by Dan Majka
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The 76ers have won only one playoff game in Boston since 1982. That win came in Game 2 last Monday night. A repeat performance in Game 5 one week later would put Philadelphia in the driver’s seat in their Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Celtics.
“We want to win this series, ” Sixers head coach Doug Collins said during practice on Sunday. “We’re not in this just to compete, we want to win it.”
The Sixers fought their way back from an 18-point deficit in the second half of Game 4 to beat the Celtics, 92-83, knotting the series at two games apiece, and giving themselves a ton of confidence heading back to Boston for Game 5.
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“It’s a totally different scenario,” said forward Elton Brand. “Down 3-1 at their crowd, it’s tough. Historically it’s tough. It’s like impossible to come back. A few teams have done it, but it’s tough. But 2-2, we feel good.”
Collins also noted the significance of Friday night’s comeback victory.
“That game gave us a chance to go to Boston and get this back in our favor,” he said. “You lose that game the other night and you’re fighting to stay alive, and now you go in there with the idea can you swing this series back into your favor.”
One thing that would seem to be in Boston’s favor is the two days off between games. While the Sixers are a young, relatively healthy team, the Celtics are an aging group. Kevin Garnett has logged more than 50,000 playing minutes during his basketball career, and Paul Pierce and Ray Allen are clearly not at one-hundred percent.
“They have a lot of veterans on their team that could use the rest,” Brand said. “It’s definitely going to help us, but I think it could help them too.”
The extra rest is certainly beneficial to Brand who’s been battling through a shoulder injury.
“We got a lot of rest (Saturday), a lot of treatment (Sunday),” added Brand. “It was kind of like, you know, just a run practice. It felt good. I’m just trying to get the range of motion back and it seems like it’s coming along.”
Collins admitted the extra rest is probably to Boston’s advantage, but said that’s not where his team’s focus needs to be.
“We’re not facing elimination now,” he said. “We’re facing a Game 5 that gives you a chance to take the lead in this series and come home, so that’s the way we want to approach it.”
Through the first four games of the series, each team has had one turn watching a double-digit, second half lead evaporate and turn into a loss — the 76ers in Game 1 and the Celtics in Game 4. For the Sixers, equally as important as a strong finish, is avoiding a slow start.
“Two of the four games we’ve started out 9-0 and 14-0,” Collins pointed out. “We don’t want to dig ourselves a hole (Monday) night starting that game.”
If they do, the 76ers could find themselves trying to dig out of a 3-2 hole in the series.
“It’s tied up,” said Brand. “We have to focus and go out there and be confident and try to get a win.
And a win — as unrealistic as it may have sounded a few weeks ago — would put the Sixers just one victory away from a trip to the Eastern Conference finals, with Game 6 set for Wednesday night in Philadelphia.
KYW’s Matt Leon caught up with Tom Moore, Sixers’ beat writer for the Bucks County Courier Times, to preview this critical Game 5…