Posted May 14 2012 11:07AM
BOSTON -- The Philadelphia 76ers had Game 1 of the conference semifinals in their hands on Saturday. They led by as many as 13 points and were up 10 early in the fourth quarter. They were set to hand the Boston Celtics just their second home loss in the last 88 days and, more importantly, steal home-court advantage in the series.
But it all fell apart down the stretch. And now, we wonder if they'll get another opportunity like that on the road.
"I think we shot ourselves in the foot," Evan Turner put it bluntly.
Did the Sixers give the Celtics their best shot? Or can the Sixers win a game in Boston and, ultimately, the series if they just clean some things up and execute better at key moments?
In reviewing the game with his team on Sunday, Sixers coach Doug Collins pointed to stretches at the end of each half. The Sixers were outscored 6-0 in the final two minutes of the second quarter and 7-0 in a two-minute stretch near the end of the fourth.
"The end of the [first] half really was the time that really, really hurt us," Collins said. "We were in great position. We had the ball up 11 right about two minutes to go and didn't finish well, let them get it to five."
As usual, it was their offense that failed them. The Celtics are a great defensive team, but the Sixers moved the ball well and were able to get open shots most of the night. At times though, the offense got stagnant, and some good shots just didn't go in.
Jrue Holiday, 3-for-13, missed a lot of open shots, including a couple of layups. Lou Williams, 4-for-11, got stopped at the rim on a pair of fast breaks. Elton Brand and Thaddeus Young were simply ineffective, combining to shoot 3-for-9 from the field and 3-for-8 from the line.
Of the eight Sixers who played more than six minutes, four played well and four didn't. And they lost by one point.
"I think our guys saw that there's a lot of opportunities there for us," Collins said. "We were right there."
Part of the Sixers' problem is their lack of experience, especially relative to the veteran Celtics. Part of it is their lack of a go-to scorer. Celtics coach Doc Rivers said before Saturday's game that Williams is the Philadelphia player he fears most down the stretch, but Williams is now 14-for-40 (35 percent) in clutch situations (last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime with a score differential of five points or less) this season.
"As you watch the tape," Collins told his team in their film session, "just understand how important it is to execute and be tough and do all the things under pressure that you have to do, and that's what we're continually learning to do. You can't get that in a film session. You've got to get out here on the court. You've got to feel it. You've got to feel the heat. You've got to feel the fans."
For the most part, as the Sixers prepare for Game 2 on Monday (7 p.m. ET, TNT), it's just a matter of cleaning some things up, not necessarily making any major adjustments.
"I think we played well for a lot of that game," Spencer Hawes said. "I think we did a lot of things that we can carry over."
The one thing the Sixers might want to make an adjustment on is their defense on the pick-and-pop, which the Celtics used to get Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass several open jumpers. Bass missed most of his, but Garnett did not, shooting 8-for-12 from outside the paint.
After the game, Collins basically said that they're not going to chase Garnett out on the perimeter, willing to just live with the results. And it's unlikely that Garnett will continue to shoot 67 percent from mid-range.
"I don't know what else we could have done," Collins said. "We are not going to run out at him or get a hand in his face. All of a sudden you start running around and doing all that, you free up Paul Pierce and all these other guys."
But on Sunday, Philly hinted that they do need to adjust the way they defend the pick-and-pop.
"I think you have to control it at the point of attack a little bit better," Spencer Hawes said, "so you don't have to recover so far getting back to him, with those jump shots."
Iguodala actually defended the play well on the Celtics' last full possession of the game, fighting through Garnett's screen, pushing Pierce out toward the sideline, and eventually forcing a tough, contested shot.
If only the Sixers did that on one additional possession on Saturday. If only Young didn't split each of his three trips to the line. If only Holiday made one of those layups that he missed or if Williams didn't go soft on that fourth-quarter fast break.
Game 1 was a missed opportunity for Philadelphia. And maybe an opportunity like that won't come again. But Collins says his team isn't going to look at it like that.
"Our team never thinks that way," he said. "I think our guys feel very confident that if we play well, we can win."
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