Wednesday May 23, 2012

PHILADELPHIA -- Before coach Doug Collins had his Philadelphia 76ers look ahead to Game 6, he had them rewind the tape to a dusty Game 7.

He slipped in a highlight video of Sixers vs. Celtics, Game 7, 1982 Eastern Conference finals. Julius Erving and Larry Bird. Andrew Toney and Maurice Cheeks. Robert Parish and Kevin McHale.

The Sixers blew a 3-1 lead in that series and were forced to win Game 7 on the road to reach the finals -- which they did.

The Sixers trail this season's East semifinals 3-2 entering tonight's Game 6 in Philadelphia. But Collins wanted to push the point that winning another Game 7 on the road can be done.

But first?

Game 6.

Collins received some advice from former and current coaches among his tight group of friends after the Celtics ran away late in a 101-85 Game 5 victory. The supportive messages all had the same theme:

"How bad do you want to go back for a Game 7," Collins said Tuesday, "when the odds say you're not going to win that."

So, the coach ordered a history lesson before practice and showed the Sixers how winning Game 7 in Boston can be done.

"We have that same opportunity," Collins said. "Let's give ourselves that chance. Let's get ourselves back to Boston with a Game 7 and see what we can do. Sometimes, I think it's good to go back and let guys see the history of the franchise with Boston and Philly.


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The Sixers would love to add their own improbable victories to this longtime rivalry and knock out the Celtics. And this is in their favor: No team has won consecutive games in this series.

But wait. There's more. Philadelphia is 4-0 this postseason in games following a loss. The Sixers won Game 2 and Game 6 in the first round against top-seeded Chicago, and Game 2 and Game 4 vs. Boston.

All those statistics from this postseason -- and the big wins from 30 years ago -- will mean little, though, once the ball is tipped tonight.

"We're on the edge right now," Sixers forward Elton Brand said. "There's no comfortable feelings anywhere around here."

With good reason. Twice this series, the Celtics have routed the Sixers, including a dominant end to Game 5 that has them in control and a win away from reaching the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Sixers led by six points early in the third quarter before Boston scored 14 of the next 16. The Celtics closed the third with a 10-2 run over the final 3 minutes, and outscored the Sixers, 28-16, in the frame. The Celtics also scored 16 of the first 22 in the fourth quarter to put it away.

"Once we were able to run and get some easy baskets, just open it up," Boston's Paul Pierce said, "we fed off the crowd and never looked back."

The Celtics did not practice Tuesday.

Pierce had 16 points, and was a perfect 9 for 9 from the free throw line. Brandon Bass scored 18 in the third as part of a career playoff-high 27. And Kevin Garnett added 20 points, while Rajon Rondo had 13 points and 14 assists for the Celtics.

"Now, when they say, ‘The Big Three,' we all know they mean Rondo," 76ers swingman Andre Iguodala said.

Rondo, in fact, has been a thorn in the Sixers all series. He's been the leader coach Doc Rivers wanted, often barking at his teammates and demanding they get into the right spots. He finds players in the right position where they don't have to do much after they catch the ball: Shoot or dunk.

"I thought the second half was one of the best games he's had this year for us," Rivers said. "I thought it was more than just the basketball part of it. I thought his will, his leadership, we needed it. And he gave it to us."

The Sixers also got stuck watching a more ghastly Celtics-76ers video before practice. They reviewed and relived the nasty collapse that has them a loss away from ending this unlikely run to the second round.

Sixers guard Jrue Holiday says he looks at Game 6 as, "kind of like the end of the world." Collins won't get that dramatic. He refuses to talk about the win-or-else implications of Game 6.

"I don't know why you would talk about an elimination game," Collins said. "I just say, ‘Let's win Game 6.' Elimination game to me is negative."

Negative or not, this is the first postseason game in which the Sixers are facing elimination.

"It's not really doom and gloom," Iguodala said. "You get in a situation like this, you get thoughts creeping in your mind it could be over in a day or two. Our guys are talking about tomorrow and what we've got to do to try and win that game."

Also Tuesday, the Sixers shrugged off Garnett's comment that Philly fans are the "fair-weather" kind.

"Maybe he needs something to get him pumped up," Brand said. "I don't know."

Maybe Brand is right. After all, Garnett and Co. blew an 18-point lead in front of that "fair-weather" crew the last time they played there.