FOR THE FIRST 29 minutes of last night's 76ers-Boston Celtics preseason game at the Wells Fargo Center, Sixers forward Jason Kapono did the same thing that about 3,500 people sitting in the stands did - watched.

He observed the Celtics take a 12-point lead. He saw the Sixers get manhandled on the boards (38-29 for the game), even though Boston's Shaquille O'Neal, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce never left the bench.

Then early in the third quarter, coach Doug Collins called his name, and he promptly played a big role in helping the team post its first preseason win, 103-92.

Kapono came off the bench and threw down four three-pointers to account for his 12 points and also dealt four assists in 19 very active minutes.

"It was cool," he said. "I didn't expect to play as I sat the whole first half, but I'm a professional, and I'm ready to play and help this team. I feel that my skill of shooting can really help this team."

The Sixers (1-3) really needed it. Midway through the third quarter, the Celtics had opened their lead to 12, and Collins had seen enough. In came the subs.

"We were dead in the water to start that third quarter, and I told our guys that I was going to go to the bench," Collins said. "Lou [Williams] and Kap and [Andres Nocioni] came in, and our defense turned it around, and the game looks good when the ball is going in the basket."

Which wasn't something Kapono envisioned himself doing for much of the night.

"Unfortunately, but fortunately, I have experience in sitting long amounts of time - being in a suit, being a 12th man, being a starter," Kapono said. "I've seen it all from being in the top five to being in the bottom five. I just pride myself on being ready and having confidence. If I hit a stretch where I miss a bunch in a row, I know I'm going to make a lot in a row. The percentages always seem to have a way of working out."

Williams led the Sixers with 19 points and Marreese Speights added 16 to lead seven players in double-digit scoring. Collins was pleased that the team had 29 fastbreak points and made 10 of 12 from three-point range.

Nate Robinson led the Celtics (3-1) with 26 points.

Hawes hurting

Center Spencer Hawes, who was acquired in an offseason trade with Sacramento, sat out his third straight preseason game with a strained lower back. Collins said before the game that Hawes probably won't return for a couple of weeks. The season opens Oct. 27.

"I've had the normal stiff-back stuff before, but I've never had something as localized as this," Hawes said. "As frustrating as it is, especially since I felt like I came into training camp in great shape and was doing well, you just have to look at the big picture at the end of the day. I thought it was just soreness from training camp, but it just never really got better. Now, compared to, like, 3 or 4 days ago, I'm feeling a lot better. Before, just walking around was kind of a struggle. But now with all the stretching, I'm making progress. I would say about a week more now."

Snow in the forecast

Former Sixers guard Eric Snow debuted as the color analyst on Comcast SportsNet. But you get the feeling talking to him and Collins that he might do a lot more than explaining X's-and-O's for viewers.

"[Assistant coach] Aaron McKie and Eric Snow to me are sort of poster boys for what I'm looking at in this organization," Collins said, "and that's just tough-minded, tough guys who compete, who get out on the floor and talk and have a will to win. I want Eric around."

Snow won't mind lending some advice every so often, if the situation warrants.

"Hopefully, my experience can help in any way," he said. "I'll be at every game, so a lot of times at games I will try to help any way I can. I'm not going to step on any toes. I'm not a coach here. If I can be used, if Doug or someone would love for me to talk to one guy or I see one of the guys and have an opportunity to say something to them, I'm going to be willing to always help, because there were always people willing to do that for me." *

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