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Third quarter does in the Sixers

They couldn’t hold fort in key stretch

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / May 22, 2012
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There had been a pattern in the first four games of the series, as Sixers coach Doug Collins saw it noted. The team that won the third quarter in each of the games went on to the victory. He mentioned that fact Monday afternoon, not long before the Celtics and Sixers took the court for crucial Game 5.

And, as it turned out, that pattern held. Though the Sixers mostly had control of the game through the first half, it was the Celtics who took over after the break. (Or, rather, Brandon Bass.) That was when the Sixers crumbled, when they stopped making the shots that had been falling so easily in the first half. That was when they lost the ball and lost the game.

Just as Collins had predicted.

Those were the first words out of the coach’s mouth in his postgame news conference, as he reiterated the truism of the series.

“You can’t play like that,’’ Collins said. “You can’t play one-handed against this team. You can’t make careless, one-handed passes. They’re too good, they’re quick . . . We did not do a good job of that. I thought we did not meet the tenacity that they played with from the middle of the third quarter on.’’

There was a moment, even more specific than the third quarter, that turned the game in the Celtics’ favor. With the Sixers holding a 4-point lead, Paul Pierce was called for a clear-path foul four minutes into the quarter. That should have given Philadelphia 2 points on free throws and possession of the ball.

But Andre Iguodala missed the free throws - he went 1 for 4 from the line in the game - and the Sixers turned the ball over. It set off a stretch in which the Sixers turned the ball over on five of their next six possessions.

By the time the Sixers took their second timeout of the period with 4:48 left, the Celtics were up by 6 points, and wouldn’t trail again.

“That was the deciding point in the game,’’ Collins said. “They were the aggressors, and it started really, I thought, after that clear-path foul.’’

Elton Brand, who led the Sixers with 19 points, said his team knew what might happen, knew the Celtics would turn it up, especially at home. But as Boston sped up the game, Philadelphia wasn’t able to recover.

“We do have to recognize [the aggression] more,’’ said Brand. “We know what we have to do - we watched tape, we went through it in shootaround - but we didn’t do it. Hopefully it can be corrected.’’

Despite shooting 54.8 percent in the first half, the Sixers were up by just 3 points at the break. They had left the door wide open for the Celtics. And, as they turned the ball over, as they played too fast for their game, the Celtics took advantage.

Part of it was that the Celtics became more aggressive. Part of it was that the Sixers became careless, gave in to that aggression. Asked which was more crucial, Evan Turner said, “It was 50-50. They played great defense. They amped up the defense. We had to get our connection back together, be on a string with one another, and we didn’t really do that.’’

“You have to be very strong with the ball,’’ Collins said. “I didn’t think we were strong with the ball tonight. They’re too good. Once they get into the passing lane, you can’t take that pass back.’’

And those passes, the bad ones, generally ended with a basket on the other end.

“We just had a bad third,’’ Lou Williams said. “We had a bunch of turnovers, and they scored on all of them. It’s hard to compete like that, especially in that building with an experienced team like that. We didn’t help ourselves none in that third.’’

Said Spencer Hawes, “It started off time and time again with our turnovers. That got those guys rolling.’’

The Sixers didn’t respond well. They didn’t pick it up when they needed to. They committed the mistakes that allowed the Celtics to take the lead. They couldn’t stop the turnovers when they started, and a game that they were winning turned into the loss that put them on the brink of season’s end.

“I thought we had a good grip of the game, I really did,’’ Collins said. “It went downhill quickly.’’

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

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