With the soft flick of T.J. Ford's right wrist, then the snap of the net, came the hush of the Wachovia Center crowd.
Disappointment came with only a few ticks left on the clock and carried through the final buzzer as the depleted Indiana Pacers, somehow, defeated the 76ers, 95-94, last night.
The loss snapped the Sixers' three-game winning streak and was the first in four games for new coach Tony DiLeo.
If you looked at the 76ers' schedule, you knew last night's game carried more weight than a typical end-of-December game. Also, the Pacers dressed only nine players because of injury or illness.
Because their next six are on the road, the Sixers couldn't afford to leave this game as a should-have-been. Get a win, get on the road.
Consider this coal in their going-away stocking, because the Sixers' schedule becomes tougher than dunking on Kevin Garnett. Their next three games are against the Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz.
"It's a big one," Sixers swingman Andre Iguodala said of the loss. Iguodala's shot at the buzzer fell away. "It's one of those you'll wish you had back when it matters at the end of the year."
The Sixers led by 89-85 after Samuel Dalembert made one of two free throws with 2 minutes, 24 seconds left in the fourth quarter. But Ford, Jeff Foster and Jarrett Jack led an 8-1 run that put the Pacers up by 93-90 with 49 seconds left.
But then, after Iguodala scored, Jack inexplicably drove the lane, spun back, and lofted a pass to his own backcourt. Sixers guard Lou Williams caught the ball on the run and dunked for a 94-93 lead with 17.2 seconds left.
One stop was all the Sixers would need.
But with 3.8 seconds left, Ford scored the last of his team-high 25 points.
"He did make a tough shot," DiLeo said. "We wanted Andre, a longer guy, on him. But he made a tough shot."
Iguodala - 26 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists - took the last shot of the game. He drove from the right wing, spun back to the middle, and missed a short, lefthanded shot at the buzzer.
"We got a great look for Andre," said power forward Thaddeus Young. "The play was just as we drew it up, Andre on the isolation."
The Pacers improved to 10-17. The Sixers dropped to 12-15.
The Sixers have their own health problems. For the second game, they played without Elton Brand, who has started the rehabilitation process for the dislocated right shoulder he suffered Wednesday against the Bucks.
During the second quarter last night, starting shooting guard Willie Green left the game with a sprained left ankle. He did not return. X-rays were negative, and Green said after the game that he would try to practice tomorrow.
Sixers point guard Andre Miller finished with a triple-double: 14 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds. Williams (17 points) and Marreese Speights (12 points) provided scoring off the bench.
Dalembert, who has struggled recently and had not appeared in the fourth quarter of the Sixers' previous two games, finished with a double-double of 11 points and 14 rebounds.
"This is the Sam we need every night," DiLeo said.
"If that's what they want, I have to play," Dalembert said. "I can't be on the bench."