Sixers have gotten better, but Celtics' dominance continues

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BOSTON -- The Celtics' 121-114 overtime win over the Philadelphia 76ers was about more than just padding the win column. 

It went much deeper than their second victory in as many games following a pair of closed-door team meetings to clear the air. 

Beating the Sixers was a reminder of the pecking order between these two teams, both of which have aspirations of deep playoff runs. 

Wherever you have Philadelphia in your ranking of top teams in the East, the Celtics continue to be ahead of them, even if the Celtics' current record (20-13 versus Philly's 22-13 record) suggests otherwise.

They have proven it repeatedly in the regular season. 

And when the two met in the second round of the playoffs last year, Boston sent the Sixers home for the season in just five games, which was by far the easiest series the Celtics had in the postseason. 

Philadelphia coach Brett Brown acknowledged that the Celtics were very much on the minds of his staff in the offseason as they tried to figure out what they could do to put together a team that could do more than just compete with the Celtics...but beat them. 

“Our summer was very dictated, influenced by our [playoff] loss against Boston on schematic stuff we have to get better at,” Brown said.

Philadelphia entered the season with a roster that was solid, but still appeared to be missing at least one significant piece in order to pose a serious threat to Boston. 

They felt they found that much-needed addition when they traded for All-Star Jimmy Butler. 

Butler certainly makes the Sixers a more dangerous team, but even with him in the lineup scoring 24 points, Joel Embiid going off for a 34-point, 16-rebound night and Ben Simmons flirting with a triple-double (11 points, 14 rebounds, eight assists), the Celtics still managed to come away with a win on Christmas Day. 

And to think, the Celtics were able to get the victory with no Aron Baynes (broken hand), who does as good a job defensively as anyone in the NBA on Embiid, and Al Horford playing limited minutes after returning recently from patellofemoral pain syndrome in his left knee. 

Boston did it the way they always seem to beat the Sixers - with a strong, collective effort. 

Yes, Kyrie Irving was scintillating with a game-high 40 points and 10 rebounds, but he was by no means a one-man band out there. 

Philadelphia native Marcus Morris continues to be a major pain to his hometown team, hitting the Sixers up for 23 points on an efficient 8-for-13 shooting to go with six rebounds, three assists and a blocked shot. 

Jayson Tatum was delivering on all levels for Boston before finishing with a double-double of 23 points and 10 rebounds to go with two steals and two blocked shots. 

And while Horford struggled mightily with his shot (he had four points on 2-for-10 shooting), his defense kept Embiid from having a career night instead of a very good one. 

Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Gordon Hayward...the list of players who chipped in with big plays is a long one.

Because of that, the Celtics not only got the Christmas Day victory but also reminded us that whatever pecking order you have for the top teams in the East, Philadelphia remains a team trying to play catch-up to Boston, which is evident by the Celtics winning 16 of the past 18 regular season matchups. 

Despite Boston’s dominance over the Sixers in recent years, Morris believes this season’s Sixers team is better than the one Boston faced last season because they now have more switchable defenders. Last season’s team had players who could not guard Boston’s players “at all” according to Morris. 

But even with better talent, the outcome on Christmas Day wasn’t all that different than most days when these two meet - a Celtics win.

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