Maybe the Celtics were road-weary. Maybe the playoff-hungry Sixers simply wanted it much more. Maybe it was just one of those nights.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers considered all those maybes and couldn't pinpoint it. Whatever it was, the end result for the Celtics was a 95-90 loss to the Sixers at a sold-out TD Banknorth Garden last night.
"Well, not a good way of returning home from a trip," Rivers said. "I didn't think we played with a lot of great energy. But I don't know if it was fatigue or us just having one of those nights."
The Celtics turned cold in the fourth quarter en route to their second straight loss.
Philadelphia outscored Boston, 26-10, in the final eight minutes and had a 19-0 run during that stretch. The Celtics shot 29.2 percent in the fourth (7 of 24), missing 6 of 8 3-point attempts, and attempted only four free throws. The Sixers shot 46.7 percent, made 15 of 21 free throws, and scored 29 points with just 1 assist in the period.
Andre Iguodala scored a game-high 28 points for Philadelphia (36-35), which is making a late surge to solidify a playoff spot.
"Every game is big for us," said Sixers guard Andre Miller, who had 20 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists. "Good effort by everybody. Everybody came in and contributed. It's tough to go on a run like that on the road against a team like this."
Said Celtics guard Ray Allen, "They just went on a run and we didn't score down the stretch."
It was the Celtics' first loss in four games against Philadelphia this season. The Celtics also have dropped two straight home games. Their magic number to clinch the top seed in the Eastern Conference is still seven (combination of Boston wins and Detroit losses).
The Celtics were playing their first game at home following a 4-1 trip over eight days. They returned home following Saturday night's loss at New Orleans around 3 a.m. To give his players some rest, Rivers gave them Easter off and canceled shootaround yesterday.
While fatigue was a likely factor, the Celtics didn't use it as an excuse.
"You can't blame that," said Kevin Garnett. "Everyone got to do the same thing in this game. We can't cry about having to fly, and what it is. It's part of it and we have to deal with it."
Allen, who had 14 points, said, "I won't blame it on fatigue. It's nothing that any of us couldn't handle. We had every opportunity to win."
Rivers used his bench for a hefty amount of minutes in the fourth quarter. Eddie House played eight minutes, Leon Powe played seven, Tony Allen four, and rookie Glen Davis five. Rivers said he'll likely go that route again down the stretch.
"We've got to get the bench minutes and we've got to get them playing together," Rivers said. "Obviously, they will not be in as a group, all five of them, when the playoffs start. But they all may get minutes and I think it's really important right now to squeeze minutes out of them."
It wasn't long ago that the Sixers were considered a potential first-round opponent for the Celtics. But after going 10-2 in March, the Sixers are seeded sixth and are thinking about moving up.
"The sky is the limit," said guard Willie Green. "But our focus is taking it one game at a time knowing that we control our own destiny in terms of playoffs. I think we can be in a good situation, but we have to continue to take care of business."
Paul Pierce, who had 12 points, said, "They will be a dangerous team in the playoffs. They are a team I guess you wouldn't expect in the beginning of the year, but lately they are making their playoff push and all of their guys are playing well."
The Celtics finish the week playing two of the NBA's best teams, teams also desperate for wins in the Western Conference race: the Suns tomorrow and the Hornets Friday.
Considering the Celtics lost to both on the road this season, Garnett isn't worried about his team being up for those games.
"These games are crucial to us, too," said Garnett, who had 18 points and 5 rebounds. "We are trying to establish something in the rhythm going into the playoffs, from all the starters, bench play, to the new guys. So these are big games for us, too, just as it is for all the other teams coming in here."