PHILADELPHIA — Sunday got off to a turbulent start for the Celtics, who had to board a plane at 9 a.m. to head to blizzard-beaten Philadelphia for a game 10 hours later.
Such itineraries are extremely rare for NBA players, who are accustomed to arriving in cities in the middle of the night, which allows plenty of time for rest and preparation. The players complained little about their inconvenience, though, which was caused by Winter Storm Jonas.
Instead they overwhelmed the downtrodden 76ers in the opening quarter and then cruised to a 112-92 win at Wells Fargo Center.
The announced crowd for the game, which was originally scheduled for Saturday night, was 9,722, well below capacity as most of Philadelphia was recovering from a storm that left more than 20 inches of snow.
Boston jumped out to an 18-7 lead with 7:02 left in the first period and was never seriously threatened in one of its easier victories of the season. Jae Crowder and Isaiah Thomas each scored 20 points while Marcus Smart added 16 on 6-for-11 shooting.
More importantly for coach Brad Stevens, he was able to rest his starters in preparation for Monday's game at Washington. Only Crowder played more than 30 minutes.
Perhaps it helped the Celtics' motivation that in their previous meeting with the lowly 76ers they had been forced to rally late to escape with an 84-80 win on Nov. 25 at TD Garden. The Celtics ended that game on a 23-8 run.
"Obviously [the travel] wasn't ideal but I thought the guys were business-like in their approach," Stevens said. "We talked about it [Saturday]. This team [Philadelphia] had us beat, we were dead in the water [on Nov. 25] and we wanted to play better than that. I thought our guys were pretty locked in."
Crowder, Thomas, and Smart took turns gashing the 76ers with a barrage of 3-pointers and midrange jumpers. Smart scored 10 points in the second period to help the Celtics pull away and the second half was no more than an organized scrimmage.
It was the type of layup game the Celtics needed after nail-biters in the past week. Stevens was wary of Philadelphia because it has played well in the month since acquiring Ish Smith. The point guard was largely ineffective Sunday, scoring just 7 points in 26 minutes.
The Celtics could do little with Philadelphia swingman Robert Covington, who led the 76ers with 25 points on 6-for-13 shooting from the 3-point line. Philadelphia's most prized prospects, Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor, didn't warm up until the game was decided, which was midway through the third when the Celtics led, 80-51.
Despite the easiness of the victory, the Celtics were ready to get back to a conventional travel schedule. They left immediately after Sunday's game for Washington and were expected to arrive around midnight for a 7 p.m. Monday game.
"No I don't want that," Thomas said when asked whether he wanted to arrive on the morning of game again. "My legs was done. I don't know how they used to do that back in the day, honestly. Once you're in the game, you feel a little more fatigue and legs are a little heavier than they usually would be so hopefully we don't have to do that again."
The Celtics began increasing their defensive intensity in the second period, forcing seven turnovers and reducing the effectiveness of the 76ers' perimeter shooters. Smart helped the Celtics maintain a double-digit lead by scoring 10 points in a 4:47 span, including three 3-pointers. It was the first time since Nov. 15 at Oklahoma City that Smart had converted three 3-pointers in a game.
It was also the second time in 15 games since his return from a left knee bruise that Smart made at least half of his field goal attempts.
Boston led by as many as 18 (46-28) but the pesky 76ers kept responding behind Covington and Noel, who scored consecutive dunks to shrink the deficit to 53-40. The Celtics were able to extend the halftime lead to 58-43, behind 14 points each from Crowder and Smart.
It was a crisp performance by the Celtics considering the atmosphere was more like an early second-round NCAA Tournament game, as shoe squeaks could be heard throughout the arena.
"It was very unorthodox for us," Smart said. "We felt like we were back in AAU, arriving the morning of the game and playing a couple of hours later. But it felt good. We knew we were going to have to come in and bring our own energy."