NBA playoff summaries: Sixers staying alive

The sweep for the Heat was 95 seconds away. Miami held a six-point lead, had The Big Three on the court and a bevy of clutch plays behind them.

Philadelphia 76er Andre Iguodala

Philadelphia 76er Andre Iguodala

Sixers 86 Heat 82

PHILADELPHIA — The sweep for the Heat was 95 seconds away. Miami held a six-point lead, had The Big Three on the court and a bevy of clutch plays behind them.

All the 76ers had was their unwavering belief.

When they told Doug Collins in the huddle late in the game, “We’re going back to Miami,” his reply was a simple one.

“I’ll be there with you,” said Collins, the Sixers coach.

Lou Williams proved the Sixers right, hitting the go-ahead three-pointer from the top of the arc over a lunging Dwyane Wade with 8.1 seconds left that lifted Philadelphia to an 86-82 win over the Heat on Sunday and avoided a sweep.

Sweet Lou, indeed!

His three came 28 seconds after Jrue Holiday stunned Wade with a three that sliced the deficit to one. It was all part of a game-ending 10-0 run that sent nearly 20,000 fans into a frenzy — and the Sixers on a surprise trip back to Florida.

Game 5 is Wednesday in Miami.

“D-Wade gave me a little room and I was able to knock it down,” Williams said. “We’ve always been a team that fought, all the way until the end. I just wanted to give us an opportunity to win the basketball game.”

Wade’s tip-in with 1:35 left put the Heat up 82-76. Miami had followed the formula of its Game 1 and Game 3 wins. The Heat trailed by double-digits in the first quarter, only to storm into the lead on the backs of Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh and take over down the stretch. The 76ers still may eventually lose this series.

Just not Sunday.

“If you have faith, you have hope. And if you have hope, you have life,” Collins said.

The Sixers kept the resolve they’ve had since they turned a 3-13 start into the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. The Sixers staggered down the stretch and won for only the second time since April 2.

Williams’ celebration was muted. He simply turned around and calmly walked back to a delirious huddle as if he expected to swish the winner all along.

“That shot right there didn’t beat us,” Wade said.

What Wade meant was, take a closer look at the stat sheet to find the numbers that truly did in the Heat. They shot 39 per cent; made 5 of 23 3-pointers; scored 16 bench points; and, again, trailed big early.

“We’ve proven all year long that we were able to close those types of games out,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We were not able to tonight.”

Williams and Evan Turner led the Sixers with 17 points each. Andre Iguodala added 16 points, and Elton Brand had 15 points and 11 rebounds.

James scored 31 points for the Heat and Wade had 22. Bosh scored 12 points and had two blocks late in the game that seemed to seal the win for the Heat.

James, Wade and Bosh put the “big” in Big Three for most of the game. For Bosh, it was the two blocked shots on the same possession with Miami holding a late two-point lead. He blocked Williams’ layup and swatted Turner’s short jumper.

On Philadelphia’s next possession, James blocked Turner’s shot.

James hit a step-back jumper for an 80-76 lead.

The Heat, who went on a 22-2 run in the second quarter, appeared in control.

Not for long.

Wade and James both missed baskets in the final minute that could have thrust the Heat back into it.

Wade misfired on a 13-footer after Holiday’s three and the Sixers snared the rebound. With the Sixers up two, James drove and was blocked by Brand on a jumper in the lane with 3.8 seconds left.

Turner hit two free throws to secure the win.

Bosh said the Heat would have to play with more trust in each other when scores are close in crunch time.

“We’re going to have to actually do it when it counts most,” Bosh said.

Collins was aware the Sixers were viewed as nothing more than a minor speed bump for the Heat.

He told his team to play with freedom and joy with the season on the line. Brand even promised the Sixers would “shock the world.”

Going eye-to-eye with the East’s elite, the Sixers may not have shocked the world, but at least South Beach.

Game 4 followed the familiar pattern of Games 1 and 3. Fired up from the start, the 76ers jetted to a 15-point lead in the first quarter. They made nine of their first 15 shots and went on a 13-0 run that at least made the idea of a return trip to Miami plausible.

The Sixers were no pushovers, either, providing some brief sparks when Thaddeus Young head-butted James Jones in front of Miami’s bench. Young responded after Jones shoved Turner as the crowd roared, anticipating a melee. Jones and Young were hit with technical fouls, but things were calm until Spencer Hawes and James jawed late in the fourth.

James brushed off a suggestion the Heat had intimidated the Sixers.

“Intimidation factor? We’re not trying to intimidate anybody,” he said.

The Heat usually bully their opponents simply on talent alone.

Wade showed how in the second quarter. He was 6-for-6 for 16 points in the quarter. He scored eight straight points, and his pull-up jumper that made it 43-41 gave Miami its first lead of the game.

He turned Miami’s 16-point deficit into a 47-46 lead at halftime.

It just wasn’t enough.

“We’re not going to hang our heads all the way to the ground about it,” James said.

Notes: The Sixers had no offensive rebounds and 13 defensive in the first quarter. … Collins won his first playoff game since he coached Detroit in 1996-97. … The Sixers were 5-12 during the season when they scored fewer than 90 points.


Celtics 101 Knicks 89

NEW YORK — The Boston Celtics never let this develop into the intriguing series that was expected.

Instead, they turned it into the easiest one their current group has ever experienced.

Kevin Garnett had 26 points and 10 rebounds, Rajon Rondo added 21 points and 12 assists, and the Celtics swept their way into the Eastern Conference semifinals, holding on for a 101-89 victory over the New York Knicks on Sunday.

Ray Allen and reserve Glen Davis each added 14 points for the Celtics, the first team into the second round after sweeping a series for the first time since a 3-0 victory over Indiana in 1992, the last series victory for their old Big Three before Larry Bird retired.

“It’s what we expected coming in. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, obviously Games 1 and 2, but we found a way to put it away,” Rondo said. “We haven’t swept a team in a long time, so it’s good feeling.”

And it gives their aging group plenty of rest before an expected showdown with the Miami Heat.

The Celtics had a 23-point lead cut to four in the fourth quarter, but pulled away again behind Garnett, who scored 20 after halftime.

The current Big Three of Garnett, Allen and Paul Pierce twice was extended to seven games in the first round, but this one was far easier than expected against the injury-weakened Knicks. The Celtics could now have a week off while they wait for likely opponent Miami, which was forced to a fifth game earlier Sunday after a late rally by Philadelphia.

The Celtics almost faced the same scenario, but a Knicks comeback attempt stalled in the final minutes before they were saluted by their orange-clad crowd after delivering the best season in New York in a decade.

“Everybody understood what was at stake. Give a team some confidence, even in a 3-0 series to win a game, you never know what can happen,” Pierce said. “So it was just very important for us to withstand the run. They made a great run and the crowd really got behind them, but in the fourth quarter we just really settled down in the last six or seven minutes, executed the offence and were able to put the game out of reach.”

Carmelo Anthony had 32 points and nine rebounds, and Amare Stoudemire, who decided to play after his back felt better, finished with 19 points and 12 boards but shot only 5 of 20 from the field.

“It was all heart. He just gave it all. With him and Carmelo going forward, the Knicks are in good shape,” Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni said.

The Knicks shot 34 per cent and were quickly dispatched in their first playoff appearance since 2004, when they were also swept in the first round. They haven’t won a playoff game in 10 years.

“Tonight was one of those games that we have to leave it all out on the court. Wasn’t no need to take anything home with us, and we did that,” Anthony said.

“So I’m pretty sure that we gained a lot of respect from a lot of people right now, but this is the first step of something great.”

The Celtics were only 10-11 in their last 21 games of the regular season, struggling to adjust to a changed lineup after trading centre Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City at the deadline and renewing questions they were too old.

The Knicks believed they could challenge them, but Chauncey Billups was lost for good after straining his left knee in the final minute of Game 1 and Stoudemire was never the same after hurting his back during warmups before Game 2.

Meanwhile, the Celtics got better as the series went along, pulling out two close victories in Boston and saving their best for Madison Square Garden, surrounded in orange as it was finally open for post-season basketball again.

But that couldn’t shake the Celtics, who held the Knicks to three field goals in the second quarter to seize control.

Garnett made three straight field goals to make it 70-48 in the third quarter before the Celtics let the Knicks back into it. Consecutive run-out dunks by Anthony cut it to 14, and New York had it all the way down to 10 when Shawne Williams’ 3-pointer with 36 seconds remaining trimmed it to 82-72 after three.

Stoudemire opened the fourth with a basket and Anthony followed, bringing it within six and forcing coach Doc Rivers to put Garnett back into the game. He made a pair of free throws, but baskets by Stoudemire and Anthony Carter made it 84-80 with 7:34 to go.

“I thought we dropped the guard a little bit,” Rivers said. “Give them credit, I thought they played desperate and you could see it in their play and their defensive energy.”

But Boston would never let it get closer and finally put it away when consecutive jumpers by Rondo and Garnett extended it to 95-85 with 4:22 to play.

Disappointed in their effort in a blowout loss Friday, the Knicks showed plenty of fight. Anthony knocked Rondo down for a flagrant foul and Stoudemire was called for a technical after he shoved Delonte West in the back following the Boston guard’s hard foul on Knicks rookie Landry Fields.

But New York, which went 42-40 to end a franchise-worst streak of nine straight losing seasons and earn its first playoff berth since 2004, simply didn’t have enough to match Boston, which got 13 points from Pierce.

Stoudemire made only one field goal in the first half as Boston led 55-38.

Notes: D’Antoni, while saying Rondo is a “very good basketball player,” seems to feel his success is due more to the players around him. “I’d like to see him play on Minnesota and see how he does,” D’Antoni said before the game. “Everybody’s tied together and they have three Hall of Famers out there.” … Billups said sitting out was “torture.” … Kemba Walker, who led Connecticut to the NCAA championship, attended the game and sat with Mayor Michael Bloomberg.


Hawks 88 Magic 85

ATLANTA — For most of the night, the Atlanta Hawks struggled to make free throws and laboured to put away the Orlando Magic.

But with the game on the line at the line, Joe Johnson came through.

Jamal Crawford scored 25 points for the Hawks and Johnson made four big free throws in the final 20 seconds to preserve an 88-85 victory over the Magic.

Atlanta has a 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference series and can wrap it up in Orlando on Tuesday night.

The Hawks made only 12-of-20 free throws, yet all was forgiven when Johnson knocked down the ones that really matter. Running out of time and forced to go for a tying three-pointer, the Magic set up a play for Hedo Turkoglu.

Al Horford foiled that plan, knocking the ball away from the Orlando player. Turkoglu got it back with only enough time to force one up. It missed badly, and the Hawks celebrated a commanding lead in the series as streamers fell from the ceiling of Philips Arena.

Dwight Howard led the Magic with 29 points and 17 rebounds. His night was marred by eight turnovers, however, including a couple of walking calls when he tried to back in on the collapsing Atlanta defence. Gilbert Arenas, who didn’t even play in Game 3, picked up some of the scoring slack with Jason Richardson serving a one-game suspension for an altercation with Zaza Pachulia.

Arenas scored 20 points, but no other Orlando player had more than 11. The Magic continue to struggle with their jump shooting, unable to solve an Atlanta defence that is not consumed by Howard’s numbers, allowing it to play the outside guys straight up.

The Magic shot only 39 per cent (31-of-79) and actually rallied in the second half to reach that number.

Crawford, who hit a clinching three-pointer in the closing seconds Friday night, had another big night. Last year’s top sixth man hit 10 of 18 from the field, including three from outside the arc.

Johnson made only 6-of-15 and finished with 20 points. Al Horford and Kirk Hinrich both had 14 for the more balanced Hawks.

The Hawks led by as many as 16 in the first half, threatening to pull away from an Orlando team that kept throwing up one clunker after another. The Magic shot only 28 per cent (12-of-43) before halftime, but Atlanta didn’t really take advantage of it. Orlando got it down to 46-37 going to the locker room, fully aware that it could’ve been much worse.

There were no altercations after things turned ugly late in Game 3.

Howard and Pachulia exchanged elbows, leading to a confrontation between Pachulia and Richardson that resulted in both being suspended for Game 4. Pachulia head-butted Richardson, who responded with a shove to the Atlanta centre’s face.

With Pachulia barred from the arena, the Hawks were missing one of their primary defenders against Howard. They countered with the trio of Jason Collins, Josh Powell and Hilton Armstrong, the latter playing for only the second time in the series. Al Horford and Josh Smith also got time guarding Howard, the Hawks’ throwing wave after wave at Orlando’s big man in hopes of keeping anyone from fouling out.

Howard, an Atlanta native, bantered with the crowd in his hometown, even coming over to the press table to exchange barbs with a couple of trash-talking fans in the third quarter.

“You’re the biggest whiner in the league,” one of them said.

“You wanna come out here and play me?” Howard responded. “I’m averaging 33 points a game. Just keep drinking your beer.”

But the Atlanta fans had the last laugh.


Hornets 90 Lakers 86

NEW ORLEANS — Chris Paul had 27 points, 15 assists and 13 rebounds, and the New Orleans Hornets held on for a 93-88 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday night to even their first-round playoff series at 2-2.

Wearing a black wrap on his left hand and a small bandage over his right eye, Paul scored 14 of New Orleans’ 24 points in the fourth quarter. The all-star guard then capped his brilliant performance by running down the clock and setting up Jarrett Jack’s short jumper, which made it 90-86 with 9.3 seconds left.

Kobe Bryant had 17 points for the Lakers, but did not score in the first half and finished 5 of 18 shooting, his last miss coming on a three-point attempt in the final seconds.

Trevor Ariza scored 19 for New Orleans.