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Sixers fall apart, lose to Celtics

They trailed by only 5 late in the game. Boston then took over.

BOSTON - For the second time this season, the 76ers were overwhelmed by a late-game surge from the Boston Celtics.

Unlike the first time the teams met, the Sixers hurt themselves last night with poor shooting from the free-throw line.

Trailing by five points with fewer than seven minutes remaining, the Sixers fell apart down the stretch of a 116-89 loss to the Celtics at TD Banknorth Garden.

"It seemed like at the end we ran out of gas, and we have to respond to the end, and they took the game over on us," said Sixers center Samuel Dalembert, who had 12 points and 10 rebounds.

The Sixers shot just 19 for 33 from the foul line, compared with 16 for 21 from the Celtics.

Boston did more damage by shooting 14 for 22 from beyond the arc while the Sixers were 2 for 10.

"We did a good job of getting to the basket, but we just didn't hit our free throws," said Andre Iguodala, who had 17 points, but only got to the line twice, making one foul shot.

Boston (32-6) had beaten the Sixers, 113-103, on Dec. 5 in Philadelphia. In that game, the Sixers were outscored by only 30-23 in the fourth quarter.

Last night it was 38-16, with Boston shooting 16 for 23 from the field, including 6 of 9 from beyond the arc. Conversely, the Sixers shot just 4 for 15 and turned the ball over four times in the fourth quarter.

The Sixers got to within 90-85 when Andre Miller converted a nice feed inside from Iguodala with just under seven minutes left.

From there, Boston outscored the Sixers, 26-4.

"They spread us out and for three-and-a-half quarters we were good, and they just went on a shooting exhibition," Sixers coach Maurice Cheeks said. "And they have the players who can do those type of things."

So the Sixers (15-25) ended their three-game trip 1-2 and must regroup tonight against the Toronto Raptors at the Wachovia Center.

At least they won't have to face Kevin Garnett. While others had more impressive statistics, Garnett was the one who enabled the Celtics to pull away.

Boston settled matters after going on an 8-0 run after Miller's basket cut the lead to five points with 6 minutes, 56 seconds remaining.

Garnett, unselfish to a fault, twice had spectacular assists that led to Leon Powe dunks. In addition, Garnett hit a jumper off the dribble during the 8-0 run.

Garnett had 11 points, eight assists and six rebounds, and had he demanded the ball more he could have done more damage. He was simply too quick for the Sixers, but anytime he felt a double team, Garnett would almost immediately kick it out to open teammates.

"He played great," Dalembert said of Garnett. "He didn't have the numbers, but his team won."

Ray Allen scored a team-high 23 points for Boston, while Paul Pierce, who made 7 of 9 shots from the field, added 22.

The Sixers couldn't even carry the momentum of Reggie Evans' first NBA three-pointer. He had been 0 for 6 in his career before making a forced trey in the first quarter.

The Sixers led by 12 points in the second quarter, but by halftime the Celtics had cut the lead to 57-54.

At one point, the Sixers had a lineup of Lou Williams, Jason Smith, Iguodala, Thaddeus Young and Rodney Carney. Everybody in that lineup was 23 or younger.

The Celtics, playing without injured point guard Rajon Rondo, couldn't keep up with the Sixers and their younger legs. Smith scored all 10 of his points in the first half.

The Sixers also led at the half, 57-52, in last month's loss to Boston in Philadelphia. It once again turned out to be a bad sign.

Despite the two losses, the Sixers left an impression on Boston.

"They have a lot of talent," Pierce said. ". . . If they stick together for a couple of years, they could be one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference."