PHILADELPHIA - The 76ers filled their building with red, and entered to bursts of flames and raucous cheering, a reception that befit a team in the second round of the NBA playoffs. And then, the eighth-seeded hosts fell flat.
Sure, the Sixers started quickly Wednesday night. Sure, Lou Williams hit a shot at the buzzer to end the first quarter, giving his team a 5-point lead. But from that point on, the Sixers looked like a young team, a team rattled by the Celtics’ defense, a team that couldn’t make shots.
In the end, a team that couldn’t capitalize on the home-court advantage it had wrested away from the Celtics Monday.
“The NBA playoffs, it’s about the ebb and flow of emotion,’’ Sixers coach Doug Collins said. “That’s what the playoffs are about, the highs and lows and you’ve got to navigate that. This is a new experience for us. Boston has been through that.
“This is all new for us. And it’s good. It’s good that we’re going through this and we’re learning from this.’’
There is quite an age and experience gap between the Celtics and the Sixers. But having beaten the Bulls to advance to the second round, is it really about learning anymore? And if it is, can the Sixers learn fast enough?
Do they have the belief in themselves to turn the tables back on Boston?
“This is really disappointing,’’ Elton Brand said. “From a confidence standpoint, we felt like we could have won Game 1. And we did win Game 2. So it’s like, ‘OK, now we’re coming home, let’s win Game 3.’ That’s exactly how we felt.’’
Philadelphia now must win at least one more game in Boston to have a chance to reach the Eastern Conference finals. The team will get the chance to look at its brutal loss on Thursday in the film room, and then will face the task of not replicating their performance.
The Sixers trailed by as many as 27 points, as Evan Turner - who had seemed to break out in the series - scored just 4 points on 1-of-10 shooting. The hosts scored a combined 33 points in the second and third quarters after hitting that number in the first quarter alone. It was an embarrassing loss for a team with aspirations beyond its lowly seed - especially in its own arena.
“We made a lot of growth in those first two games,’’ Brand said. “I think we took a step back when we got down tonight.’’
As Collins said, the Sixers ran into a team with a “sense of purpose.’’ Asked if his own team didn’t have that same sense of purpose, Collins said that wasn’t the case, that he thought his team was simply overwhelmed by Boston’s pressure.
“This was a team you could see coming in did not want to be down, 2-1, playing Game 4,’’ Collins said. “They came in and they’ve been in a lot of these games. They know how important the swing game is, to get that home court back. And they played great.’’
Philadelphia, meanwhile, couldn’t shoot, couldn’t protect the paint, and couldn’t stop the Celtics from getting out in transition. The Sixers could, however, praise Boston for the job that was done against them. Far more than acknowledging what they did wrong as a team, the Sixers talked about what the Celtics did right.
“Sometimes you’ve got to give credit to your opponent,’’ Collins said. “They brought out weakness in us tonight, and that’s what they do.’’
They hadn’t planned to see their fans bolting for the exits in the fourth quarter, that sea of red giving way to empty seats and more visible Celtics fans, especially not right after they had demonstrated the fortitude to win a close game in the waning minutes on the road.
“A lot of young guys on the team, so I think we’ll be able to put that behind,’’ Brand said. “Learn a lot. Watch a lot of film tomorrow, learn a lot, and just move on from there. It’s just one game.’’Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.