End - even a good one - doesn't justify means

SKIP THE CALL to your ophthalmologist. The trouble wasn't your eyesight. Don't rattle your TV. That wasn't it, either. And, no, there was no mysterious fog that somehow rolled into the Wachovia Center. All we know for sure is, for huge chunks of the evening, the 76ers as we have come to know them in recent months, all but disappeared from view.

Yes, they won. They beat the Boston Celtics, 88-82. Yes, they did it committing a season-worst 24 turnovers. Yes, center Samuel Dalembert set a new career standard with eight. Yes, point guard Andre Miller went without a field goal (0-for-5) for the first time since arriving from Denver in December in the Allen Iverson trade. Yes, Andre Iguodala missed six free throws. Even Kyle Korver, who has been in the running all season to lead the NBA in foul shooting, missed a pair.

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Andre Iguodala dunks in fourth quarter against Celtics.

The Celtics played right to the level, contributing a 3-for-16 second quarter and producing the fewest points in a quarter (11 in the second) and fewest points in a half (31) by a Sixers opponent this season. In the course of the night, each team was called for five offensive fouls and seven traveling violations. The Celtics, falling to 2-23 without injured star Paul Pierce, even managed to match the Sixers' turnover total.

This performance included every type of turnover except apple. There was even the suggestion that this was a cut below the Sixers' 124-74 loss to Houston on March 18, because at least one team played well that night. The only way this one could have been worse was if it had gone overtime.

Sure, sure, there was positive stuff if you searched hard enough. The Sixers have won 10 of their last 12 at home, where they're now 19-17. They're 13-4 when they hold the opposition below 90. They even won for the seventh time in 28 games in which they've scored fewer than 90.

So, is there anything good they take out of this one?

"No, we don't," Iguodala said. "We didn't play good at all . . . We'll take the 'W' and that's it."

Where, he was asked, did they go wrong?

"We were just sloppy and losing focus," he said. "We were up big [by 16 as early as the second period], and they're a team that hasn't been playing too well this year, and they're on the downside. That can tend to make you lose focus and start thinking about other things."

OK, OK, some more positive stuff: Korver came off the bench to score a game-high 26 points, Iguodala had 23 points and 12 assists. Never mind how many assists he might have had if his teammates didn't accept passes as if they wore catcher's mitts. Dalembert redeemed himself somewhat with 12 points and 13 rebounds. Joe Smith, who had been away on personal business, came back to contribute 10 points and six rebounds.

"We had a bad day today," Dalembert said sheepishly. "I tried to pass and I was hesitating. I wasn't showing myself."

He was in the majority.

Coach Maurice Cheeks didn't have a whole lot of answers. He wasn't particularly colorful in the comments Comcast SportsNet replayed from the microphone he wore in the first half.

"I talked about the writers mostly," Cheeks said, laughing.

It beat talking more than he had to about the game.

But, because we asked, he tried anyway.

"That was like a slow game," he said. "No one could separate themselves. Although we got a little lead, it was not safe, especially against a team like Boston who has guys who can spread the floor and has an inside player like Al Jefferson (20 points, eight rebounds).

"Our defense was just OK. Our offense was just OK. Everything about the game was just slow-paced. We tried to create a little bit more uptempo. It just was not there tonight, for whatever reason. As I told them at halftime, we were very lethargic. We were careless with the ball, our turnovers were high, our missed foul shots were high [they hit 24 of 36]. It was kind of that lethargic type of game."

Cheeks said they never got into "a comfortable state." Maybe on the bus ride to East Rutherford for tonight's game against New Jersey?

"We've been playing better basketball," Korver said. "We expect to play well, to play our style. I didn't think we did that the whole night. We also missed a bunch of dunks and layups and balls bouncing off our heads and hands. If we complete those plays, it probably doesn't look as bad as it probably did out there. We just didn't have a lot of energy for some reason."

Epilogue:

"A few months ago, we would've taken this," Cheeks said. "But now we've come to expect a little more. We would not like to have games like this, but we'll take the win."

We checked. They didn't drop it. *