As the final seconds ticked down, what was left of a thin crowd booed the 76ers as they headed off the court in their home finale after their latest close-call defeat.
The question looms large now: Will the Sixers play at home again?
The Indiana Pacers did their best to spoil Philadelphia’s attempt at earning some breathing room for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Pacers won their fifth straight road game and 10th of 11 overall and seem to be hitting their stride as the postseason nears. The Pacers play their final four games at home and, barring a complete collapse, should earn the No. 3 seed in the East.
“The talent we have on this team is really high,” Granger said. “We just execute. We just play the game the right away.”
The Sixers could take some tips.
Andre Iguodala scored 23 points for the Sixers in their third straight loss as they continue their late-season swoon.
They lead idle Milwaukee by only 1½ games for the eighth and final spot in the East. The Sixers play their final five games on the road, including April 25 at Milwaukee. The Sixers finish a three games-in-three nights string Wednesday in Cleveland.
Thaddeus Young scored 19 points and Lou Williams had 18, both off the bench, for the Sixers, who are a woeful 3-18 in games decided by seven or less points. They dropped to 2-23 when tied or trailing after three quarters.
“Eventually, you’ve got to win some of those games,” coach Doug Collins said. “There’s two things we haven’t done this year, win close games and get to the free-throw line. Both of those are physical and mental toughness.”
“We just flat-out battled like it was a playoff game,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said.
Sparked by Tyler Hansbrough, the Pacers put away a Sixers team that came to life in the third quarter. The Sixers used a 13-2 run in the third to help turn a halftime deficit into a four-point lead.
The Sixers were badly outplayed a night earlier in a loss at short-handed Orlando and hoped the home finale would help them regain some needed momentum.
For a moment, with Jrue Holiday dunking on a fast break and Iguodala nailing a key 3, it seemed the Sixers had found their way.
It wouldn’t last.
The Sixers turned the ball over on their last three possessions of the third quarter — the first led to Dahntay Jones‘ 3-pointer and the second to Leandro Barbosa‘s layup that tied the score at 70. The Pacers failed to get a shot off in time off the third one before the quarter buzzer sounded.
No worries. The Pacers picked up in the fourth where they left off in the third.
Hansbrough opened the quarter with a jumper, then showed some of that old “Psycho T” toughness in the paint, converting a three-point play. Granger stretched the lead with consecutive 3s and the Pacers were on their way toward their second win in two nights.
“Tyler always does that,” Granger said. “He wakes up both teams with his energy. You better be looking for him.”
Oh, the Sixers tried to rally. Iguodala, though, was booed as he missed two free throws and the Sixers down seven points late in the game.
Young buried a late 3 to make it 98-95 in the final minute, but Williams missed a tying 3 and the Pacers avoided the late upset scare.
“We can’t come out and not win games,” Young said. “We have to, now.”
The Sixers, who started the season 20-9, are in serious trouble of missing the playoffs. At 31-30, they could come up short in their first winning record since 2004-05.
Sixers great and Hall of Famer Julius Erving addressed the team after the game and told them they could rise to the occasion over the final games. Collins said the Sixers can’t let this chance at the postseason slip away.
“We just couldn’t get to the finish,” Collins said.
The Sixers had three starters fail to score in the first half and shot only 41 percent from the field. Granger hit three early 3s to lead the Pacers to a 47-42 halftime lead.
“You get in one of those modes where you feel like all of them are going in,” Granger said.
Collins said he’s happy for Indiana team president Larry Bird that the Pacers have enjoyed a successful season after several lean years following their brawl with Detroit. Collins said, “there’s no finer basketball city than Indianapolis.” … The Sixers went 19-14 at home. … The Pacers went 19-14 on the road.
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