The 76ers' experience in nail-biting finishes is beginning to pay off.
The Sixers saw a 21-point second-quarter lead evaporate to three points in the fourth quarter last night before they scored on a succession of dunks to defeat the Miami Heat, 96-85, at the Wachovia Center.
The second-largest home crowd of the season, 18,431, saw the Sixers put the game away with a 9-0 run just after Dwyane Wade's 22-foot jumper had cut their lead to 84-81 with 5 minutes, 10 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
The Sixers had squandered an 18-point lead Dec. 1 in a 94-92 overtime loss to New Jersey, but this time they regrouped to put away the aging Heat.
After winning their second straight game, the Sixers will have momentum as they begin their longest road trip of the season: six games in 10 days beginning tomorrow in Sacramento, Calif.
"For a second there, we kind of put our heads down - 'Here we go again, they made a run' - but we got back in it," said Andre Iguodala, who had a season high of 28 points.
With veteran Andre Miller calmly leading the way, the Sixers kept their composure. Miller finished with 12 points (on 6-for-9 shooting) and 12 assists.
"They are a veteran team and are going to make a run and have great coaching," Miller said of the Heat. "Any time that happens, you kind of have to slow the ball down and pick and choose your spots, and we did that."
The 9-0 run began with consecutive dunks by Samuel Dalembert on pick-and-roll passes from Lou Williams and Miller. The run ended with Williams beating Wade off the dribble and dunking the ball in the face of Udonis Haslem.
Aside from the usual contributors, the Sixers received a major effort from an unexpected source: Calvin Booth.
Booth was surrounded by players on the court and microphones in the locker room, both rare occurrences this season for the 76ers center.
Quite simply, there won't be many games when Booth outscores Shaquille O'Neal.
Dalembert had more fouls (three) than minutes played (2:23) in the first half, but the Sixers still held a 55-38 lead at the break.
That's because Booth contributed to a frustrating evening for Shaq, who scored five points on 2-for-4 shooting in nearly 29 minutes.
The Sixers doubled on Shaq virtually any time he got the ball, but Booth still patrolled the middle, resembling Dalembert minus the foul trouble.
Booth played more than 21 minutes and had six points, four rebounds and five blocked shots, all season highs. He had appeared in only nine of the first 27 games.
"I definitely feel like when I get out there, I bring something to the table for the team, and fortunately for myself, Coach was able to find a couple of minutes for me," Booth said.
Booth was able to find his rhythm quickly, with four of his blocked shots in the first quarter.
The center, who had played a total of nine minutes in December, showed no signs of rust.
"I think I showed everybody else around the league that I could play a little," Booth said
The Heat were led by Wade's 27 points, while Ricky Davis added 21. The Sixers used Rodney Carney, Miller and Iguodala on Wade, with Iguodala doing most of the heavy lifting.
"It's very tough to come all the way back from 21 points and get within three," Wade said. "You hope you can continue to make the plays that got you back in the game, but they made a run."