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Saric, McConnell star as Sixers avoid Celtics sweep

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By Agence France-Presse

Dario Saric scored 25 points as the Philadelphia 76ers kept alive their NBA Eastern Conference playoff series with the Boston Celtics on Monday, powering to a 103-92 win to avoid a clean sweep.

The Sixers — left staring down the barrel of an early exit after losing the opening three games in the best-of-seven series — subdued the Celtics in the second half to ensure a game five.

Croatian power forward Saric led the scoring for the Sixers, using every inch of his 6ft 10in frame to cause problems for the Celtics defense to the delight of the raucous home support at the Wells Fargo Center.

The energetic T.J. McConnell provided invaluable support, finishing with a career-high 19 points while Joel Embiid chipped in with 15 and Ben Simmons 19.

McConnell had come into the starting line-up in place of Robert Covington, a tactical switch that paid off handsomely for Sixers coach Brett Brown.

Brown said McConnell had been brought in for his mindset as the Sixers attempted to stave off a clean sweep.

“We wanted to remind the team of how good a season they have had to this point,” Brown said afterwards.

“There’s no better player to help catapult that kind of mindset than T.J. He’s like a throwback kind of player. A tremendous team-mate, an incredible competitor.”

McConnell meanwhile saluted the Sixers’ mental resilience.

“We showed a lot of maturity today and came up with a win,” said McConnell, adding that the team was unfazed by the statistical improbability of overturning a 0-3 series deficit.

“We had nothing to lose. Our coach told us that the team that is down 0-3 is 0-129. So we’re just trying our hardest to be that one team that comes back,” he said.

There had been little to divide the sides in the first half, with the Sixers turning around 47-43 at half-time thanks to an Embiid dunk right on the buzzer.

The highlight of the half had been a hot-tempered clash between Embiid and Celtics Terry Rozier, with the two players jostling each other before team-mates intervened to cool the confrontation.

The relentless Sixers pulled away in the third quarter, opening up a 10-point lead after two Saric free throws.

Another Embiid dunk helped the Sixers go 11 points clear at 73-62 with 2:36 left in the third, and a superb three-pointer from the tireless McConnell then put Philadelphia firmly in control at 76-62.

From there the Sixers never looked in danger of blowing their advantage, comfortably maintaining a double-digit lead for much of the fourth quarter.

“We came to this building tonight with our bags packed,” Sixers coach Brown said.

“Everyone came to this building with the mindset that we’re going to win, and we’re going to fly to Boston for game five.”

Game five takes place in Boston on Wednesday, where the Celtics will look to clinch a place in the Eastern Conference finals. (AFP)