PHILADELPHIA — Evan Turner made certain his name will be inked into the starting lineup.
Turner scored a career-best 26 points, helping the Philadelphia 76ers rout the Boston Celtics 103-71 Wednesday night to maintain their lead in the Atlantic Division.
Before tip-off, Turner denied a radio report that a mystery problem was causing his inconsistent play. Then Turner went out and proved he’s just fine. He shot 11 of 19 and grabbed nine rebounds.
“I’m just trying to build off this and enjoy the moment,” Turner said. “I’m not saying ‘I told you so.'”
So far, Turner hasn’t played like a guy worthy of the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 draft. He started just 14 games last year and only moved into the lineup two nights ago.
But Sixers coach Doug Collins said Turner will be out there for the long haul. He was reluctant to make a change after Philadelphia’s strong finish last year and hot start this season. After the Sixers lost seven of nine, Collins finally inserted Turner and sent Jodie Meeks to the bench.
“Evan is a great leader,” Collins said. “He worked his tail off to be a better basketball player in the offseason and he was when he came back. When he didn’t start, I know a part of him said ‘I should be.’ But he didn’t say anything. Evan has extreme confidence. He thinks he’s the best player on this team.”
Six Sixers scored in double figures, including Elton Brand (18), Lou Williams (15) and Nik Vucevic (14). Vucevic’s 12 rebounds were a high for the rookie. Andre Iguodala had 10 points, eight assists and seven boards.
The Sixers, a surprise contender a month ago, had lost eight of 10 to drop their lead in the division to one game over Boston, which had won five in a row.
But the Celtics were no match for Philadelphia in this one.
Paul Pierce had 16 points and Brandon Bass added 12. Rajon Rondo had just 5 and Ray Allen 2.
“We just didn’t have it,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “We missed shot after shot and nothing was working. But give them credit. They were organized and they played really well. They’re a good team and we just didn’t fight through it.”
Coming off an overtime win at home over Houston on Tuesday night, the Celtics clearly were sluggish in their 11th back-to-back game of the season.
The Sixers, helped by Turner’s 10 points, led 33-17 after one quarter. Turner’s best play, though, was an alley-oop pass to Iguodala, who thrilled the crowd with a thunderous dunk.
Collins said Turner is a true point guard and called him the team’s best rebounder. Jrue Holiday has been the starting point guard, but Collins wants to see Turner and Holiday in the backcourt together and share the ball along with Iguodala.
“Evan needs the ball. He’s a totally different player when he has the ball,” Collins said. “I have to find the right fit. I have to see how those guys play together over an extended period. They are our future.”
Turner hit a jumper to cap a 14-0 run in the second quarter that gave the Sixers their biggest lead to that point, 49-21. Williams started it off with a 3-pointer and Holiday swished a 3 during the stretch.
Turner slammed one in off a pass from Iguodala in the third. Minutes later, he made a driving layup, got fouled, high-fived a fan and then sank a free throw to complete a 3-point play.
He nailed a 3 to reach 26 points, surpassing his previous high of 23 during his rookie year. Turner entered the game averaging 7.7 points per game. He shot just 1 for 12 in a 97-93 loss at Milwaukee on Monday.
“I didn’t worry about anything,” Turner said, adding that it helped when Collins told him he’s going to keep starting him. “You have to understand that as a pro you’re going to have good nights and bad nights.”
The Sixers haven’t had much success against the better teams in the league. A convincing win over Boston should boost their confidence heading into the next five-game stretch. After playing Utah and New York, they’ll face Indiana, Miami and Chicago.
“We had some tired legs and Philly took advantage,” Pierce said. “I feel like we can always win a game. I do. I always feel like we have enough to come back. But we just didn’t have it tonight.”
Notes: Former Sixers president Pat Croce received a rousing ovation when he was introduced at halfcourt before the game. Croce once was an athletic trainer for the Sixers and Flyers who rose to part-owner and drafted Allen Iverson with the No. 1 pick in the 1996 draft. … Celtics are 5-6 in second game of back-to-backs. … Boston C Jermaine O’Neal sat out because of a sprained left wrist. … Sixers F Thaddeus Young didn’t play because he has an upper respiratory tract infection. … Philadelphia has 19 double-digit wins, and its 11 victories by 20-plus points are the most in the NBA. … The Celtics were 0 for 8 from 3-point range. The last time they didn’t make a 3 was at Orlando on Jan. 22, 2009.