There was a common sight in both the Sixers and Celtics locker room, throughout the hallways of the Wells Fargo Center and in the media room. It was a look of "what the hell just happened?" as writers scrambled to meet deadline while coaches and players tried to decipher what took place over the 48 minutes on the court.
If this game was a boxing match, the Sixers were not only on the ropes after the first half, they had been knocked down almost to the point of stoppage. But the Sixers withstood the haymakers and returned to land even more of their own as they somehow took a 92-83 decision from Boston and evened the Eastern Conference semifinal series at 2-2. Game 5 will be Monday in Boston at 7 p.m.
The Celtics barrage started with a 14-0 run to begin the game. The Sixers didn't score their first basket until nearly four minutes had been played. They scored just 12 points after the first, missing all but three of their 16 shots. The only reason the second quarter was a little bit better for the home team was because it couldn't have gotten worse, really.
At the break the Celtics led by 46-31, and really it was lucky to be that close for the Sixers. There seemed little to grab onto in the way of hope. The starters, not including Jrue Holiday's 4-for-6, combined to shoot 2-for-22. Key subs Thaddeus Young and Lou Williams combined for one field goal. The team missed 8 of its 21 fould shots.
And as much as the Celtics were dominating, they were smack talking. As one player told me in the Sixers locker room after the game, that went a long way into the Sixers' second half surge.
It started in a fiesty third quarter, during which a pair of double-technicals were called. That seemed to help fuel the Sixers, who outscored the Celtics by 28-17, limiting Boston to 5-of-18 from the floor in closing the gap to 69-53 after three.
"We started expending more energy, started making shots," said Thaddeus Young of the third quarter effort. "Lou (Williams) got it going and then were were getting in transition and getting stops on defense."
It was only the beginning to the end.
The crazy fourth quarter, in which the Sixers outscored Boston by 33-20, featured 8 ties and 7 lead changes. But the craziest thing of all, the biggest question left after the game had to be the limited presence of center Kevin Garnet in the fourth.
On the first play to begin the final 12 minutes, the Celtics dumped the ball down to Garnett, who missed a four-footer. He made his only other shot of the quarter, about four minutes later. For some reason, Boston decided to shoot mostly from the outside in the fourth. Part of it was the defense of Lavoy Allen on Garnett. Most of it was because the Celtics decided they loved jump shooting. It didn't work.
Meanwhile, the Sixers kept the pressure on the aging Celtics. Led by the super active Thaddeus Young, who had 8 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists in the final quarter, the Sixers dominated in every phase. They won the rebounding (14-7), which allowed them to get out and run. They also forced the Celtics into 5 turnovers which led to 6 points. In contrast, the Sixers had 1 which didn't lead to any Boston points.
Andre Iguodala, who struggled offensively all evening, also scored 8 in the quarter, including five-straight that sealed the win.
With 1:22 remainin, Iguodala hit a step-back 16-footer for an 85-83 lead. On Boston's next possession, Rajon Rondo broke free from Jrue Holiday and appeared to have a clear layup on the left side of the basket. But Young drifted from his man at the foul line area and blocked the attempt. When Lou Williams then began to drive the lane, he found Iguodala open on the right wing for a three pointer which Iguodala drained for an 88-83 lead and securing another home game for the Sixers.
"When you're getting your butt kicked you've got to compete," said Williams, who finished with 15 points and 8 assists. "When we were down 18 the basket gets bigger because there's not a lot of pressure on the next shot."
When the Sixers were trying to close it out, pressure was everywhere. But the Sixers were the ones who played through it Friday. Iguodala and Turner led the Sixers with 16 points, while Young had 12 and Holiday 11. Lavoy Allen contributed 8 points and 10 rebounds in almost 33 minutes, plus tons of tough defense on Garnett.
How did it happen? Well, scoring 61 second half points compared to 31 in the first half helps. So does 22 field goals compared to 9 and allowing 37 points in the second half.
Hours later, the win is still head-scratching.