PHILADELPHIA — Elton Brand scored 20 points, and Spencer Hawes had 12 points and 10 rebounds to help the Philadelphia 76ers remain in first place in the Atlantic Division with a 99-86 victory over the Boston Celtics on Friday night.
The Celtics would have grabbed first with a win, knocking out a Sixers team that has held that spot for all but a few days this season. The Sixers outscored Boston by 20 points in the third quarter to take control.
There was a serious scare when Celtics guard Mickael Pietrus left on a stretcher and was hospitalized after an awkward collision late in the first half. He was listed as having a questionable closed head injury. Pietrus landed hard on his tailbone and his head nearly smacked the court. He instantly clutched the back of his head with both hands and rolled over on his side.
The Sixers wore down a Celtics team concerned about its injured teammate and already playing short-handed. Pietrus started in place of Ray Allen, who sat out with a sore left ankle. Guard Avery Bradley also left Boston’s eighth straight road game with a sprained left ankle.
But it was Pietrus, more than the score, that left the Celtics solemn on the bench. He crashed to the court after he collided with 76ers guard Lou Williams on a drive down the lane, grabbed his head and was down for at least 10 minutes. Trainers from both teams tended to him.
The Celtics circled Pietrus and a couple of players took a knee as the swingman was put on a stretcher and taken out. Several Celtics sat on the bench with their heads bowed.
His injury sucked the festive atmosphere in the important game right out of the arena. The Celtics were only a half-game behind the 76ers.
Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce each scored 20 points. Rajon Rondo had 17 assists.
Williams scored 19 points, Jrue Holiday had 15 and Andre Iguodala 14 to give coach Doug Collins his 400th career victory.
The Sixers, who had lost four of five, reverted to their early season form in the third with an absolutely dominant effort. Led by a resurgent Brand, the Sixers used an 11-0 run to take the lead for good. Brand made seven of 10 shots and scored 14 points in the period — he had only three baskets and six points in the first half.
Brand walked off to a loud ovation when he was subbed out late in the quarter. The Sixers shot 65 percent (15 of 23) in the third, the highlight coming on a sweet alley-oop from Iguodala to Williams for a 78-66 lead.
“I can’t say enough these Sixers,” Eagles QB Michael Vick posted on Twitter.
If the Celtics can’t overtake the Sixers, they can point to their last two games in Philadelphia as a key reason. The Sixers thumped the Celtics 103-71 on March 7.
The Sixers topped 94 points for only the second time in six games.
Rondo had 10 assists in the first half and Garnett scored 14 points to help Boston lead 49-43. The Celtics made 10 of their first 15 shots and led by as many as 10 points.
The Sixers got a boost when part-owner Will Smith arrived to a boisterous ovation in the second quarter. He stood on his chair, doffed his 76ers cap toward the crowd and pointed at the fans in his second game this week. With the Fresh Prince cheering them on, the Sixers went on an 8-0 run and tied the game at 38-all.
Garnett hit consecutive mid-range jumpers to give Boston the lead. It wasn’t enough.
Notes: Celtics coach Doc Rivers said his son, Austin, has not made a decision yet about leaving Duke for the NBA or returning for his sophomore season. “He’s got to make a decision. He leans one way one day, then the other,” Rivers said. … The Sixers are 7-12 after a 20-9 start. … The Celtics went 4-4 on their road trip. … Collins has 68 wins with the Sixers.
BUCKS 112, BOBCATS 92: Milwaukee Bucks coach Scott Skiles knows not to get too excited about his team’s 112-92 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats on Friday night in Charlotte.
There are tougher challenges ahead if his team wants to make a serious run at the playoffs.
“You know, we weren’t playing the Celtics,” Skiles said after the Bucks pulled within a half-game of the New York Knicks in the battle for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
They certainly weren’t.
The NBA-worst Bobcats have now lost 15 games this season by 20 or more points.
Luc Mbah a Moute scored 13 of his 20 points in the second half as the Bucks scored 72 points inside the paint against the outmanned Bobcats.
Ersan Ilyasova had 15 points and Drew Goodson added 14 points and 12 rebounds as six Bucks players scored in double digits. Monta Ellis chipped in with 13 points and Brandon Jennings added 12.
“We got a lot of offensive rebounds (13) and I think our guards were good tonight, just knowing when to pass the ball and just driving in there dishing it off,” Mbah a Moute said.
The Bucks had no problem exploiting the smaller Bobcats, who were playing without center Gana Diop and forward Eddy Najera, who were injured, and the recently waived Boris Diaw.
Most of Milwaukee’s shots were uncontested in the lane. The Bucks shot 53 percent for the game.
“I thought we did a pretty good job of getting in there whether it was through a pass or an offensive rebound,” swingman Mike Dunleavy said. “We just shared the ball real well. It was a big offensive night for us.”
The Bucks had 31 assists, marking the fifth time in six games they’ve had at least 30 in a game.
“When the ball is moving and guys are knocking down shots, it’s fun and it’s easy,” Dunleavy said. “Hopefully we can keep it up.”
The Bucks won despite a season-high 29 points from Gerald Henderson.
The third-year pro from Duke was 13 of 19 from the field for the Bobcats, who have lost seven of their last nine games and are 7-38 on the season.
“It wasn’t just their bigs,” Henderson said. “We gave them some penetration and they ran a lot of back cuts. They just got a lot of layups we didn’t cover. It was just bad night for us defensively. We’ll look at the tape and make adjustments. We just kind of have to forget about this one.”
Corey Maggette, who fought off a back injury and an illness this week to play against this former team, was held to 10 points on 2-of-9 shooting. The Bucks traded Maggette to Charlotte in the offseason.
Kemba Walker and Derrick Brown each had 13 points for the Bobcats.
The Bucks opened a 52-40 lead at halftime, outscoring the Bobcats 30-18 in the paint and outrebounding them 25-17 in the first half.
Milwaukee (22-25) took control of the game with a 15-2 run near the end of the first quarter and stretched the lead to 50-42 lead at halftime. They pushed it to 15 in the third quarter and then 25 in the fourth, continuing to dominate on the boards against a Bobcats team that simply couldn’t match up defensively.
“We had no answers for them,” Henderson said.
On one possession, the Bucks got four offensive rebounds before eventually cashing in on a backdoor layup off an inbounds play.
“You have to be tough-mined as well as physically tough and if you’re not, those kinds of things happen,” Bobcats coach Paul Silas said. “You have to be experienced, too, and the majority of our guys are not experienced. We have to learn and we have to get better. That’s just where we are right now.”
Skiles said the key will be playing this well against better teams, particularly those in the East who are above them in the standings.
“We did what we had to do,” Skiles said. “We came in and had a pretty good, all-around game. Guys shared the ball again and we executed well. We didn’t have to overplay anybody and got a win. We bounced back from last night.”
NOTES: Henderson is averaging 17.3 points over the last six games. … Walker has now scored in double digits in 28 games this season. … Gooden now has three double-doubles in his past five games.