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Regrets? The Sixers have a few

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / May 27, 2012
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The Sixers just wouldn’t go away. They wouldn’t stop coming, wouldn’t die, wouldn’t let the Celtics run away with it. Each time it seemed as the Celtics would break them, they didn’t.

If only the Sixers could score.

“I thought if we could get 85 today, we could win,’’ coach Doug Collins said after the Celtics ended his season Saturday night, 85-75. “It’s just our inability to score that has sort of plagued us throughout the season. But there’s sure no lack of heart in our team, competitive spirit or drive or anything that wins basketball games.

“It looked like the game was just getting away from us, and every time you looked up we were right there.’’

They were. The Sixers even captured the infamous third quarter (19-14), the winner of which had come up with the victory in first six games of the series.

But, in the end, their 35 percent shooting from the field just wasn’t going to do it, not combined with 70 percent from the line or 15 turnovers.

Ask the Sixers what they thought the difference was and the answers coming from the locker room vary.

To Elton Brand, it was execution in the fourth quarter. To Collins, it was turnovers early in the game. To Jrue Holiday, it was Rajon Rondo.

“Execution, that’s what hurt us,’’ Brand said. “Just executing at the end. Couldn’t find a way. It’s a matter of inexperience. The next time these young guys are in that situation, it’ll be much different. Because they’ve been through it.’’

The Sixers had almost no Game 7 experience, and little playoff experience before 2012. It seemed as if they might crumble when the Celtics got out to an 8-point lead in the first few minutes, as the Garden crowd roared and the young Sixers faced elimination.

But, just as had happened earlier in the series, there was no discounting Philadelphia.

“I was concerned about they hit us in the mouth early,’’ Collins said. “Especially in a moment like this. We fought back, which I thought was good. But we just never could get over the top.’’

Because they couldn’t get the ball in the basket. Through the first half, the Sixers’ shooting percentage was less than 30 percent. It was not what a young, inexperienced team needed.

They had their opportunities. They had 13 offensive rebounds to the Celtics’ four, and 17 second-chance points to the Celtics’ 7. But even that wasn’t enough.

Still, the Sixers hung around.

“We were just thinking, ‘If we keep on fighting and working and playing good defense, we’ll get a break,’ ’’ Holiday said. “We’ll get a break where we’ll get on a run, maybe our shot will start falling.’’

That break, though, never came.

“We struggled to score,’’ Collins said. “I sit over there on the bench, and you don’t know how I agonize about what I can do to help get us a basket. We’re fighting, we’re clawing, we’re staying in games, and then we finally get to the line and miss like four or five free throws.

“It’s just been a nightmare for us to try to score.’’

And yet, despite shooting 27.8 percent from 3-point land, despite going 14 for 20 from the line, the Sixers still had a chance to win the game with four minutes to go.

They were down just 3 points. They never got any closer.

“That’s why I told our guys after the game it’s because of our competitive heart and our spirit,’’ Collins said. “I hope our guys are going to grow from that.’’

Even though they matched the Celtics through six games, through three quarters, through the four-minute mark of the fourth, there are regrets.

They couldn’t score. They couldn’t shoot free throws. They couldn’t stop the turnovers. And that pained these Sixers.

“We feel like we let some games slip away,’’ Brand said. “Our mistakes hurt us a lot. They did a lot of things to create those mistakes, but our mistakes hurt us a lot.’’

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

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