By A. Sherrod Blakely
PHILADELPHIA The Basketball Gods have a way of evening things out over the course of a season.
Remember all those games the Boston Celtics were winning that, truth be told, they probably shouldn't have?
Friday's game against Philadelphia had all the makings of another come-from-behind victory for the Celtics.
But down the stretch, the C's had ample opportunities to make big plays.
Instead of executing with precision on both ends, the C's simply fumbled and bumbled their way to a second straight loss, this time to the 76ers, 89-86.
Philadelphia's Andre Iguodala put the game away with a swooping lay-up with 12.5 seconds to play that gave the Sixers an 89-84 lead.
Kevin Garnett got a lay-up with 6.9 seconds to play.
But after the made-basket, the Celtics weren't able to intentionally foul a Sixers player to put them at the free throw line and get another possible possession.
You know it's one of those kind of nights when you can't even foul right.
When asked what happened down the stretch for Boston, Rajon Rondo was succint in his comments.
"Nothing happened," he said, followed by a brief pause. "That was the problem. We didn't get some calls, we took some bad shots, we turned the ball over."
Essentially, Boston (46-17) did everything that they usually force opponents to do in the closing minutes of a close game.
Said Celtics coach Doc Rivers: "Everybody kind of tried to do it by themselves, forced turnovers."
And the Sixers, to their credit, made the most of Boston's miscues.
Philadelphia head coach Doug Collins, one of the early favorites for the league's coach of the Year award, was pleased with his team's play.
Not surprisingly, he was particularly happy with the way they handled themselves in the game's closing moments.
"Our guys were so tough at the end," Collins said. "Boston is a championship-caliber team. We have been in three games with them like this, this season. The first two they won at the end. Tonight, we got defensive stops and did what we had to do to get a tough win."
In their first two meetings, both Celtics wins, Boston won by a total of just five points.
And with this loss, Boston (46-17) has now lost two in a row, while the Sixers (34-31) continue what has been one of the better turn-arounds in the NBA this season.
Philadelphia has 17 games remaining, but they've already won seven games more than they did all of last season.
"We definitely feel that we're a great ball club that can go out and be capable of beating anybody each and every night," said Elton Brand who had 14 points and five rebounds. "We proved that tonight."
And the Celtics proved that, while they are still the top team in the Eastern Conference, all the changes that they have been able to weather through, may be finally catching up to them.
"I'm not one to make excuses, but we're in transformation here," said Celtics forward Kevin Garnett, who had 14 points, six rebounds and five assists. "It's not an easy thing. Whatever we gotta do, we gotta fix it. I'm sure we will."
One of Boston's biggest problems the last couple games has been their inability to start the game playing well.
Just like they did against the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday, the C's fell behind quickly.
The first quarter was relatively close until Philadelphia went on a 7-0 run to lead, 16-10.
Philadelphia increased its lead slightly more to eight points, but the Celtics, led by Nenad Krstic's scoring, were able to trim Philadelphia's lead down to 25-22 after the first quarter.
Krstic continues to put up strong offensive numbers for the Celtics, finishing with 16 points and 15 rebounds for his first double-double as a Celtic, and second of the season. The first came when he played for Oklahoma City and had 16 points and 11 rebounds against Orlando on Jan. 13.
Boston also got a strong game from Krstic's teammate in Oklahoma City, Jeff Green, who was also part of the trade that shipped out Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson to the Thunder.
Green came off the bench to score a team-high 18 points.
But numbers have little meaning for most of the Celtics.
They're more consumed by letters; specifically, W's which lately, have been hard to come by.