Given up for dead after a horrendous first half, the 76ers waged an amazing second-half comeback against the Boston Celtics on Friday night at a raucous Wells Fargo Center.
The Sixers rallied from 18 points down in the second half to even their best-of-seven series with the Celtics at two games each with an improbable 92-83 victory.
Game 5 of the series will be Monday in Boston, and it guarantees that the Sixers will return to the Wells Fargo Center for Game 6 on Wednesday.
“We just started hitting back,” said guard Lou Williams.
“They outworked us, and we lost our composure. It was that simple,” said Boston coach Doc Rivers. “We had the lead, and we had the chance to go up 3-1. I think that from the first quarter on we didn’t play with the same discipline.
“We started turning the ball over and started trying to make home run passes. And even though we had the lead, I thought they chipped into it, and we allowed them to hang around in the game.”
Said Sixers coach Doug Collins: “I just kept telling our guys that we are going to keep battling, and something good is going to happen here.”
And it did.
With the score tied 83-83, the Sixers used back-to- back jumpers – the second a three-pointer – from Andre Iguodala, the star of the game with 16 huge points, to take an 88-83 lead.
Jodie Meeks, who finished with nine points, guaranteed the victory with four clutch free throws.
Evan Turner added 16 points, and Williams finished with 15 for the Sixers.
Paul Pierce led the Celtics with 24 points. Rajon Rondo added 15 points and 15 assists.
If there ever was a time to say that this was “two games in one,” this was it. The Sixers fell behind, 14-0, at the start of the game before their big second-half rally. They made just 23.1 percent of their field-goal attempts in the first half on 9-for-31 shooting then morphed into a group that made 51.2 percent, 22 of 43, including 5 for 9 from behind the three-point line.
Conversely, the Sixers, after allowing the Celtics to make almost 53 percent of their field goals, choked off the Boston attack in the second half, limiting them to just 11 for 35 (31.4 percent) from the floor. And while they had a three-rebound edge after one half, the Sixers bullied Boston on the glass, outrebounding the Celtics, 28-17, in the second half.
Collins pointed to a 10-0 Sixers’ run in the fourth quarter that followed double-technical fouls on Elton Brand and Boston’s Kevin Garnett as a motivational source.
And in the fourth quarter, the Sixers were just the scrapper, hungrier team, beating the Celtics to loose balls and pounding them on the glass for rebounds. It was the Sixers, not the venerable Celtics, who made the money plays and did everything else required to knot this series.
“Finishing the [third] quarter strong was the key for us,” Collins said. “And then we started the fourth quarter, and we executed. We didn’t turn the ball over, and we made big shots.”
The Sixers, in a must-win situation, couldn’t have crafted a more nightmarish beginning to a game than what transpired in the first half.
Yet, after trailing by as many as 18 points in the early stages of the third quarter, the Sixers, behind Williams’ nine points in the period, erased most of that deficit by the end of the quarter to trail by just 63-59 heading into the fourth quarter.
The Sixers continued to come at the Celtics at the start of the fourth quarter, and when Thad Young scored a layup with 10 minutes, 30 seconds left in the game it marked not only the first tie – at 63-63 – since the game started, but it also capped a 32-14 Sixers run.