BOSTON — No one thought the Philadelphia 76ers would make it this far. And no one gave them much of a chance in Game 7 either.
But there they were, down three with the ball and a little more than four minutes to go in the fourth quarter. Paul Pierce had just fouled out, and you had to think the Sixers had a shot.
It turned out, instead, that Rajon Rondo had a shot. And when Rondo beats you with a long two and a long three, and when Ray Allen finally connects on a couple of shots from beyond the arc after missing his first five, you might just have to shrug your shoulders and realize it just wasn’t your day.
The Sixers could look back at Game 7 and the series as a whole, and choose to remember the turnovers and missed free throws. They shot 24-for-30 from the free throw line on Saturday and just 69 percent in the series. These seven games were downright ugly and the Sixers struggled to score throughout. So to not take advantage of every trip to the line is just shooting yourself in the foot.
“It’s just our inability to score that’s sort of plagued us throughout the season,” Sixers coach Doug Collins said.
But Philly also had their positive moments to look back on. They out-executed the veteran Celtics in three of the seven games. Their young players certainly gained a ton of valuable big-game experience. And they learned that if you play hard, play together, and play defense, you can go further than you should otherwise.
That’s really what this Sixers team should be remembered for. If you can overlook the missed free throws, they made the most of what they had. They were a great defensive team without a dominating big man. And they were a decent enough offensive team without a go-to guy.
Really, teams without stars aren’t supposed to take teams with four stars to seven games in the conference semifinals, but the Sixers did. They played the Celtics’ style and almost matched them defensive stop for defensive stop.
“The Sixers are a pain in the ass,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “They are a tough basketball team.”
Sure, things would likely have been different if Derrick Rose didn’t tear his ACL in the first game of this postseason. But that doesn’t mean the Sixers didn’t earn their way here.
“It was a good run,” Jrue Holiday said. “We fought to the end.”