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76ers 98, Celtics 97

Celtics roll to a stop

Big lead - and 11-game winning streak - given away in second half

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / December 19, 2009

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Whatever the problems were, overconfidence had never been one of them.

Slow starts had plagued the Celtics. So had poor rebounding. So had stretches in games that were more hollow than others. But never inflated ego.

Last night’s 98-97 loss to Philadelphia was different.

Boston had won 11 straight, the longest stretch by any team this year. Philadelphia had lost four of five coming into the Garden and they were without Allen Iverson, the former ace of the franchise re-signed to shore up a rickety backcourt.

The Celtics went up as many as 15 in the first half. Kendrick Perkins nearly had a double-double in the first quarter. Tony Allen seemed like he was everywhere at once. But once the lead got comfortable, so did the Celtics.

“You almost hate to go up [big],’’ said Ray Allen, “because your human nature has you settling and getting comfortable.’’

There’s a swagger that comes with a winning streak. And having done so and then come out and run up a large lead, Celtics coach Doc Rivers, said his team had a false sense of it.

“We played with this swagger - the losing swagger,’’ Rivers said. “It’s one thing to have the winning swagger and you go out and you feel great about your team, and you go out and play. And then there’s another thing when you just show up and you think the other team’s going to lay over and fall because you’re the Celtics.’’

Instead, the Sixers got a stimulus package from the bench in Elton Brand’s 23-point, eight-rebound effort along with 17 points from Marreese Speights.

After shooting 32 percent in the first half, the Sixers outscored the Celtics, 30-23, in the third quarter, fueled by Brand, Willie Green, and Andre Iguodala. With Rajon Rondo on the floor alongside Brian Scalabrine, Tony Allen, and Shelden Williams, the Sixers went to a zone.

“I think it kind of froze us up a little bit,’’ said Rondo. “We knew it was coming. We just didn’t run our sets or execute well against their zone. They made big plays, they got and-1 after and-1 and they got the rebounds and we didn’t.’’

Adding to the frustration was a self-inflicted wound.

Rasheed Wallace was ejected for the first time in a Celtics uniform. He picked up his first of two technicals for barking at official Leroy Richardson. He kept it up coming out of a timeout, and was tossed by Bill Kennedy.

Meanwhile, the Sixers were climbing out of the grave.

Rivers had warned his team before the game that the Sixers played in spurts, and down 76-72 going into the fourth, they went on their most critical burst.

Speights and Iguodala fired dagger after dagger. The rebounding numbers were practically even, (Boston, 46-45), but one rebound was the difference in the game. Brand tipped in a Speights miss with 7.7 seconds left putting the Celtics to bed along with their winning streak.

“Sometimes,’’ said Perkins. “You win a couple games in a row, you tend to just have this swagger like you can just walk on the court and just win games.’’

Trying to explain it, the buzz words were “urgency’’ and “execution’’ and “energy’’ or the lack of it.

“The ball for some reason stopped,’’ said Kevin Garnett, who led the Celtics with 21 points. “I think our energy [stunk] all night. I think we could have done a better job of having energy out there.’’

“I thought our attention to detail coming down the stretch started to go away a little bit,’’ Ray Allen said. “Our focus has been tremendous over the last month or so. Tonight, just small little things - the details - we just didn’t do. And obviously we lost.’’

The Celtics dropped to 8-4 at home, and all of their home losses have come on Friday nights. The past two seasons, they had only dropped six home games the entire year.

“We have not established any kind of home-court dominance,’’ Rivers said. “Right now we play like if we show up at home, home will take care of it for us. No, you’ve got to go play.’’

Paul Pierce, who scored 9 points on 4 of 12 shooting, had a look at a winning shot in the final seconds but missed.

“I’ve always said we’re our own worst enemy,’’ Pierce said. “We’ve got to take a look in the mirror and nothing else. Nothing with the coaches, nothing with the play calls. It’s about what we do as a team out there, executing and putting forth a better effort.’’

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