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Celtics 100, 76ers 99

Celtics nail it down

By Frank Dell'Apa
Globe Staff / February 4, 2009
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PHILADELPHIA - The Celtics are revising the meaning of being one-shot wonders.

"They just want one shot, they always say that - give us one shot to win it and we'll be good," coach Doc Rivers said after Ray Allen's 3-pointer with 0.5 seconds left produced a 100-99 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers last night. "I like that belief, I like that confidence."

The Celtics (41-9) took that phrase as literally as possible in a ragged contest on the way to their 12th successive victory. After squandering a 15-point lead in the opening half, the Celtics seemed to be fading in the final minutes. The absence of Kevin Garnett (flu), who is expected to practice today and possibly play against the Lakers tomorrow, was noticeable both for his defensive presence and offensive skills, and also for his inspirational qualities.

In fact, the Celtics did not lead in the final quarter until their final possession.

And they might not have pulled this one out after Rivers second-guessed himself during a Sixer timeout after designing what would be the deciding play.

"Coaches think too much sometimes," Rivers said. "That was the play I drew up originally. When they called the 20-second, I changed the play. Then [Rajon] Rondo and Ray said they liked the first play and talked me into running the original play. Thank God they did."

The Celtics returned to the court with 6.8 seconds to play, planning for Paul Pierce (29 points) to dribble near the foul line and either go for the tying score or find Allen in the corner opposite the Sixers bench. Glen Davis, who set a pick on Thaddeus Young to help free Allen, was the third option for a jumper.

"It was a tough situation for their defense because Paul had the ball and he was isolated," Allen said. "And they were going to make it tough on him, and that's when I got to my spot. I can't say I was surprised [to be left unguarded], I just knew that I wanted to get to that spot.

"And even if someone was running out on me, at least I got to where I've got my ball and my legs in the air. And Paul gave me the ball at the right time."

Allen (23 points) tied the score, 97-97, with a 3-pointer with 31 seconds left on a similar setup. Then Philadelphia's Andre Iguodala (22 points) broke the deadlock with a 17-footer.

"We always feel like we're never out of the fight," Pierce said. "We're a championship team. Just being able to keep our poise down the stretch and execute, and we know we can win these type of games.

"We have a player-coach bond. We thought the first play was a good-looking play. And we executed - guys set the screens and I saw Ray wide open, and that's exactly what we wanted.

"We've been able to do this. We've gone through a whole year where we've experienced games like this, and we know not to get rattled. Just being in this situation before definitely helps. Good teams find a way to win, and we did that, especially without Kevin."

After taking a 32-20 first-quarter lead, the Celtics faltered, scoring only 37 points over the next two quarters and committing 18 turnovers going into the final period. Philadelphia's aggressive, pressing defense seemed to turn the tide. And the Sixers led, 92-85, on Marreese Speights's dunk with 3:50 to play, following what appeared to be a hard foul to a driving Pierce. But Pierce recovered, scoring 11 points in the final 4:51.

"No use crying over spilled milk," Pierce said. "[The official] said he didn't see it. So I just had to keep playing, not let it frustrate me."

Pierce's second-chance 3-point play and drive brought the Celtics within 2. But Lou Williams countered with a 3-point play for a 95-90 Sixer lead with 2:05 remaining, Pierce committing his fifth foul on the play. Then Davis hit a third-chance jumper and Pierce's foul shot pulled the Celtics within 1. Andre Miller stretched the 76er edge to 97-94, but Allen tied it 12 seconds later.

"Little plays, a lot of little things kept us in the game," Rivers said. "We couldn't have turned it over more. In the first half, I was concerned when we were shooting 56 percent and they were shooting 35 percent and it was a 1-point game. That tells you they are getting a lot of extra shots.

"Over the last four or five games, we have been doing a terrific job of taking care of the ball. Give them credit, but we were sloppy, too. I don't think anybody can press Rondo, I really don't, and we allowed that, so we had a long talk about that at halftime.

"I think all of this has to be good. We're going to have close games in the playoffs and you're going to have to execute. To me, this is a good thing."

Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at f_dellapa@globe.com.

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