Before Friday’s game with the Boston Celtics, 76ers coach Doug Collins was talking about needing a close win over a quality team to get the Sixers going.
Collins talked about the significance of the 95-90 home win on Feb. 6 over the Los Angeles Lakers, when the Sixers came on strong in the fourth quarter and won the game despite being out rebounded 55-30. The Lakers also led by seven with under five minutes to go, not an insurmountable lead, but still one where the Sixers had to grind it out
While the Sixers didn’t need a late comeback in Friday’s 99-86 win over visiting Boston, they did have to overcome another slow start at home before earning Collins his 400th career win.
The Sixers trailed by as many as 10 points in the first quarter and still were down by six at halftime, but turned it around with a 37-17 third quarter.
That was one of the best quarters the team has played this season.
Both teams had to overcome the unsettling sight of Mickael Pietrus suffering what the Celtics called a “closed head injury.”
After the game, Celtics coach Doc Rivers said Pietrus had x-rays, a CT Scan and was getting an MRI, but no results were known. He was being kept overnight at a local hospital.
The injury occurred with 5:08 left in the second quarter and Boston leading 39-38.
The Celtics continued to play well the rest of the half, taking a six point lead at intermission, but the Sixers then turned things around in the third quarter.
Elton Brands scored 14 of his 20 points in the third quarter and afterwards, everybody was talking about how young the 33-year-old forward looked running the court.
“You always look young when you are winning,”he said.
If Brand could play like that every night, the Sixers would be a dangerous offensive team.
He doesn’t have the ability to do it on a nightly basis, but when he’s able to turn back the clock, the Sixers can be a dangerous team. This was a night that Brand willed the team to victory.
“I just took it upon myself to be aggressive, and guys were finding me in my spots and I knocked some shots down,” he said.
The Sixers are by no means out of the woods in the Atlantic Division. Everybody knows the difference between winning the division and not winning, could mean facing a team such as Miami and Chicago in the first round.
Those are two teams nobody wants to face in the opening round, so the Sixers held off the Celtics charge.
Both Brand and Collins acknowledged that the Sixers got a scheduling break. In both wins over visiting Boston, the Celtics played the night before while the Sixers had the night before the game off.
On March 7, the Celtics lost 103-71 to the Sixers after earning an OT win over visiting Houston the night before.
This time, Boston won, 100-91 at Milwaukee on Thursday. The matchup with the Sixers was the end of an eight-game road trip.
Yet while the Sixers got the scheduling break, they also took advantage of it. Throughout this shortened season, teams will get breaks schedule-wise against certain opponents.
One senses that the Sixers not only held back Boston and lead by 1.5 games in the Atlantic Division, but they also gained some needed confidence.
And that will be handy as they have just 18 games remaining, with plenty more chances to earn a marquee victory such as the Laker win, or now the two against the Celtics.