THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

In the opening game, Sixers couldn't close

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / May 13, 2012
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Before Saturday night’s game against the Celtics, 76ers coach Doug Collins beamed as he said, “My young guys are growing up. That’s what you do, you play in these kinds of moments and you can’t pay for the experience you’re getting.’’

In Game 1, they got experience. They did not get a win.

“No substitute for experience,’’ said Elton Brand, the Sixer with the most experience, by far. “They hit some good shots. They ran their plays. Executed. Timely defensive stops. That’s how you advance to the next level for us. But we get some growth from this. We can learn from our mistakes.’’

It might be true, that his Philadelphia team is growing up, that the 76ers are becoming wise to the ways of the postseason. But in a 92-91 loss, a game that was the Sixers’ to win, it was clear that this is still a team full of youth, a team that doesn’t always know how to close out opponents, a team that needs some more seasoning.

There is no question that the 76ers lack the experience and wisdom that comes with yearly trips to the postseason, the kind possessed by the Celtics in spades.

There is no question that there were times when the Celtics looked old in Game 1, particularly in the first quarter.

But there is also no question that the 76ers missed out on a very good chance to steal a game at TD Garden and shift home court to their side. Instead, the Celtics stole the win from them.

“It feels like a missed opportunity because we were leading almost the whole game, not a lot of ties,’’ Brand said. “But I think their veteran leadership and their battle-tested, championship-caliber team took over at the end. They made some good shots, and we didn’t execute.’’

The 76ers need to be able to close out teams, the way they were able to close out the Bulls in the first round, the way they weren’t able to close out the Celtics in the opener. There appears to be no 76er to take the biggest shots at the biggest times.

For now, they go with the player who is open or hot or both. That, Collins said, is “who we are right now.’’ But that doesn’t always make for a smooth fourth quarter, which is what doomed the 76ers.

“When it’s all said and done, we had a great chance to get this game today,’’ Collins said. “We had four really bad offensive possessions that really hurt us. And that’s the sign of a team that’s still trying to grow, figure out what it is to play this kind of championship basketball in the NBA playoffs.’’

There was talk of growth, of learning. Not the sort of thing that comes out of the mouths of the Celtics.

Perhaps that youth has a side benefit, though. With just a day of rest between each of the first four games of this series - something Celtics coach Doc Rivers bemoaned before Game 1 - the Sixers’ youth and presumably fresher legs could be an advantage.

“Experience is great,’’ said Sixers swingman Evan Turner. “I just think the tougher team is going to win, going to prevail. We’re young. But even though they may be old, they know how to play. They play at their own pace, so you can’t really worry about the age or anything, but who’s the tougher team.’’

And in Game 1, that was the Celtics. Especially at the end.

There was a stretch in the fourth quarter that Andre Iguodala called “just a disaster,’’ with the 76ers faltering at the wrong time.

There were bad looks, attempts to make big plays when a more patient approach would likely have proven more prudent.

“We know we can play with these guys and we know our strengths and what is going to help us win the games,’’ Iguodala said. “We’ve just got to work on our weaknesses and we have to grow from these situations.

“We have a lot of young guys who play a lot of minutes for us. So, end of games, end of halves, those situations and scenarios you can only learn in the situations in the playoffs. Hopefully, we learn from them.’’

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.

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