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76ERS 125, CELTICS 124

Three overtimes are extra frustrating

Celtics squander a 16-point lead, finally succumbing to Sixers

PHILADELPHIA -- The frustration and disappointment, as well as turnovers and poor execution, continued for Boston last night at a soldout Wachovia Center. After leading by as many as 16 points in the third quarter and by 3 points with less than a second remaining in the second overtime, the Celtics dropped a 125-124 decision to the Philadelphia 76ers in three extra periods.

''We gave away so many opportunities with the [26] turnovers," said Rivers. ''They didn't score on them, but they took us out of scoring. I thought we played so passive in all three of the overtimes once we got the lead. We were trying to hold on to the lead instead of being aggressive. We made some plays where we've got to be a smarter team."

With a free throw by Paul Pierce and a 15-footer by Mark Blount, the Celtics went ahead, 124-121, with 2:47 left in the third overtime. But Andre Iguodala made a difficult 5-footer around a defender and the Sixers closed within 1. Brian Scalabrine later sent Chris Webber to the line, where the Philadelphia forward made both free throws to give the home team a 125-124 lead with 82 seconds left. With the Celtics defending well, as Delonte West frustrated Allen Iverson (33 points) and Blount kept Webber (31 points) from getting good looks at the basket, the Celtics earned another shot at regaining the lead when Webber missed a 17-footer with 42.9 seconds remaining in the third OT.

After a timeout, Scalabrine hit Ricky Davis with the inbound pass and Davis threw up a quick 22-footer that missed the mark. At the other end, Kyle Korver missed a 3-pointer and Blount grabbed the rebound. But Blount was stripped by Webber from behind for the Celtics' final, and most damaging, turnover. After the Sixers played keepaway, the Celtics finally fouled Iverson with two seconds remaining. He missed both free throws, the second one intentionally, but Boston did not have enough time to get off a decent final shot.

''We shouldn't have been in that position after being up 16 in the third quarter," said Davis (33 points, nine assists), who picked up the slack with Pierce (18 points on 4-of-20 shooting) struggling from the floor. ''We put ourselves in a ditch and couldn't get out of it."

Davis converted a 3-point play, giving the Celtics a 114-111 lead with 2:56 left in the second overtime. Webber tied it again with a 3-pointer, then Blount put Boston back ahead with another 3-point play. An 18-footer by Iverson brought Philadelphia within 1. That was where it stood when Davis traveled, giving the Sixers a chance to regain the lead. But the Celtics got lucky as Iverson's 17-footer rattled in and out. Then, the Sixers were fortunate when Pierce missed a pair of free throws.

The Celtics still held on to the slimmest of leads when Davis kicked a pass to Blount in the right corner. Blount heaved up an 16-footer that come close to the rim. The Sixers then took the lead on a Webber layup and the Celtics called timeout. Coming out of the timeout with 21.1 seconds remaining, Davis got the ball to Pierce (10 assists, 9 rebounds), who found Blount for a dunk and Boston took a 119-118 lead with 17.6 seconds remaining.

Philadelphia tried to regain the lead when Webber barreled through the lane. But in the process, he shoved Blount with his left forearm and was called for an offensive foul. The Celtics got the ball back with 7.9 seconds remaining. On his second attempt inbounding the ball, Scalabrine bounced it off the back of Korver. Scalabrine was immediately fouled, went to the line, and made both free throws to push Boston ahead, 121-118. But Korver got his revenge at the other end with the clock expiring, as he stepped to the right of Scalabrine and made a 3-pointer that sent the teams to a third overtime tied at 121.

''I wanted to go right up with it, but it was pretty deep and I was trying to pump-fake it and get a foul," said Korver. ''I pump-faked three times, but no one really jumped at me. I stuck out to the side and pulled it from there and gave it about all I had."

''Korver's shot put a real dagger in us," said Scalabrine.

It was the Celtics' first triple-overtime game since a 131-129 win at Vancover Feb. 17, 1999. The Sixers' last triple-OT game came in a home win over Miami Nov. 20, 1992.

Given that Boston built its first-half advantage from the 3-point arc, it was ironic that Philadelphia grabbed the momentum in the fourth from 3-point range. First, Iverson hit a three with 8:24 remaining in regulation that pulled the Sixers within 89-81. Then, with 6:03 left, Pierce fouled Iguodala along the right sideline. Iguodala went to the line and made all three shots, bringing the Sixers to 93-90. After a Blount layup, another 3-pointer by Iverson brought Philadelphia within 2 at 95-93. Iguodala later hit from the arc and the Sixers closed within 97-96 with 3:53 left.

At the other end, Kendrick Perkins grabbed a rebound but stepped out of bounds, giving the Sixers a chance to take the lead for the first time since their barrage of 3-pointers late in the second quarter. Perkins went to block a driving layup by Webber and was called for goaltending as the Sixers took the lead, 98-97, with 3:10 left. A 14-footer by West tied the game at 101 with 51.4 seconds remaining. Both teams missed go-ahead shots (an 8-footer by Webber, a 23-footer by Iverson at the buzzer, and a driving layup by West) and the game headed to the first overtime.

''I was just thinking the whole time, with all this we've been going through, we can't lose this one," said Iverson. ''We just had to try to play good enough defense to where they didn't leave out of here with that win. We wanted it and we wanted it as bad as they did . . . It proves that we won't give up, and that's something we need to feed off.

''This game can help us down the road."

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