PHILADELPHIA - A two-week, eight-game Celtics’ road trip ended on a somber note Friday night.
The Celtics came undone in the second half of a 99-86 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, the effects of travel taking a physical toll and Mickael Pietrus’s disquieting injury in the second quarter that sent him off the court on a stretcher taking an emotional toll.
Pietrus fell awkwardly onto his back after his left-hand shot was challenged by Lou Williams with 5:08 remaining in the first half. Pietrus remained motionless on the court and was taken to the hospital for tests with what was initially described as a “questionable closed head injury.’’
“He’s already had an X-ray [and] CT [scan]. He’s doing an MRI right now,’’ Celtics coach Doc Rivers said after the game.
Despite the frightening scene, Pietrus was not hospitalized and went back to the hotel.
The Celtics have had other scares this season, heart conditions requiring surgery for Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox. But those diagnoses and Jermaine O’Neal’s season-ending wrist injury were determined off the court. Pietrus’s fall produced a more immediate, visceral effect.
Pietrus started in place of Ray Allen (ankle) and helped the Celtics make a strong start with some stifling defense on Evan Turner. The Celtics led, 32-26, after the first quarter and Pietrus got the team going in the second quarter with two free throws and an impressive one-handed dunk.
The Celtics held a 39-38 advantage when Pietrus went down in the lane. Pietrus grabbed the back of his head, and rolled over. Rivers and trainer Ed Lacerte went onto the court, then the entire Celtic team and coaching staff joined them.
After about five minutes of treatment, Pietrus was strapped onto a stretcher.
The scenario was reminiscent of an incident involving the Celtics’ Marquis Daniels, who returned to play this season after undergoing spinal surgery.
Daniels appeared to be strongly affected by this incident, kneeling near Pietrus and bowing his head. The crowd quieted, then followed Kevin Garnett’s lead in applauding as Pietrus was wheeled off the court.
The teams returned to action after nearly a 10-minute delay, with Ryan Hollins, making his Celtics debut, converting one free throw awarded for the foul drawn by Pietrus.
Spectators at the Wells Fargo Center kept the volume low for the rest of the half. But the Sixers outscored the Celtics, 37-17, in the third quarter.
“First thing [Williams and the Sixers] said was ‘tell [Pietrus] good luck, I didn’t do it on purpose.’ It didn’t look like an intentional play,’’ said Rivers.
“I mean, things just happen in sports. For the team that it happens to, it’s really tough. Everything’s going wrong right now. We have a resilient group. I’m so proud of our team. We keep just sustaining injuries and guys still are trying to play and win.
“It’s maddening. We’re passing the tests, that’s all we can do. It’s tough, every night, it just seems like right now, and what’s amazing it has nothing to do with age, which people predicted. It’s the young guys. You know, things happen. I just keep telling them, we decided to be that grind team, we’ve got to just keep doing it.’’
“He took a hard fall, I don’t know the extent of his injury,’’ said Celtics’ captain Paul Pierce, who along with Garnett had 20 points. ‘’It’s always tough when you see your fellow NBA player, regardless of who it is. When you catch somebody laying there on the ground, you know, not moving, they get carried off the floor on a stretcher, you know, it’s tough.
“Any sport. I’m a sports fan - whenever you see that you feel for the person and the families. Those are the things that can be career-threatening type of things and you see it all the time. I hope he makes a speedy recovery. It’s hard to see. Who wants to see somebody laying there in agony? Nobody wants to see a guy lying there.’’
Pierce said the Celtics, 4-4 on this trip and now 25-22 overall, were prepared for the game, despite the loss of Allen.
But the 76ers surged back after trailing, 49-43, at the half to put the game away in the third. Elton Brand had 20 points and Williams got 19. Jrue Holiday finished 15 points, Andre Iguodala had 14 and Spencer Hawes had a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds as Philadelphia moved to 27-21.
“We’ve been presented with a challenge throughout the year,’’ Pierce said. “One guy goes down, another guy has to be ready to play. That’s no excuse, I mean we’ve won games with guys sitting down before. It’s just an excuse. We had our opportunity to take advantage. In the past we’ve been in this situation and just stepped up. We just sort of took a step back. To lose that way, to a division rival - we took a step back tonight.’’