The Sixers were on their way to their first victory of the season. The Celtics were headed to an 0-3 start.
Then the fourth quarter happened.
With the game tied at 84, the Celtics went on an 18-8 run fueled by Kyrie Irving, who scored seven of his 21 points in a span of less than four minutes.
The Sixers were outscored 33-20 in the final 12 minutes Friday night and saw their highly-anticipated home opener spoiled with a 102-92 loss to Boston at the Wells Fargo Center (see observations).
But the Sixers felt the game slip away earlier than that.
“We struggled in the third to continue what we had going,” Jerryd Bayless said. “We didn’t hold everything together like we should have.”
The Sixers recovered from an ugly, whistle-filled start and led the Celtics, 50-46, at halftime. JJ Redick had matched Irving’s 12 points and the Sixers had only given up four points off turnovers, a needed improvement from their first game.
They jumped ahead by nine, 65-56, with 4:35 to play in the third. That’s when they noticed the change. The Sixers went scoreless for a two-minute stretch. The Celtics failed to hit a field goal during that stretch (0 for 4), but they scored six points off free throws. The Sixers didn’t take advantage of the Celtics' shooting skid; instead, they hit one, too (0 for 3 from the field, three turnovers). They entered the fourth up just three.
“That was our chance to build that lead,” Redick said. “We were getting stops and we couldn’t get anything going offensively. It seemed like we were stuck at 65 for what seemed like forever. It was a seven-point game and we were getting stops and we never could push it past that, and it ended up being a three-point game to start the fourth. That was for sure when the momentum started shifting.”
The Sixers shot 39.1 percent from the field in the fourth while the Celtics were an efficient 64.7 percent. The Sixers fell flat from long range (1 for 6) and took just two free throws. The Celtics, meanwhile, scored 12 points from three (4 for 8) and went 7 for 7 at the line. In addition to Irving's offensive burst, Al Horford and Shane Larkin combined for 17 points in the quarter.
“My mind goes to stops and not fouling,” Brett Brown said. “I think we fouled too much.”
With a young and newly constructed roster, the Sixers need to learn how to win. They need execute in the fourth quarter.
Irving, a seventh-year veteran and four-time all-star with one championship ring, taught them a lesson.
“Come on," Irving said, "that’s winning time."