They went down, 85-75, but they went down the way they played all year, making the other team uncomfortable the entire game. The Celtics looked as if they were ready to take control several times and stumbled each time before they put away the win late in the fourth quarter by finally making some of the jump shots they had missed all evening.
"Our inability to score has plagued us all season, but we don't lack for heart, spirit, and competitiveness," coach Doug Collins said. "It felt like it was slipping away at times and then you'd look up and we were right there. I thought we had a great chance to win."
Beauty is a matter of perspective, although it was hard to call this attractive basketball. It was interesting and it was exciting and it was in doubt, but it was pig ugly. The Sixers have to have games like that, which will continue to be the case until they get a better roster. As it was, they still had a postseason to savor.
A team that needs things to go right to overcome its spotty shooting and soft interior play, the Sixers maybe did enjoy a fortuitous road in the first two rounds of the playoffs. They barely qualified for the postseason and had what looked like an unwinnable opening series against top-seeded Chicago until the Bulls lost MVP point guard Derrick Rose and center Joakim Noah to injury.
After grinding out a six-game win in that series, they got a Boston team that is at the tail end of a great stretch and in serious need of a retooling. The Celtics, who have always liked to wait until absolutely necessary to finish off a series win, saw this one go to the limit, too. As it turned out, they were still able to draw enough water from that deep well one more time.
It is difficult to determine now whether the current Sixers team is on the cusp of continued success, or whether this postseason represented a high-water mark for a team that has to win every night on a high degree of difficulty. The front office goes into the offseason with almost as many questions about the roster as it had when the regular season began.
In the series against the Celtics, the Sixers shot just 41.5 percent from the field, which is not going to get it done, and ultimately it didn't.
Along with their own shortcomings, history also was working against the Sixers in Game 7 Saturday night. Since the current Boston team began its return to prominence in 2008, the Celtics have made a habit of closing out playoff rounds eventually, and particularly at home.
In that span entering Saturday night, the Celts were only 10-13 in closeout games, including their loss in Game 6 of this series in the Wells Fargo Center. That's not impressive, but their 8-2 record in closeout games at home was indicative of a team that gets the job done even if not in a hurry to do so.
"I don't know what it is about us," coach Doc Rivers said. "That's just the way we are."
It is a team that obviously believes it can manufacture a win at will, which is a dangerous way to play. The Celtics got away with it again, however, although they probably shouldn't push their luck in the next round against the Miami Heat.
"We've been here before," Kevin Garnett said before Saturday's game. "We're very experienced."
That showed at times, but not at others in the opening half. The Celtics took a 41-33 lead into halftime, but they were unable to put away a team that shot abysmally from the field, couldn't get a fastbreak going, and always seemed on the verge of falling out of contention entirely.
The secret wasn't that the Sixers guarded the Boston shooters that well. The secret was that in the first half, Boston didn't have any shooters. Ray Allen was left open, for the most part, and made just 1 of 6 baskets, and that one was a layup that almost rolled out.
Without a perimeter game to guard, the Sixers stayed around the paint on defense, chased all the screen-roll plays to the inside, letting the pop-up player go wherever he wanted to go. It didn't matter. For most of the first half, the Celtics compounded their offensive problems by not doing any rebounding at that end. They had zero second-chance points in the first quarter as the Sixers came back from a 10-2 deficit to tie the game, 20-20.
Late in the half, the Celtics got some offensive rebounds and also forced some turnovers to get a few easy baskets. The Sixers kept doing what they were doing, which wasn't much, and the lead was back to eight points. It was still a game, whether it should have been or not. And it was still a game after three quarters, an even closer one.
It would never get close enough, however, although that won't be the lasting memory of this postseason. What will remain is that despite everything that worked against them, they did get close when they really shouldn't have.
Contact Bob Ford at firstname.lastname@example.org and read his blog at www.philly.com/postpatterns. Follow on Twitter @bobfordsports.