Bob Ford: Somehow, 76ers get to a Game 7

Posted: May 25, 2012

There was no reason this playoff series was going to get any easier, or any prettier, and neither of those happened Wednesday night in the Wells Fargo Center. What happened was even better as far as the 76ers were concerned, however.

The Sixers played just well enough to beat a disjointed Boston Celtics team, 82-75, and force a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference semifinals on Saturday in the TD Garden. If you can't be proud of all the execution, at least be proud of the result, and the Sixers certainly were.

"A gutty win, to say the least," Doug Collins said. "It wasn't an offensive masterpiece, but our defense was tremendous. We've given ourselves a chance. That's what we wanted, to just go see what happens in Game 7."

So, it is Sixers-Celtics in a postseason Game 7 for the sixth time in the long history of the two franchises. This series hardly conjures the real glory years, but it is the best we have right now and there might be magic in store on Saturday.

The Sixers have overachieved to get this far, one game from the conference championship round, and this run would probably be considered successful regardless of the outcome in the final game. With a win, however, an interesting postseason becomes something even more.

"Our mind-set is that I don't want to go into the game [thinking] that no matter what happens, everything is OK. Let's go get a win," Collins said. "I want more. I'm going to get greedy. We've fought and worked and gone through a lot. We've grown."

Trying to give his players some sense of the moment ahead of them, Collins has interspersed his film sessions with vintage footage of the great Sixers-Celtics battles from the past. Maybe it was grainy inspiration or maybe it was just an interesting look at how basketball shorts have changed. Whatever it was, it didn't hurt. Boston coach Doc Rivers said he thought the current teams would decide this series, not the ghosts from rivalries past.

"There have been a lot of Game 7s," Rivers said. "Half of these players don't know I played, and they definitely don't know Doug played."

The Sixers will take their motivation where they find it, and they should take some from a game in which they won another close one. Six of their seven postseason wins have come by fewer than 10 points, after a regular season in which they were 7-18 in games that close.

As for the Celtics, perhaps getting two days off will bring them back fresh for the final game of the series. Maybe they will romp away as they did in Game 5 in Boston on Monday. But there was nothing for them to take from Wednesday's game except 48 minutes of confidence-sapping ineptitude.

"I thought they just outplayed us," Rivers said. "We had a lot of empty possessions."

The Sixers didn't rebound well, didn't make their free throws, and committed too many early turnovers, but they were determined to take the ball inside and get high-percentage shots, and that is what won it for them. They outscored Boston by 42-16 in the paint, even though Boston's best weapons can get close to the basket when motivated to do so.

That determination has pushed this series to the limit now, and Boston might have home court, but the Celtics certainly don't have any right to believe that will magically heal their problems. In the second half, when the Sixers dominated the game, Boston once again looked old, slow, and ready to leave town midway through the third period. The Celtics settled for jump shots, and on this night, enough of them weren't going to go in.

"We missed a lot of open shots - there's no doubt about it - but their defense was good," Rivers said after the Celtics had finished a night in which they shot 33 percent from the field.

Part of the reason the Sixers got inside is that Boston guard Avery Bradley, its best perimeter defender, was out with an injury. Against the others, the Sixers backcourt players selected the matchups they liked, got past a defender, and got inside.

Jrue Holiday was very effective in getting to the rim and finishing well, as were Evan Turner and Lou Williams. They combined for 43 points.

"Clearly, Avery's a great defender, but he's not out there, so we can't worry about that," Rivers said. "They [isolated] and picked who they wanted to penetrate against. That's what I would have done. I can't blame them for doing it. I can't give Doug a call and say, 'Listen, none of that.' We just have to do a better job of covering for guys who aren't able to keep some of their guys in front of them."

Now, these two franchises might reach back into their pasts and try to find something that will help on Saturday. They won't find it there, though. The solution is only about what happens in this Game 7. And then, it will become history, too, even for the Sixers, a team that didn't look capable that long ago of making any.


Contact columnist Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com, read his blog www.philly.com/postpatterns, and follow @bobfordsports.

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