This was life in Game 78 of the Sixers' season. They were without Andre Iguodala, Kyle Korver and Rodney Carney. The Celtics were without Paul Pierce, Wally Szczerbiak, Al Jefferson, Tony Allen, Michael Olowokandi, Delonte West and Brian Scalabrine, then lost Sebastian Telfair with a mild ankle sprain in the second half. Three of their remaining players, including Villanova rookie Allan Ray (15 points), finished with five personal fouls.
This was the equivalent of baseball's September call-ups. The Sixers needed a frontcourt cameo from rookie Louis Amundson, the Celtics used their most recent addition, Kevinn Pinkney, for nearly 11 minutes. The Celtics, who once led by 15, trailed by as many as nine. It was hard to tell whether a good time was had by all, but Dalembert (11 points, seven rebounds, five assists, six turnovers) had a ball.
"I told the guys if I see them open, I'm going to pass them the ball," Dalembert said. "I know I can take the jumper, but I looked first to get guys involved. Later on, in the second half, I got some open jumpers.
"I was trying to pass too much, and I ended up sitting down. I got punished, got back on the bench."
Dalembert laughed when he was asked whether he was consciously trying for a career high in assists, but Cheeks said, "He must have heard everybody thinking the same thing."
"Then he started throwing the ball all over the place," Cheeks said. "But he was good early on, made a couple of lobs, a couple of backdoor plays."
"Magic Dalembert," Shavlik Randolph decided.
"He has his ups and downs," Joe Smith said, breaking into a broad smile. "Sometimes he makes you say, 'Wow.' Some, you say, 'What is he thinking?' I give Sam a lot of credit; he passed up some open shots trying to get others involved. That's pretty much what we need, unselfish play."
The Sixers placed six men in double scoring figures and built a 60-28 advantage in the paint against the Celtics' skeleton crew. Steven Hunter matched his career high with 20 points, and had every chance to set a new standard, but converted just one of his last six free throws.
"I've had problems with that throughout my career," Hunter said. "I make them in practice, then I don't make them enough in the games. I made my first three, missed one and then kind of struggled. I'll keep working on it."
Andre Miller added 19 points and Louis Williams matched Tuesday's career high of 18. Smith was the equivalent of the closer, contributing all 16 of his points in the second half, including the first eight of the final period. Put it all together, and the Sixers, now 33-45, are 28-27 since trading Allen Iverson and 16-9 since the All-Star break.
Don't mistake this for a playoff push, though. A loss at home Saturday to Orlando - the No. 8 team in the East - would eliminate the Sixers.
"What I really admire about the team is, they went through a lot with the trade, even before the trade, with everything going down with certain people," Smith said. "When Andre and I got here [from Denver], we saw that this team had a lot of pride, guys who would go out every night and play hard. We just fit in. We really overachieved what people expected."
The Sixers have had it tough. The Celtics, 23-55, have had it tougher.
"I've jokingly said, 'Man, we need the injuries to stop,' then said, 'No, let's get them all over with now,' " Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "Let the black cloud stay for four or five more games and then let's remove it. Let's have some sunshine around here. It's just been amazing . . . I've never seen anything like it. Sebastian said he stopped and ran into the back of someone's shoe. It's just amazing. We can't get out of the way of each other."
Six shotsKyle Korver
(right wrist sprain) and Andre Iguodala
(lower back strain) were examined yesterday by specialists for their injuries; in each case, it was determined that both injuries were consistent with the original diagnoses. There was no timetable for either player to return, which - with just four games remaining - isn't particularly significant . . . Rodney Carney
warmed up, testing his injured left knee, but sat out for the second night in succession . . . Boston's Paul Pierce
, citing his injured left elbow, finally said he would not play any more this season . . . Former Saint Joseph's star Delonte West
sat out with a sprained ankle. *