THE 76ERS all wore headbands to start the game. Some kept wearing them. Some didn't. Some kept playing as they fell behind by 17 points in the third quarter. Some didn't start playing until sometime during the fourth.

If you were in the Wachovia Center, watching Comcast SportsNet or lisenting to WIP radio, you were making more of an effort than some of the players through the first three periods. They managed to get as far behind as they did without hardly trying.

The headbands, even after listening to a couple of explanations, remain a mystery. That the Sixers woke up in time to turn back the Atlanta Hawks in overtime, 109-104, is not. The Sixers simply began to exert themselves, to attack the Hawks' zone, to get up and down the floor more effectively.

But the headbands? By the end of the curious evening, none of the Sixers was wearing them. And whose idea was this, anyway?

"Mine," Steven Hunter said, laughing. "We just wanted to have some unity, do something different. It was a fun thing."

At least they were unified at the end.

"Guys got tired of wearing them," Hunter said. "They said their heads were hurting."

Fair enough, because it was a game that could give you a headache if you watched enough of it. For much of the 53 minutes, the Sixers had more free throws than field goals. They finished with 36 baskets and 35 made free throws. Their 35-for-42 from the line represented season highs.

"The headband made me shoot bad," Samuel Dalembert decided. "It was just something we came up with. A couple guys wanted to wear them, we said we'd all wear them. Gave me a headache."

The Sixers had enough headaches trying to deal with the Hawks' Tyronn Lue, who flirted with a triple-double, finishing with 24 points, nine assists and eight rebounds. Maybe they were fooled by the lineup sheets that were distributed to the media, which listed the 6-1 (and even that might be generous) Lue as 6-10.

Lue played big, even though he missed a potential game-winning jumper at the end of the fourth quarter. For roughly 36 minutes, the rest of the Hawks did, too. But they were without center Zaza Pachulia (sprained left ankle) and backup guard Salim Stoudamire (sprained right ankle), and lost starting shooting guard Josh Smith at the conclusion of regulation when coach Mike Woodson banished him to the locker room.

"That's something that will be addressed in-house when we get back [to Atlanta]," Woodson said. "You've got to be able to control your emotions on the bench. He didn't and I had to send him in."

The Sixers finished their rally with a 6-for-8 shooting effort in the 5-minute extra period. Andre Iguodala totaled 25 points and handed out eight assists, while Joe Smith came off the bench to score a season-high 18 points. Dalembert, despite some early foul trouble, contributed 16 points, 10 rebounds and a game-high three blocks. Willie Green (14) and Andre Miller combined for 19 points after intermission. They shot a combined 0-for-10 and went scoreless in the first half.

"It was a tale of two halves," Sixers coach Maurice Cheeks said. "In the first half, [the Hawks] were getting up and down the floor, outrunning us, getting easy shots. I thought that their zone bothered us a little bit. In the second half, we attacked the zone. We attacked it with a little dribble penetration. Making some outside shots really helped us. Typically, when an NBA team stays in the zone, you kind of figure it out."

Headbands or not, the Sixers have won their last five overtime games after dropping their first two. They hadn't won five in OT since going unbeaten in 1999-2000. To make this one happen, they had to overcome their second-largest deficit - they came back from 17 once before, and from 19 in Miami on March 24.

They got a significant lift from rookie Rodney Carney, who scored 13 points, then left with 1:48 remaining in the fourth period with a sprained left knee, the result of an inadvertent collision with Dalembert. Second-year guard Louis Williams had nine points and four assists, and rookie Louis Amundson was on the court for 13:47, his longest stint since joining the team.

"The young guys were great," Cheeks said. "I thought when we put them in, they gave us a little boost, a little energy."

The headbands, Mo, what about the headbands?

"As long as I didn't wear it, it was all right," Cheeks decided.

Anything more than that about the Sixers' 31st win would be uncivilized. *