Philadelphia free-fall: Celts beat sagging Sixers

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Allen Iverson squirmed in his seat, tugged
his jersey and rubbed his eyes. The Philadelphia star appeared
about as uncomfortable answering questions as the 76ers have looked
in the playoff race.

Coach Maurice Cheeks tapped the table, coming up empty in a
search for words. He remained seated, head in hands as reporters
left and the room went dark.

Soon, it could be lights out on the season for the 76ers.

Paul Pierce had 33 points and 12 rebounds, Gerald Green scored a
career-high 17 points and the Boston Celtics extended
Philadelphia's late-season misery with a 109-99 win over the
sagging 76ers on Friday night.

"I'm not pointing fingers at anybody, but as a group we're not
playing hard enough to win basketball games," Iverson said. "We
don't seem hungry. We don't seem like we want to make it to the

The Sixers lost their third straight game this week and wasted a
fantastic opportunity to gain ground in the Eastern Conference.
They lost by 33 at Cleveland, by seven points against Chicago in a
game that knocked them out of the final playoff spot and squandered
this one against the Celtics.

While Philadelphia (34-41) has shown little reason to believe it
can turn its season around down the stretch, it still has a chance
to move back into a tie for the eighth spot with a win at Chicago
on Saturday night.

The Sixers have lost 13 of their last 17 games overall and a
distressing seven of nine at home.

Iverson led the Sixers with 37 points, Chris Webber had 18
points and 11 rebounds and Kyle Korver scored 18 points.

The normally easy-going Cheeks looked broken trying to answer
questions, his voice only slightly rising when asked if he needed
to chide his team more instead of defending it.

"What does me criticizing the guys have to do with the game
tonight?" a shaken Cheeks said. "I've got to do it my way."

Tony Allen had 16 points for the Celtics, Raef LaFrentz punished
the Sixers from 3-point range during a critical stretch and scored
12 and Ryan Gomes had 11. Delonte West added 12 assists.

Green and Allen were a couple of nice surprises for a Boston
team out of the playoff picture. Green averages only 2.5 points
this season and Allen just six, but against the Sixers, they looked
like seasoned All-Stars.

It was Green who tied the game for Boston late in the fourth
with a 3-pointer, making it 91-all. Then Pierce put the Celtics
ahead for good with a baseline jumper and a free throw. Pierce
added a 15-footer from the elbow for 96-91 lead, and they got
another three-point play from Ryan Gomes late to seal the win.

"It was a good win for us because they're fighting for a
playoff spot," LaFrentz said. "For us, we're just trying to
finish strong and play hard every night."

Cheeks complained this week that his team lacked effort and
energy, which cost them in their losses. The Sixers had both at
times in this one -- they just didn't have any defense.

"I think that with this team, we honestly worry about other
things besides team concepts," Iverson said.

Have the Sixers quit? Do they still care? Iverson wasn't sure,
only hoping they still could make a run at a postseason berth.

"I hope we're just not playing well," he said. "I hope it's
not anybody that's given up on us. I haven't."

Boston was shooting 65 percent late in the first half and used
that to take a 59-55 lead at the break.

Then while the Sixers went without a field goal for 6:05 over
the third and fourth quarters, the Celtics got three 3-pointers
from LaFrentz, two from Pierce and one from Green to go up 84-76.

John Salmons rallied the Sixers when he crashed to the court as
he tossed the ball straight up, it fell straight through the basket
and he sank the free throw. Then he converted a bounce pass into a
dunk to give the Sixers an 87-86 lead.

Iverson sank a couple of jumpers that made it 91-88 and gave
Philadelphia its last lead of the game.

"We were playing a team that was obviously playing desperate
and you could see that play in them," Celtics coach Doc Rivers
said. "We're loose and we played aggressive."

Game notes
Sixers G Kevin Ollie needed four stitches above his eye
after a first-quarter collision. ... Saint Joseph's coach Phil
Martelli visited West before the game. Martelli beamed when talking
about the success West and Orlando's Jameer Nelson have had this
season. "They're far superior to when they were in college," he
said. West said he left about a dozen tickets for friends and
family. "It feels good every time I come to Philly," he said. ...
Eagles coach Andy Reid was at the game.