Andre Iguodala squared up for a 3-pointer from the wing like he had hundreds of times in his career.
This shot was different from all the others.
Iguodala continued a postseason where his final numbers don’t pop on the box score, but the buckets are as pivotal as they get. He snapped a tie game with five straight points in the final 90 seconds to help the Philadelphia 76ers storm back from 18 points down in the third quarter and stun the Boston Celtics 92-83 on Friday night in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The young Sixers were a team reborn in the second half and played like a squad that refused to roll over for the championship-tested Celtics.
“I don’t even know where to start,” Philadelphia coach Doug Collins said. “Our guys are pretty amazing. They really are.”
Iguodala certainly has been.
One of the more maligned athletes in recent Philadelphia history, he’s changing his reputation one fourth-quarter point at a time.
Iguodala put the Sixers ahead 85-83 with a step-back jumper over a flailing Ray Allen with 1:22 left. Then he took the feed from a driving Williams and buried a 3-pointer for a five-point lead.
“That’s not the first time he found me in that same exact spot,” Iguodala said. “Just not as big a platform as it was tonight. But it worked out for us.”
With the huge comeback, the Sixers tied the series at 2-2 and guaranteed a return home for one more game.
Game 5 is Monday in Boston.
They can thank Iguodala, Lou Williams, Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen for an unforgettable second half that left the Celtics purely dazed following an outcome that hardly seemed possible when Boston led 14-0 to start the game.
Iguodala and Turner scored 16 points. Williams scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half. Allen grabbed 10 rebounds.
Kevin Garnett had his first miserable outing – finishing with nine points – in an otherwise monster series. With Garnett in a funk, so were the Celtics.
Garnett, who turns 36 on Saturday, missed nine of 12 shots. He had little help from an offense that sputtered after the sizzling start. Paul Pierce scored 24 points and Rajon Rondo had 15 points and 15 assists.
“We had a team down and we didn’t finish them off,” Garnett said. “It’s pretty disappointing. So, we have to go back home. They did what they needed to do to protect their home court, now we have to go do the same thing.”
The Sixers just kept attacking, turning a first half of airballs, botched dunks and sloppy defense into a full-blown display of near-flawless basketball.
Thaddeus Young’s thunderous slam tied the game at 63 in the middle of the fourth. And when Jodie Meeks drained a 3-pointer on the Sixers’ next trip down the court for Philadelphia’s first lead a packed crowd of 20,411 fans stomped their feet and unleashed two hours of pent-up jubilation.
Williams hounded Pierce and forced a turnover, fed the ball to a streaking Turner for a dunk and put the lead at 68-65.
It was that kind of hustle that brought the Sixers back.
After Garnett blocked Allen’s shot, Young snagged the ball out of the air and scored to make it 74-all.
“In the second half, they came out and used the energy of their crowd, and we just didn’t respond,” Pierce said.
Game 4 came down to young legs, fresh enthusiasm and untested big-game experience vs. aging, championship-tested stars fighting for another title.
Give the edge to the Sixers.
Iguodala has become a fan favorite with a clutch postseason. He sank the winning free throws in Game 6 to finish off the top-seeded Chicago Bulls in the first round.
And it was Iguodala who finished off the Celtics in Game 4.
The Celtics look primed for a blowout victory after the first 10 minutes of the game. They hold out hope a trip back to Boston can make them forget about this collapse.
“I thought we lost the composure, and once we did, we never really returned to playing basketball the way we played in the first half,” coach Doc Rivers said. “They pressure. They took us out of a lot of stuff.”
Philadelphia CEO Adam Aron tweeted at the break, “This will have to be one of the best come backs ever for the (at)Sixers.”
Down 15 at the half, the under-25 Sixers found their spark, their legs and their shooting touch to crank up the pressure on the Celtics.
Williams hit a 3, Iguodala hit a 3, and Williams converted a three-point play to make it 58-54. Williams stood on the free-throw line with the widest smile of anyone in the building and calmly sank the deficit-slicing free throw.
Meeks, a starter-turned-sub, stole an errant pass and scored his first bucket of the game to make it 63-59 at the end of the quarter.
The 76ers’ 10 baskets in the third were one more than their total for the entire half and their 28 points were three shy off their halftime total.
“We’re just going to keep fighting,” Collins said. “That’s what we do.”
The Sixers had vowed they would be a more determined team after the veteran Celtics dismantled and demoralized them on their home court in Game 3.
The Sixers said after the 16-point loss they would return more focused to prevent another hot Celtics’ start that took them out of the game and sucked the atmosphere out of the Wells Fargo Center.
The Celtics squashed that attitude moments after the opening tip before thousands of fans had taken their seats.
Pierce and Avery Bradley hit 3-pointers, Garnett hit a pull-up 20-footer and the Celtics raced to a 14-0 lead only 3 1/2 minutes into the game.
The Sixers truly couldn’t find their footing. Young bounced the ball off his sneaker on a drive down the lane, and Pierce converted on the other end for an 18-3 lead.
The Celtics could never find that extra scoring boost to truly put away the Sixers. Rondo, Garnett and Allen all had quiet first 24 minutes and the Celtics let the lead drop to seven.
Rondo scored an uncontested bucket coming out of a timeout to end the half and put the Celtics up 46-31.
“That was probably the worst we could shoot,” Iguodala said. “They were playing as good as they could play and we were shooting poorly.”
Boy, did it ever work out in the end.
Notes: The 76ers are 4-1 at home in the postseason. … The Sixers are 3-3 this postseason trailing by double-digits after a 5-23 mark in the regular season. … The Sixers outscored Boston 34-26 in the paint.
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