Need for growth is evident in Sixers' loss to veteran Celtics

Thaddeus Young dunks in the first half against the Celtics in the Sixers' first game without injured guard Lou Williams.
Thaddeus Young dunks in the first half against the Celtics in the Sixers' first game without injured guard Lou Williams.
Posted: April 06, 2011

BOSTON - The Celtics are a veteran squad, one that will take advantage of the smallest of mistakes in a game and then throttle opponents when they have bigger problems.

With 4.1 seconds left in the third quarter, Andre Iguodala missed a foul shot that was corralled by Paul Pierce, who quickly shoveled it to Rajon Rondo. Instead of getting back on defense, Sixers rookie Evan Turner tried to swipe the pass to Rondo. All that did was put Turner behind the speedy point guard, who dribbled the length of the court and swished an underhand floater from about 4 feet, barely beating the buzzer.

It was a small miscue, but it also gave the Celtics a 10-point lead going into the final 12 minutes in what eventually became a 99-82 Boston win.

Combined with the Knicks' 131-118 win over the Toronto Raptors last night, the Sixers (40-38) hold just a half-game lead over New York for the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference standings. The Knicks visit the Wells Fargo Center tonight. Boston (54-23), meanwhile, pulled even with the Miami Heat for the No. 2 spot.

While Turner's faux pas was kind of minimal in the grand scheme of the game, the fact that the Sixers didn't score a field goal in a span of nearly 8 minutes covering the second and third quarters was simply too devastating to overcome.

A Jodie Meeks three-pointer with 1 minute, 24 seconds remaining in the first half gave the Sixers a 49-47 lead. Before they got their next basket, a 10-footer from Elton Brand with 6:20 left in the third, they had dug themselves a 13-point hole and simply didn't have the firepower to solve Boston's rugged defense.

During that span, the Sixers failed to score on 15 consecutive possessions. In the second half they shot an abysmal 12-for-42 (28.6 percent) from the floor in dropping their third of four games to Boston this season.

"We ran up against a team that played probably as well as they've played in a long time," Sixers coach Doug Collins said. "They had 29 assists, they executed brilliantly. They had two or three really great defensive spurts. To start the third quarter, we fight to get back in, we got it to four again, and then they had another defensive spurt. That's what championship teams do. They might not play it for 48 minutes, but they're going to lock you down for stretches."

A 12-footer by Brand (12 points) cut the Boston lead to 64-60 with 4:45 remaining in the third, but the Celtics forced the Sixers into a couple of turnovers and made all five of their shots to finish out the quarter, capped off by Rondo's buzzer-beater.

Playing their first full game without injured sub Lou Williams, sidelined for the rest of the regular season with a strained hamstring, the Sixers got an encouraging performance from Turner, who posted 21 points and five assists. Jrue Holiday added 11 points, all coming in the first quarter, while Meeks and Iguodala each added 10.

"I was just trying to be aggressive," said Turner, who had his second-highest point total of the season and his first double-figure scoring game since March 12. "I know we were short on bodies tonight, so I didn't have to worry about coming out. Tonight I was able to play with the ball, so I was able to be aggressive. It definitely helped."

But not nearly enough to overcome such a strong defensive stance by the Celtics in the second half in which they allowed the Sixers just 32 points.

"They are all on the same page [defensively] and they have veteran guys," said Iguodala, who winced quite a bit after coming down awkwardly on his right leg in the first half, causing pain in his tendinitis-ridden knee. "They understand what it takes to win basketball games."

The defensive tenacity didn't totally overshadow Boston's offense as the Celtics methodically shot 52.6 percent from the floor, shared the ball and got balanced scoring.

Pierce led the Celtics with 18 points, while Rondo collected 16 and 13 assists in another masterful floor game. Kevin Garnett added 14, and Ray Allen chipped in with 13.

There is a very good possibility these two teams will meet again when the playoffs start in the middle of the month.

"They make you shoot those jump shots, they do a good job of rotating," Collins said. "Quietly, they're the second- or third-best team in the league in steals. They're very good at pick and rolls, they can swarm, their big guys get out, they challenge shots and they don't give you anything easy.

"So we learn, we learn every night we play a team like this. I told our guys we want to keep growing every single game. That's why coming down the stretch of these games gives us a blueprint on what we have to continue to do to find out how to beat these teams."

It better be a crash course, especially if a playoff series awaits.

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