Inside the 76ers: Young 76ers are the difference

Posted: May 15, 2012

BOSTON - Perhaps it was all a setup.

Before the 76ers stunned the Boston Celtics in Game 2 of their best-of-seven Eastern Conference playoff series to send the series back to Philly tied (and, quite honestly, the Sixers should be leading this thing 2-0), Sixers coach Doug Collins went on and on with the platitudes directed at the geriatric Celtics and their championship pedigree.

In that time set aside for the media to pick the coaches' minds before the game, Collins, who is very friendly with Doc Rivers, laid it on thick, was sincere and, from what everyone watching this series has pretty much assumed, honest in the assessment of what the difference between the teams is.

"I think Doc's philosophy is, and I haven't had a chance to talk to him about it but I'm sure I will when the series is over, is that if the game is close in the fourth quarter, simply based upon they've got so much championship experience, that whatever they throw at them they've seen it.

"There is no panic in their team at all," Collins continued, talking mostly about the group of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and now Rajon Rondo. "Whatever the score is they are just going to keep grinding and they've got a lot of different options that they can go to and they read everything very well.

"Doc feels like, advantage-wise, with all the experience they have that in close games he probably has the advantage."

Rivers does, and that won't change. But this series is tied 1-1 because the young Sixers players took a step on Tuesday that Collins says they must take if the Sixers are going to go to the next level, this year and in years to come.

Of the 25 points the Sixers scored in the fourth quarter, 21 of them came from that group of playoff neophytes that includes Spencer Hawes, Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, Lou Williams, Thaddeus Young, Lavoy Allen, and the much-maligned Jodie Meeks.

There's no one who's going to tell you that bunch of players is ever going to have more impact in a playoff game - and for that matter the history of the NBA as it is continuously written - than the Celtics' aging group of stars.

Collins didn't play Elton Brand in the fourth quarter, opting instead - and rightly so - to deploy Allen (whom one of the myriad geniuses over at ESPN labeled the worst roster player in the league at the start of the season), and Allen rewarded the Sixers with 10 points, eight rebounds, and a pair of blocks that Rivers would have loved to have had.

Not to go overboard on Allen, but I would be remiss if I did not mention the 22-footer he coolly let fly to give the Sixers a 67-65 lead with 4:04 left in the game.

I'd also be remiss if I did not mention that Andre Iguodala - along with Brand and Williams the only Sixers to hit the floor in the fourth quarter over the age of 25 - so locked down Paul Pierce (seven points, five turnovers) that Rivers opted to play Mickael Pietrus over him for a significant stretch of the fourth quarter.

But every time the Celtics seemed that they were going to do that sage-like veteran thing and run the young Sixers over, the guys who by all accounts should be wearing swaddling clothes delivered the dagger.

Holiday gave the Sixers a 74-72 advantage with 1:57 left in the game. After Boston's Ray Allen restored the lead with a three-pointer of his own that sent the sellout crowd in TD Garden into convulsions, Turner struck back with a contortionists' layup that put the Sixers ahead for good, 76-75.

He then hit a pair of clutch free throws, as did Williams and Meeks, all in the final 12 seconds.

Perhaps we've been buffaloed. Remember, this was the disjointed group that allegedly had come close to becoming mutinous when things went bad because Collins has a propensity to raise his voice a little.

He spoke softly following the biggest win of his coaching career in Philly.

"Again I have to tell you," he said, "All season long we couldn't win these games and now our guys are believing they can do it, and it is pretty special to watch."


Contact John N. Mitchell at jmitchell@philly.com. Follow him on Twitter @JmitchInquirer

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