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March 23. 2012 11:02PM

Philadelphia pulls away from Celtics

PHILADELPHIA — With first place in the Atlantic Division on the verge of slipping away, the 76ers held on to it. The 76ers downed the Celtics 99-86 Friday night at Wells Fargo Center.

The Sixers (27-21) moved 1 1/2 games ahead of the Celtics (25-22) in the Atlantic Division.

A 37-17 third-quarter advantage was the difference. That turned a six-point halftime deficit into a 14-point lead going into the fourth.

The Celtics completed their eight-game road trip with a 4-4 record.

Elton Brand led the Sixers with 20 points, 14 of which came in the third quarter. He didn't play in the fourth period. Lou Williams added 19 points (11 in the fourth quarter) and Spencer Hawes contributed 12 points and 10 rebounds.

The win was Doug Collins' 400th as an NBA coach. He also has coached the Bulls, Pistons and Wizards.

A loss would have dropped the 76ers from the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference to No. 7, which is where the Celtics currently sit. Each division champion is guaranteed no worse than the fourth seed.

Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce paced Boston with 20 points apiece.

The Celtics were without veteran shooting guard Ray Allen, who was sidelined by a sore right ankle.

Mickael Pietrus, who started in place of Allen, left on a stretcher with a possible head injury in the second quarter.

Pietrus appeared to hit the floor hard with his upper back after he was fouled in the lane. He immediately grabbed his neck and the back of his head. After a 10-minute delay, he left the building via ambulance and went to a local hospital for observation.

The Celtics, perhaps remembering a 103-71 loss to the 76ers in the teams' last meeting March 7, started extremely well. Boston jumped out to a 21-11 lead, largely on the strength of its perimeter shooting.

The 76ers managed to forge a 38-38 tie midway through the second period before falling behind 49-43 at halftime.

Philadelphia got its offense going, scoring on nine of its first 10 possessions in the third quarter en route to moving in front by 10 (74-64) late in the period. Brand scored 14 points in the third as the 76ers outscored the Celtics 37-17 in the quarter.

The 76ers extended their lead to 17 points in the fourth period.

Notes: The 76ers held a 46-35 rebounding advantage, scored 46 points in the paint to Boston's 24 and held an 18-7 edge in fast-break points. . . . The 76ers, who had lost four of their last five, are 5-8 at home after beginning the season 12-2 in South Philadelphia. . . . The Sixers visit the Spurs on Sunday night, when San Antonio will be playing its third game in three days. The Celtics face the Wizards on Sunday in what will be the Celtics' first home game since a March 9 win over the Trail Blazers.

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