BOSTON - Game 1 was lost, but confidence was gained for the 76ers.
Nearly everything coach Doug Collins was hoping for his team to do against the ultra-experienced Boston Celtics in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series, they did. They got big leads, they thwarted runs, they defended. But they lost a one-point game, 92-91.
Still, besides a win there could not have been a better game for the Sixers at TD Garden. They put a scare into the Celtics, into their crowd. They not only could have won the game, they really believe they should have. There is as much doubt surrounding the Celtics as there is confidence emanating from the Sixers.
Sunday, the team gathered for a film session before taking to the court to just loosen the muscles, take some shots, have some fun. The elderly Celtics, meanwhile, were told to stay away from the court by coach Doc Rivers, in order to rest some of the bumps and bruises accumulated during a tough six-game series with the Atlanta Hawks that ended on Thursday. That shows just one of the many differences between these two teams.
The biggest one is the abundance of playoff experience, and wins, gathered by most of the Celtics. It is something they went back to on Saturday to help them pull out a victory after trailing by as many as 13 points in the first half, 10 in the second.
"Confidencewise, hanging tough is good for us," forward Elton Brand said. "But just losing those leads, for them to come back and beat us, that hurts. They hit key shots, we missed some key shots. If we executed correctly, we could have won that game. But if we had to lose, I think we lost in a best-case scenario.
"I think if you look at [Saturday's] game, the gap has closed between us. [Saturday's] game showed that. I think this is going to be a long series and I think [Saturday's] game showed that.
"They are better at closing games because of their experience, just being used to that high-intensity level. They did it in championship games. The first game of the second round, they're pretty comfortable. That gives them an advantage there. But we won some close ones in Chicago and that helped us learn how to do it."
In order to pound home just how close they were, how little had to be done that could have separated a win from a loss, Collins took to the film of the game Sunday.
"We went through about 17 defensive clips and then I took a couple of sequences of the game," Collins said. "I took the end of the half, start of the third quarter and then the finish of the game and just walked our guys through how we let some great opportunities slip away. The end of the half was the time that really, really hurt us. We had the ball, up 11 with about 2 minutes to go, and didn't finish well, let them get it to five [at the end of the first half]. I warned our guys that the third quarter was their dominant quarter all season long. We weren't sharp, but we got it back to 10 and then at the end of the game just [not] managing, getting good shots.
"This Celtic team is a championship team. [Rajon] Rondo and [Kevin] Garnett and Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, they have won championships and been in a lot of games. Coming down the stretch, they were sharper and we have to be better. We were right there. When you watch the tape, you realize how important it is to execute, be tough and do all the things under pressure that you have to do, and that's what we're continuing to learn how to do. You can't get that in a film session. You have to get out here on the court and feel the heat, feel the fans on an opposing court. You got the Celtics, you got the Sixers. You've got all these things. It's invaluable. I can't tell you how much it's worth to our guys.
"I think our guys feel very confident that if we play well we can win."
Point guard Jrue Holiday is one of the players Collins will need to play better in Game 2. Holiday, who has struggled through 19-of-64 shooting (29.7 percent) in his past four games, missed 10 of his 13 shots in Game 1 and was virtually irrelevant throughout. Still, after the game he deemed the loss beneficial.
"The shots I had were pretty wide-open, so it's just about being positive and having confidence, which I do," Holiday said. "I think we did what we were supposed to do. Obviously we gave up the lead, but we got the lead two or three times of 10 points or more. The only disappointing part is the last part, the final score. They did what they had to do. But we definitely are as confident, if not more confident after the first game. [Monday] night is crucial, just like the second game in Chicago. We want to go back to Philly tied at 1-1."