PHILADELPHIA — Kevin Garnett yapped his way down the court after big baskets and clearly enjoyed taking it to the 76ers.
Rajon Rondo pushed the ball and relentlessly attacked the lane.
Paul Pierce gutted out a knee injury and grinded his way to the free throw line.
Boston hears the whispers that it’s too weary and too old to win another championship. By the time they forced Sixers fans to flee their seats, the Celtics proved it’s still too early to count them out.
Garnett scored 27 points, grabbed 13 rebounds, and used a dominant second quarter to help the Celtics beat the 76ers 107-91 on Wednesday night and take a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Whistled for a costly illegal pick late in a Game 2 loss, Garnett crushed the Sixers early and never let them think about a fourth-quarter rally.
Garnett scored 13 of Boston’s 32 points in the second quarter and the Celtics became the first team to win by double digits. Game 1 and Game 2 were each decided by one point.
Rondo had 23 points and 14 assists. Pierce, playing with a banged-up knee, had 24 points and 12 rebounds.
Game 4 is Friday in Philadelphia.
“We just wanted to come out and establish who we are as a team,” Pierce said.
That started with making Garnett a focal point.
Garnett had somehow become forgotten in Boston’s offense in Game 2 until the fourth quarter. Coach Doc Rivers said the Celtics simply weren’t going to the 16-year veteran because they had established an offensive presence in the low post.
The Celtics wouldn’t let that happen again.
They needed Garnett at his best in Philadelphia, where the Sixers had won their last four postseason games.
So much for that minor streak. Garnett made 12 of 17 shots and helped the Celtics outrebound the Sixers by 11 on the defensive boards. He buried those 10 to 16 footers with ease in the second quarter to turn a seven-point deficit into a 13-point lead.
“He got the ball in his spots,” Rondo said. “He hit a couple of fadeaways. A lot of those guys are smaller than him, so he was just able to turn around and shoot over them.”
Pierce had an MCL injury in his left knee rob him of his jumper and slow him down on both sides of the ball. He scored only 21 points combined in the first two games and failed to be the impact player the Celtics needed if they want to play deeper in the postseason.
All that changed in Game 3. He charged the lane in the first quarter for a couple of angry-looking dunks. He even pounded the backboard for emphasis after one as if to show the Sixers he still had some lift in those legs.
“That’s who he is,” Rivers said. “That’s how he’s been even when he’s healthy. Paul’s just a grinder.”
He’ll need to do it again to hold off the Sixers.
Thaddeus Young scored 22 points and Jrue Holiday had 15 for the Sixers. Lou Williams and Jodie Meeks each scored 13. Starters Elton Brand, Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner combined for only 11 points.
“Sometimes you’ve got to take it and go with it and come back the next game,” Young said. “That’s what we’ve got to do.”
Wearing their matching red 76ers logo T-shirts, fans fled for the exits at the 6-minute mark and the Sixers down 101-76.
The Sixers hadn’t hosted a second-round game since 2003, when coach Larry Brown and All-Star Allen Iverson ruled the town. Julius Erving walked out to a roaring ovation when he presented the game ball and Eagles quarterback Michael Vick watched from a suite.
The Sixers hoped all the stars and hoopla that helped them knock off top-seeded Chicago would work again.
Back to the drawing board. Young scored three baskets and the rest of the Sixers had only two in the decisive second quarter.
“We ran into a Celtics team that had a real sense of purpose about them,” coach Doug Collins said. “You could see in moment one, they were looking to push that ball in every situation.”
Garnett tortured them from long range, toyed with them from inside, and got some deserved rest on the bench in the final minutes wearing a long-sleeve shirt.
Garnett was whistled for a critical offensive foul late in Game 2 on a potential game-tying possession for the Celtics. All seemed forgiven by the time the Celtics raced to a 25-point lead.
“Our offense finally came alive,” Pierce said. “We moved the ball. We knew that’s what we were going to have to do to score 100 points.”
Rivers kept Rondo, Pierce and Ray Allen in the game until the final minutes even though the game was well out of reach. The Bulls were burned by that in the opening round in Game 1 when they left Derrick Rose in with a 20-point lead. He tore his ACL and was lost for the season — and the Sixers rolled to a series win.
The Celtics intend to keep up the pressure in Game 4 — and beyond.
“When you beat a team like this at home, you have to expect them coming out with a lot of energy,” Garnett said. “But we’ll be ready and we’ll have a lot of energy ourselves.”
Notes: Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and several other Eagles were at the game. ... Former Sixers owner Ed Snider watched the game from a courtside seat. ... Rivers was named to the NBA’s Competition Committee. He said he had no idea until he received a letter saying he had been selected. ... The Celtics missed their first seven shots of the game, then made their next five.