A Split With Beantown Celtics end 76ers' winning streak

Posted: March 05, 2002

As the often churlish Antoine Walker stared through official Derek Richardson, peeved at being called for a technical foul, Allen Iverson made a free throw, then turned to his teammates.

"Let's go!" he screamed.

Iverson did not want the 76ers' winning streak to stop at three games, or his team's dominance over the Boston Celtics to end at eight consecutive games. This is the final playoff push. There is no time for off nights.

Iverson spurred a third-quarter push but could not deliver a fourth-quarter rally as the smaller Celtics finally found their shooting touch and broke their losing skid, 100-94, last night at the First Union Center.

The loss prevented the Sixers, now 30-29, from improving to three games over .500 for the first time all season, and also kept them locked in sixth place in the Eastern Conference. Had they won, they would have forced a three-way tie with Boston and Orlando for fourth place.

Maybe next time.

Iverson struggled shooting, finishing 8 of 30 from the field with 28 points, six assists and six rebounds. His 12 points, including that free throw courtesy of Walker's technical foul, during the third quarter helped the Sixers overtake the Celtics, but his erratic shooting during the latter part of the quarter helped them lose the lead as quickly as they got it.

Although the rest of the Sixers shot 24 of 50 from the field - even with Matt Harpring going 2 for 11 - no one could make up for the difference, especially Dikembe Mutombo. The 7-foot-2 center finished with limited offensive touches and just three shots and sat all but five minutes in the fourth quarter. He did have foul trouble, and failed to grab a rebound.

It was a missed opportunity. Everyone was upset, angry, and, once again, calling the game a setback.

"You can't overcome 8 for 30 and 2 for 11," Larry Brown said. "I don't know how you do that."

"I just had a rough night tonight," Iverson said, "one I want to forget."

After trailing by as many as seven points in the fourth, the Sixers pulled within 87-86 on Eric Snow's short jumper with less than five minutes remaining. But after a Paul Pierce miss, Harpring missed twice, then fouled Rodney Rogers, who converted the three-point play to give the Celtics a 90-86 lead.

With a bucket and foul shot, Snow pulled the Sixers within 91-89.

The Sixers got no closer.

Pierce led the Celtics, who improved to 32-27, with 28 points, while Walker had 17 points and seven rebounds. Boston's newcomers as of the trading deadline, Rogers and Tony Delk, combined for 27 points and 11 rebounds.

"It's a big win for us," Pierce said. "It gets us out of a slide. It's a big win when playing against the Eastern Conference champions in their building. The new guys really felt comfortable with what we were trying to do, and really helped us out a lot."

Snow played a solid game, making 7 of 14 shots and scoring 16 points to go with his five rebounds and eight assists, while Derrick Coleman added 16 points and 11 rebounds.

The Celtics entered the game on a four-game losing skid, dropping two on the road to Dallas and Houston, then two at home to Milwaukee and Charlotte. Although the Bucks beat Boston by just three points, the Hornets whipped them by 13, and seemingly, like the Raptors, their confidence was shot.

But Brown was not convinced. He liked the trade the Celtics made, sending Randy Brown, Joe Johnson and Milt Palacio to Phoenix for Delk and Rogers, and even though the Sixers had won 12 of the last 14 meetings, Brown worried about the Celtics' zone defense.

"They lost to good teams, and they've been in every game," Brown said, before the game, of Boston's losing streak. "They've had a chance to win every single game that I've watched. So we'll see. I still think Jimmy's done a great job with them," he said of Celtics coach Jim O'Brien.

The same could be said of Brown. Even he is amazed that through all the adversity, injuries, and occasional bickering, the Sixers remain in position to at least gain home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. To hear some of the players tell it, the No. 1 seed is not out of grasp, either.

"It's amazing as many problems as we've had, we're nine games away from the best record in our conference," Brown said. "You look in the West at where we'd be."

Every game now, especially one like last night's - against a divisional opponent holding an equally tenuous grip on the standings - is important.

But the theme last night was to boost tourism in Philly. The Sixers front-office personnel, and several fans, wore pajamas to support the city's winter tourism campaign of "It's more fun when you sleep over."

Fittingly, the first half last night was a snooze-fest, but the Sixers awoke in the third. Trailing 52-43, the Sixers went on a 22-4 run, which included 10 points by the fired-up Iverson. Thanks in part to Walker's technical foul and Kenny Anderson's subsequent flagrant foul of Harpring, the Sixers pulled ahead 65-56 with less than five minutes left in the third.

But the Celtics closed the quarter with a 16-5 of their own to lead 72-69 going into the fourth.

By then, Walker was no longer scowling. Afterward, he even broke a smile as the Sixers sulked into their locker room.

Contact Ashley McGeachy at 215-854-5064 or amcgeachy@phillynews.com.

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