consecutive game and made some pinpoint passes not seen since before the injury.
“I’m just playing. I’m still a little fatigued out there, but coach is watching my minutes and as far as being a general on the floor, I’m very confident,” Rondo said. “I’m still learning the plays, where every guy will get the shot in a certain place. Overall, I feel great. I think I made my teammates better tonight, so I’m getting back to my old self.”
The 76ers, who used an Evan Turner buzzer-beater to win at TD Garden Jan. 29, kept charging behind reserve Tony Wroten. But each time Philadelphia drew to within 4 in the waning minutes, the Celtics responded with a basket, unlike what they’ve usually done in close games.
Following a Turner layup with 1:49 left to slice the Celtics’ lead to 109-105, Rondo drove and fed Sullinger for a layup and free throw for a commanding 7-point lead. Sullinger was 3 for 3 from the field with two blocked shots in the final period.
“Only time could help us,” said Sullinger, who notched his third consecutive double-double. “Rondo had to get the rust off. It takes a minute for somebody to get into game shape, trust me, I know. He’s starting to look like the Rondo we love and adore.”
Green has been maddening to Celtics faithful with his inconsistency. After scoring 8 points in nearly 37 minutes Sunday against the Orlando Magic, Green scored 17 in the third quarter against the 76ers on 4-for-8 shooting, including three 3-pointers.
With Green’s 30 points through three quarters, the Celtics led by as many as 11. Green not only was stellar from behind the arc but pushed the ball into the paint, drawing fouls. He attempted 10 free throws through three quarters, showing the aggression Stevens has craved all season.
In the five games since scoring that season-high 39 points against the Wizards, Green had shot 28.9 percent from the field, 25 percent from the 3-point line, and averaged 12.8 points. Wednesday night he went 11 for 18, made five 3-pointers, and had 12 free throw attempts.
“He made a lot of shots and I thought Rondo found him a couple of times,” Stevens said. “Any time you can get baskets where they are uncontested at the rim, then your confidence grows. After the Washington game, I don’t think we could have expected 39 or 36. But hopefully we just continue to grow and get better with the guys that are all out on the floor. I think his job is simplified with Rajon out there.”
Green scored 13 consecutive points as the Celtics extended their lead to 83-71 in the third quarter. He showed off an array of swooping one-handed drives that either produced buckets or free throws and then ended the surge with a 3-pointer.
“It was only a matter of time before we got on the same page,” Green said of his teamwork with Rondo. “He’s been out a year, so the rhythm, the flow of the game, his pace of the game is all connecting well. He’s helping me get in a good rhythm and continue to make sure I get open to help him out as well.”
When asked if he can determine when breakout nights like Wednesday will occur, Green said: “It just kind of happens. During warm-ups I wasn’t shooting the ball well but something just happened. I’m always confident in my shot and I always will be.”
And he was helped by a relentless Rondo, who is quickly working himself back into All-Star form.
“I thought Rajon pushed the tempo better than he has in the first eight games that he’s played,” Stevens said. “I thought the first half we were really moving up the court and got a lot of good looks, and Jeff’s best in that.”Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.