BOSTON - This was the seemingly interminable 55-minute ride to the inevitable. And after that, the 76ers' night got longer.
This is what it is like to spend an evening on the wrong side of history. This is what it is like to be fodder for the Boston Celtics as they climbed to 27-2, the best start in NBA history, and stretched their winning streak to 19 games, longest in franchise history.
This is also what it is like to be in a little bit of denial, as Andre Iguodala inexplicably spent several postgame minutes talking about what he viewed as overzealous trash talking by the defending champions and less of an intimidation factor than previous Detroit Pistons teams.
This is what it is like to come to Boston and lose, 110-91. The Sixers' usual 10- to 15-minute trip from their hotel headquarters to the arena was stretched out painfully by brutal traffic on city streets that were significantly narrowed by recent deluges of snow.
But even as traffic seemed to be stalled all over the city, all Celtics lanes were open. The Sixers stayed reasonably close for stretches, but the Celtics eventually got the burst they need; they just flowed a little better, shot a little straighter, forced a few more turnovers by the visitors.
It's not as if Tony DiLeo didn't know what was likely to come. He arrived with a stated twofold purpose: a plan to see his team get better and a plan to try to cope with the Celtics.
"I'm sure 26 teams had that game plan and it didn't work," he said before losing for the second time after winning his first three as the coaching successor to the fired Maurice Cheeks.
After a while, it was like trying to stop water from surging through an overmatched levee. The Sixers would plug a gap, close off a lane, and the Celtics would flick touch passes to one another or snap off crosscourt passes to open shooters. For much of the evening, the Celtics didn't blow out the Sixers, they simply held them at bay, kept them at arm's length.
They must have done a ton of talking on the court, too.
"We had a good rhythm [early]," said Iguodala, who hit four of his first five shots, then only three of his next 12. "We followed our game plan; we were right there. The fourth quarter, a few plays didn't go our way; we couldn't catch a break, and they capitalized on it, got out to a big lead. From there, it was over.
"Basically, you've got to play perfect basketball. We were doing the right things; we just didn't get a break. When you're playing the champs, you're not going to get any breaks. You can't get into an arguing match with the refs."
On the other hand, they eventually couldn't keep up with the champs, either. Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett had 18 points each, Ray Allen had 16 and Leon Powe had 11 of his 15 in the fourth quarter. The Celtics drained seven of 14 three-pointers, and the Sixers were 0-for-11 from beyond the arc, the second straight game in which they were unable to knock down a triple.
"I respect them as far as being a good team, and they play defense," Iguodala said. "They do a lot of trash talking out there, and it kind of takes away from it sometimes. As a basketball group, they do a good job of executing . . . 27-2, you can't knock that. They just won the title, I'm sure they want to play to perfection, to just try and keep it going the whole way, similar to the [New England] Patriots.
"Everybody knows they won the championship. Everybody knows they're a great team. They try to go overboard with [the trash talking] sometimes. Actually, it takes away from how good of a team they are, from the respect factor. Teams don't respect them as much because of that."
If that isn't denial . . .
Reggie Evans put it in a better perspective, when he said, "They do a lot of gossiping."
"I really don't care, because they ain't talking to me," he said. "They know who to talk to. And they can back it up. Definitely. Look at the results."
To be on the wrong side of history, Evans said, "is part of the game."
"Sometimes you can snap history," he said.
Meanwhile, on the right side of history, the Celtics' Paul Pierce said, "What do we get for that? Nothing. Has any Boston Celtics team ever lost 18 in a row? I've done that."
"If you don't win the championship, all that goes out the window," Garnett said. "If you don't win it at the end, it's pretty much meaningless. Our ultimate goal is to win this thing again and get better as we go." *
For more Sixers coverage, read the Daily News' Sixers blog, Sixerville, at http://go.philly.com/sixerville.