There are some moments in sports that mean so much more than the final score, the box score, a coaches’ 400th win, and the pursuit of a championship. On Friday night, 20,000 fans in South Philadelphia witnessed a moment that they won’t soon forget. It wasn’t an alley-oop nor a no look pass. It was real life.
With 5:08 left in the 2nd quarter of a battle for first place between the 76ers and the Celtics, Mickael Pietrus penetrated the lane and was met by Lou Williams and Elton Brand. Pietrus was fouled, lost his balance, and landed on his back. It seemed ordinary enough.
But, an arena full of basketball fans would realize, in a ten minute scary pause of time, that this was more than extraordinary. Pietrus’ head snapped backed after he fell to the ground. He laid on the ground, without movement , as cleanup crews mopped and cleaned the floor from reported vomit. Eventually, he was taken off the floor in a stretcher as the crowd cheered to show their support during his unfortunate exit. Officially, he left the game with a “closed head injury”.
After a collective gasp and many prayers offered, the game went on and the Sixers pulled out the 99-86 win. The win was a huge statement as the Sixers held on to first place in the Atlantic Division. The win also gave Coach Doug Collins his 400th career victory.
But, don’t let the score fool you. This was not an easy W for Sixers as the first half was a rough one for the home team.
The Sixers had a miserable first quarter, as Paul Pierce dropped 11 points in the game’s first 6 minutes. Overall, the Celtics shot 62% in the first half and this was without the sharp-shooting of Ray Allen, who was out with a sore left ankle. Somehow, though, the Sixers only trailed 6 at the end of the 1st.
But the Sixers began to find their stride in the 2nd quarter and the arrival of Overbrook’s own Will Smith added another jolt. When the Sixers minority owner entered the arena during the 2nd quarter, the former “Fresh Prince” received an overwhelming ovation. Immediately after Smith’s arrival the Sixers went on an 8-0 run to tie game. However, after the shell-shocking Pietrus play, the Sixers lost their edge and the solid basketball play that came with it. As a result, they went into the locker room trailing the Celtics 49-43.
The second half was a whole different ball game. Elton Brand proved to be huge. He led the Sixers with 20 points; and he also had 4 steals. Yes, Elton Brand had 4 steals! His patented jump shot gave the Sixers their first lead of the game at 61-60 with 6:47 left in the 3rd. From that point on, it was all Sixers.
Andre Iguodala started the pull away proceedings. His put-back jam after a Thaddeus Young miss put the Sixers up 67-64. Then, Iguodala drained a three, to put the Sixers up 6. Iggy provided his usual do it all performance. He had 14 points, 6 rebounds , and 8 assists.
Lou Williams joined the party too. The Sixers pushed their lead 12 late in the third when Iguodala threw a beautiful alley oop to Williams (on a set play), as the Sixers’ fans, who earlier battled the Celtics faithful in attendance, erupted in joy.
In all, the Sixers outscored the Celtics 37 -17 in the 3rd quarter, to take a 14 point lead into the 4th quarter. Brand (14 points in the qtr.) and Holiday (8 points in the qtr.) led the third quarter charge. The Sixers never looked back after this surge.
Williams finished with 19 points. The Sixers had 6 players in double figures. Thaddeus Young finished with 12, and Spencer Hawes finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds after a very sluggish start in the 1st quarter.
The Sixers as a whole started out sluggish once again. As we all know that has been their pattern of late, and it has cost them games. Most recently, it cost them a win against the Knicks, as they only scored 11 points in the 1st quarter.
This time however, they surged in the second half and they got their “mojo back” as Coach Collins would say. They pulled out a huge win not only for the standings sake, but for their sake of their confidence. For a young team to win a game like that, on a night that was an emotional roller coaster, should pay huge dividends down the stretch and into the playoffs.
This chapter in the Sixers-Celtics rivalry will be remembered years to come as a rare game that included a battle for first place and a coaching milestone. Still, in the end neither event is nearly important as health and well being of one Mickael Pietrus.
After all, that’s not a game, but a life.