After Friday's practice, 76ers coach Doug Collins was asked to rehash the final play of his team's painful loss to the Boston Celtics on Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

The visitors took a 102-101 decision on a layup with 1.4 seconds left by forward Kevin Garnett, who slipped to the basket off a pick-and-roll with teammate Rajon Rondo. Collins said he instructed guard Jrue Holiday, who was guarding Rondo, and forward Thaddeus Young, who was on Garnett, to switch if such a play unfolded.

Holiday got caught behind Garnett as he cut to the basket, and a lob pass toward the hoop was all the 6-11 veteran needed to score.

"We switched it like we were supposed to, and Jrue was underneath Garnett," Collins said. "He sort of got to the side of him, and they threw over the top. Weakside help couldn't come because you're following shooters. You've got Nate Robinson in one corner, you got Paul Pierce, and you've got Ray Allen. Pick your poison. We had a pretty good handle on what we were going to do, but they executed and scored."

Once Garnett rolled, Holiday was helpless.

"I really tried to get the ball, or foul him, or something, but he was already too far away," Holiday said.

Following what turned out to be the decisive play, the Sixers tried a baseball pass that was completed to Garnett as time ran out.

In coming just a few seconds short of taking down the best team in the Eastern Conference - Andre Iguodala scored twice in the last 42.1 seconds to give his team one-point leads - the Sixers gave more evidence that they may be forging an identity.

The Sixers had won four of five before Thursday. Jodie Meeks has emerged as a true shooter at the two-guard position, and 7-1 center Spencer Hawes is rounding into shape after some early-season injury woes.

Meeks had 19 points against the Celtics, and Hawes had 11 points and seven rebounds in 24 minutes. Off the bench, Young and Lou Williams had 16 points apiece. Williams made four of five three-point attempts. Meeks was four for four.

Nobody is more encouraged about how things are coming together than Collins, who saw power forward Elton Brand come up with 13 points and a game-high 14 rebounds against the Celtics.

The Sixers will take a 7-15 record into their game against the visiting New Orleans Hornets on Sunday. New Orleans was 14-7 going into its Friday night home date with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

"For us, we know we're getting better," Collins said. "We are putting a positive spin on things because we are doing some very good things. And I don't want the guys to get discouraged. I was disappointed for two groups of people [on Thursday] - our great fans and our team. Anybody who watched our team on TNT would say that team is fun to watch. That, to me, is what I keep focusing on every day.

"If you look at our stats, we should have 12 wins right now. And there are nine games here where the game was in the balance with five minutes or so to go. And we didn't win any of them. You win half of them, and you're a 12-win team."

Contact staff writer Kevin Tatum at 215-854-2583 or ktatum@phillynews.com.