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Sixers count on a ghost of a chance

By Jon Marks
Globe Correspondent / May 23, 2012
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PHILADELPHIA - At first glance, you’d never know the 76ers’ season was on the line as they prepared to play the Celtics in Game 6.

Andre Iguodala and Jodie Meeks were yukking it up Tuesday, taking turns shooting free throws at the end of what could be their final practice - with Iguodala draining 17 straight from the line, if you can believe that.

And coach Doug Collins spent a good half-hour on the elliptical machine, which he says he’ll need to do to keep up with his newborn granddaughter.

If you didn’t know better, you’d swear it was the middle of the season rather than playoff crunch time, with the Sixers one of just six teams still alive. To keep from going fishin’ after Wednesday, they can’t afford the kind of sloppy play that doomed them in Monday’ s 101-85 Game 5 loss.

“We need better attention to detail,’’ said Elton Brand, who had his best game of the series with 19 points. “We watched a lot of film today and saw we made a lot of mistakes which they capitalized on.

“We’re on the edge right now. But we’ve responded in that kind of situation before in the regular season and playoffs.’’

The key, according to the coach, is not to consider a worst-case scenario. He compared it to telling a golfer at a water hole just to hit to the left or right and not even mention putting it in the drink.

“I don’t know why we should even talk about elimination games,’’ said Collins, whose club has rebounded with victories following each of its four playoff losses.

“An elimination game to me is negative. It means you’re on the precipice. I want them to think, ‘You direct it,’ rather than worry about what might happen.’’

To that end, the Sixers believe that if they can keep Rajon Rondo from consistently getting into the paint and freely distributing the ball, while doing a better job themselves of taking care of the ball on offense, there’s no reason they can’t force a seventh game at TD Garden Saturday.

“We have to try to force our will,’’ said Iguodala, who managed only 8 points - and shot just 1 for 4 at the line Monday - after scoring 16 and making the big plays down the stretch in Game 4. “The guys are still pretty confident.

“It’s not really gloom and doom in here. Yes, it’s kind of do or die. But we can’t try to do too much.’’

At the same time, they know they can’t repeat the transgressions they had in Game 5, especially in the third quarter when the momentum swung.

“They took it to another level on defense last night and were able to get out on the break,’’ explained point guard Jrue Holiday, who turned it over four times during that key stretch. “Those are things we need to do on our court.

“We have to want it more than they do, so we have to go out and fight for it. At this point, you can’t think about this might be the last game.’’

To emphasize that point, Collins did some digging and came up with an inspirational documentary for his team. He showed them clips of the 1982 conference finals, in which the Sixers - after blowing a 3-1 series lead - stunned the experts by winning Game 7 in Boston Garden.

“The big thing I said to them was, ‘How bad do you want to go back there for Game 7?’ ’’ said Collins, who had to retire after the 1980-81 season because of chronic foot injuries.

“You can throw up all the odds of teams winning a seventh game on the road. But I went back and pulled up the ghosts of Celtics past in 1982. I told them I was part of a team that lost a 3-1 lead to them in ’81 when I was injured.

“We came back the next year. I was doing the game on the radio, and they came back again from 3-1 to tie the series.

“They were showing all the ghosts of Celtics past before Game 7 and talked about psyching us out. But we listened to our coach, Billy Cunningham, and Andrew Toney scored 34 points and we beat them. Now we have the same opportunity if we give ourselves a chance tomorrow.’’

Obviously easier said than done.

“I know we’re going to bounce back and compete,’’ vowed Collins. “Is the ball going to go in the basket? That I don’t know. But I know our guys are going to be ready.’’

If all goes according to plan, it will be back to the ghosts and the Garden for Game 7. Then, like their ’82 ancestors, Doug Collins and the Sixers will be happy to take their chances.

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