The Sixers were outclassed by the superior Celtics.
The Boston Celtics had won 13 in a row coming their game Wednesday night at the TD Garden. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia 76ers were only one night removed from a 45-point destruction at the hand of the Chicago Bulls, the worst loss in the NBA this season.
And while the Sixers wound up losing to the Celtics last night 84-80, their effort was commendable, given the circumstances. So although they're far past the point where moral victories count for anything, Wednesday's performance in Boston was, at the very least, encouraging.
"That's more what our team is like," said Sixers' forward Elton Brand, who led the Sixers with 16 points. "It's disappointing we didn't come with it [against Chicago] and it's disappointing we didn't close out this win [Wednesday]. But we played strong and we played well."
The Sixers, who are now 11-18 on the season, played exceptionally well on the defensive end: On Wednesday, they held Boston - owners of the best field goal percentage in the league at 50.7 percent - to 38.8 percent from the field.
Most of the time in the NBA, when a team holds its opponent to less than 40 percent shooting, it results in a win. Then again, there aren't too many teams that close out games like the Boston Celtics.
In the 4th quarter, Boston converted on 12 of their 14 free throw attempts while the Sixers were only 1-for-2. As a veteran team, the Celtics are well aware that the more aggressive team gets the calls, and they took every opportunity to force the issue with the game in the balance.
The last 12 minutes were a sharp contrast to the first half, when the Sixers were 14-for-17 from the charity stripe, while the Celtics only attempted three free throws in the opening two quarters.
"Against this team you have to be aggressive," said Sixers' coach Doug Collins. "This is a team that's very physical. You sort of have to hit them before they hit you."
To their credit, the Sixers did their fair share of hitting, due in large part to the play of Tony Battie. Battie logged more than 25 minutes last night, scoring a season-high 10 points, to go along 6 rebounds and with his solid defensive effort against Shaquille O'Neal and the rest of the Boston front line.
But when it mattered the most, Ray Allen - who led all scorers with 22 points - and the rest of the Celtics were too much to handle down the stretch. In Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce (who finished with 11 after going scoreless in the first half), the Celtics have three battle-tested closers willing and able to hit a game-winning shot.
The Sixers are well aware of the Celtics' ability to finish games. In their previous meeting on December 9, the Sixers had Boston dead to rights until Rajon Rondo found a cutting Garnett for a game-winning layup with less than two seconds left - the decisive basket in a 102-101 Celtics' victory.
Conversely, the Sixers lack of any sort of go-to player is what separates them from the class of the Eastern Conference. Andre Iguodala wanted to be the hero last night, but he turned the ball over twice in crucial situations down the stretch.
Wednesday's game against the Celtics was the third of the Sixers' 8-game road trip. After a 97-89 victory against the Orlando Magic last Saturday, the Sixers followed that up three days later with the aforementioned 121-76 loss to the Bulls on Tuesday.
With a few days off to enjoy the holidays, the Sixers have some time to sit back and reflect before they turn it on again Sunday night against the Denver Nuggets. Hopefully, the extended break will allow them time to regain the form that has been missing over the past couple of games.