The Boston Celtics arrived in Philadelphia with a purpose.
Questions regarding age and injuries were seemingly answered when the Celtics ran the 76ers off their own floor in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Game 4 was headed in a similar direction on Friday with the C's owning an 18-point advantage early in the third quarter over what looked like a moribund Sixers team.
Then the winds changed and Boston, with all its experience and wisdom, fell apart against the younger and far more athletic 76ers. Lou Williams scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half as Philadelphia overcame its dismal start to take a 92-83 victory over the Celtics to even their series at two games apiece.
"He was huge for us. He probably was the player of the game I feel like," Sixers swingman Andre Iguodala said about Williams.
The surprisingly competitive set resumes back in Beantown for the crucial Game 5 on Monday night.
"It's a swing game, but it's a swing game for both teams," Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "Game 5s and Game 7s are pretty much the same."
Iguodala added 16 points in Game 4, including the go-ahead jumper within the final two minutes, to go along with seven rebounds and four assists for the Sixers, whose bench outscored Boston's 44-12.
Evan Turner also dropped in 16 points, despite 5-of-22 shooting, while Thaddeus Young had 12 and Jrue Holiday netted 11 in the win.
"As I said before, going into the series I think you would probably say the advantage would be to Boston with their championship experience late in games," Philadelphia head coach Doug Collins said. "But I think our guys have shown in both Game 2 and Game 4 that we did a nice job of closing those games out."
Paul Pierce scored a game-high 24 points and Rajon Rondo had 15 points and 15 assists in a losing effort.
The Sixers connected on just 9-of-39 shots from the floor and also went 13- for-21 from the free-throw line in the opening 24 minutes en route to a 46-31 deficit at the half. They turned it around in the third quarter, using a stifling defense to reel off a 15-5 run to get within 51-46 as they held Boston without a basket until Pierce's three-pointer with about five minutes left in the frame.
The Sixers carried that momentum into the final period, opening the fourth with back-to-back field goals by Young before taking their first lead of the game on a Jodie Meeks trey with less than 10 minutes left in the game.
The next eight-plus minutes saw seven ties, six lead changes and neither team take a lead larger than three points as the teams went back-and-forth on the court.
The Celtics' final lead of the contest came on an open Rondo jumper for an 81-79 advantage with under three minutes left in the game.
Williams answered with a jumper on the other and after Pierce missed a driving layup, Lavoy Allen connected on a dunk to give Philadelphia an 83-81 advantage.
A Rondo layup on Boston's ensuing possession tied the game again with 1:38 left in the fourth, but the Celtics would not score again and Iguodala's step- back jumper on the other end put the Sixers on top for good.
"I thought we lost out composure. Once we did, I thought we really never returned to playing basketball the way we played in the first half," Rivers said.
With two days off between the fourth and fifth games, Rivers gave his team the day off on Saturday before returning to practice on Sunday in an effort to recharge the batteries of his most important players.
The 34-year-old Pierce has been dealing with a sprained MCL is his left knee, while the 36-year-old Ray Allen is hampered by bone spurs in his right ankle. Kevin Garnett is relatively healthy but turned 36 over the weekend and finally looked like it in Game 4 vs. the Sixers, finishing 3-for-12 from the floor with nine points.
"It probably benefits them," Collins said of the extra rest. "Garnett has played over 50,000 minutes in his career. Pierce, Allen, ton of minutes . I'm sure they're probably a little disappointed in themselves that they gave us some life."
Also, Avery Bradley, Boston's top perimeter defender, continues to deal with a left shoulder that has popped out of its socket at least four times this season.
"It's crazy," Rivers said. "Listen: It's a tough thing that he's going through. A lot of players would not be playing."
This rivalry began all the way back in 1949-50 when the Sixers franchise called Syracuse home. Since the team relocated to the City of Brotherly Love, the 76ers and Celtics have met in the postseason 11 different times and eight of those were Eastern Conference finals. Boston has taken seven of the 11 series.
Game 6 of the set will take place Wednesday back in Philadelphia, with a seventh game, if necessary, back in Boston on Saturday.