BOSTON - Evan Turner, who had played the entire game taking way too many chances, wasn't going to risk another as he drove toward the basket with the Sixers trailing by one point and just over 40 seconds to play against the Boston Celtics on Monday night.
The Sixers had led by 10 points late in the third quarter and saw that lead steadily drip away, just as it did in Game 1 of this series. If Turner didn't take care of the ball and get it safely to the basket, the Sixers were looking at another gee-whiz loss to the Celtics and a two-games-to-none series hole.
So, Turner took off from the left wing, picking his way through the Boston defenders like a man dodging puddles on a rainy street. He cradled the ball in his right arm near the end, running back-style, then switched it to his left as he flew beneath the basket and laid it in delicately from the reverse side.
It wasn't the best game of Turner's career, but it was the biggest, and his determined drive to the basket can serve as a microcosm of how the Sixers are playing now. It isn't pretty basketball. It isn't consistent basketball. But in those final furious minutes, they can hang around long enough to get a win.
When Ray Allen followed Turner's basket by rimming out a jumper, the Celtics had no choice but to send the game to the foul line and that's where Turner, Lou Williams and Jodie Meeks put away the 82-81 win.
"The young guys keep growing," Doug Collins said. "They're becoming men. To play in a game like this is worth 10 regular-season games of experience."
Winning close games was a skill that eluded the Sixers during the entire regular season. While they were adept at creating blowouts on those nights when the opposition didn't want to fight through their clinging defense, they weren't very good at finishing games in which the outcome was in doubt.
During the regular season, the Sixers were 5-18 in games decided by eight or fewer points and 1-8 in games decided by five or fewer points. That's why it was shocking when three of their four wins against Chicago in the opening round of the playoffs came by eight points or fewer.
Against Boston, however, the Sixers are playing one of the most efficient teams in the league, a team that has made a career out of delivering when it matters. The Celtics rarely run up scores – they took the fewest field-goal attempts in the league – and they don't get to the free-throw line very often. So how do they win?
They win with their defense, particularly their fourth-quarter defense. In Game 1 of this series, they trailed the Sixers by 10 points early in the final quarter and then shut down the Sixers' offense for nearly an eight-minute stretch before pulling out the one-point win.
"We couldn't manage the end of the game," Doug Collins said after that one.
The Celtics also win by making sure they take good shots and get some value out of each possession. The Sixers have frittered away some chances in the past, and that's what Collins hoped to avoid Monday night.
The Sixers weren't perfect in that regard, but they were good enough, and it was Boston that committed four fourth quarter turnovers, including one on a rare moving screen call against center Kevin Garnett. That offset the Celtics' 65 percent shooting from the field in the final period. On this night, anyway, it was the younger, more inexperienced Sixers who held together better in the final minutes than the veteran Celtics, a team that has been through so much together before.
"I don't think we have a big margin of error, and I don't think we're going to run away from anybody," Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "Whether this game lifted their confidence, I'd say we lifted their confidence in the first game. We had a home game and we had to steal it."
The game couldn't have started much worse for the Sixers on Monday, with Boston hitting everything it tried and the Sixers doing exactly the opposite. Collins settled them down with a time out and they began to work slowly out of a 9-0 deficit. The Celtics helped by cooling off quickly. The Sixers took their first lead early in the second quarter, but couldn't extend it and it was a two-point game at halftime, with Boston leading, 38-36.
It was just as ugly as that score would suggest, with the two teams combining to shoot 37 percent and also combine for a paltry six offensive rebounds. There was a lot of nothing going on, and most of it took place at a walking pace.
The beauty of the game didn't improve until the very end of the second half, at least from the perspective of the Sixers. Neither team shot well or handled the ball well, and if age is affecting the Celtics, then inexperience costs the Sixers just as often.
In the end this time, however, the Sixers started creating their own history, even if just a little bit. If Evan Turner can find his way to the basket once in that situation, he can do it again. And if the 76ers can win close games, that's a good thing. Because they don't play any other kind.