|Turner has no problem taking on Boston's Big Three late in Game 2. (AP)|
BOSTON -- Evan Turner, Jrue Holiday and the rest of the young pups on Philadelphia talked about their confidence entering the series, how they would not be intimidated by a Celtics team loaded with future Hall of Famers.
That wasn't real confidence, though. That's what they have to say. Now, following an 82-81 victory in Boston Monday night that evened their Eastern Conference semifinals at one-apiece, the 76ers boast legit swagger.
"You can play well and lose all you want," Philadelphia's veteran Elton Brand said following the win. "But to actually win? That's true confidence."
Make no mistake about it. This was no work of art. It was ugly playoff basketball at its finest. The score was 46-43 at halftime and for a while, it appeared as though the first team to 70 would get the victory. The 76ers blew a significant fourth-quarter lead two nights earlier in the series-opener and were unable to hit shots down the stretch. This time, however, there was no shortage of guys who came through with clutch plays.
It began with the 21-foot prayer from rookie big man Lavoy Allen with 0.9 seconds left on the shot clock that gave the 76ers a 67-65 lead with four minutes left. There was the 3-pointer from Jrue Holiday, who was miserable in Game 1, with less than two minutes remaining over the outstretched arms of Paul Pierce. Evan Turner made a couple of huge shots in the paint in the closing minutes and also buried a pair of free throws with 12 seconds left.
"It's big," Philadelphia big man Spencer Hawes said of the victory. "We knew we'd given away one game."
Handing another to the Celtics would have been postseason suicide -- even if this team was heading back home.
|More on 76ers-Celtics|
|More NBA coverage|
Pierce seemed somewhat in disbelief while studying the box score at his locker after the game. The Celtics were crushed on the glass, 47-36, and got to the foul line just nine times all game. He said his battered left knee was fine, but the 2-for-9 performance to go along with five turnovers clearly suggests otherwise. Pierce was passive, had minimal explosiveness and was completely ineffective.
"Paul clearly is not 100 percent," Boston coach Doc Rivers said.
Kevin Garnett was held in check until the final six minutes -- when he scored 11 of his 15 points. Sixers coach Doug Collins made certain his team was more physical with K.G. and didn't give him as many open jump shots, instead forcing him to take deeper turnaround jumpers that weren't falling. Rajon Rondo filled the stat sheet, but wasn't much of a scoring threat largely due to the fact that Philadelphia is long, versatile and athletic. Avery Bradley had to leave the game yet again after re-aggravating a shoulder injury and while he returned, he was in significant discomfort.
Now we may actually have a series. Most didn't expect that to be the case, even after the 76ers took Boston to the brink on the road in Game 1. The Celtics looked old on Monday night, whether it was Pierce's knee, Ray Allen's ankle or Garnett's turnaround jumper for the first 42 minutes of the game.
But when Garnett endlessly hung on the rim following an alley-oop from Rondo with 3:17 remaining that tied the score at 69, it appeared as though it would be experience -- and not aging legs -- that would be the deciding factor once again. This was a 76ers team that had won just one regular-season game all year by three points or fewer, a club that seems to lack of a true go-to player that can take control with the game on the line.
It would be a carbon copy of what happened on Saturday night.
But then Lavoy Allen pulled out what teammate Andre Iguodala called a "game-changing play" -- and boy, he pulled it right out of his you-know-what.
"He was pretty much our last option," Iguodala said.
Turner, who struggled to score for much of the game, came up with a couple of huge drives and also hit a pair of free throws with 12 seconds left. Then came the offensive foul on Garnett with 10 seconds left and the Celtics down three points.
"I'm surprised they called it to tell you the truth," Turner said of the refs hitting K.G. with the illegal screen.
Everyone in the building was shocked -- even though it appeared to be the correct call. Garnett, rarely one to shy away from expressing his true feelings, didn't put up much of a fight when asked about it after the game.
Boston was supposed to head to Philly with a 2-0 lead in this series and all the momentum. The 76ers, while younger and more athletic, would be overmatched -- much like the Atlanta Hawks in the first round.
Instead, the Celtics are searching for answers while their counterparts from Philly won their first postseason game in Boston since Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 1982 when the famous "Beat L.A." chant filled the Boston Garden.
"We're a confident bunch, anyways," Hawes said.
Maybe, but this is a completely different kind of swagger.