BOSTON — Evan Turner can take a coach on a roller-coaster ride with the best of them.
Doug Collins can loathe and love his brash playmaker from minute to minute. And after Collins got so irritated with his play to start the third quarter, there was reason to wonder if Turner might spend crunch time watching from the Doughouse.
Instead, he stayed out there, saved the day and sent the 76ers home with a split.
Turner used some ridiculous acrobatics to make a pair of late baskets, then hit a pair of crucial free throws that led the Sixers to an 82-81 win over the Celtics at TD Garden Monday night, knotting the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals at a game apiece.
“For our guys to scrap through a game like this ... all the guys who played, everyone gave us a great effort,” Doug Collins said. “Now our guys are believing they can do it.”
First, Collins had to believe Turner would get his act together.
After getting the quick hooks early in the first and third quarters and hitting just two of his first nine shots, Turner finally found a way to get it down. First he bulled his way to an ugly layup, then made a twisting reverse with 40.4 seconds left to put the Sixers up, 76-75.
“Evan was totally out of sync all game ... he was playing so fast,” Collins said. “The thing I was happy about (was) that he bounced back. He had that look in his eye ... I told him, ‘Evan, you just have to calm down.’ And he did.”
It wasn’t that long ago that an opening few minutes like that by Turner in the second half would have meant a permanent seat on the bench. These days, the coach and player are gaining confidence in each other.
“I think the most important thing is that whether I mess up or not, I can’t be scared of myself,” Turner said. “You have to take risks, play through it and learn through it. Taking me out and sitting me down is never going to help me in the end.”
After Turner’s second bucket, the Sixers got a huge stop with some terrific defense to force a tough shot by Ray Allen. When they got the rebound, there was a six-second differential between the shot clock and the play clock. Boston was letting the clock wind down, but then Rajon Rondo — who took a wise foul late in Game 1 — decided to foul Jrue Holiday with 14.4 seconds left. The Celtics weren’t in the penalty yet, so that wiped out the difference on the shot clock.
From there Turner took the inbounds pass and cooly hit a pair of free throws. Then an almost unthinkable whistle was blown on Kevin Garnett for a moving pick during an inbound play, giving the ball back to the Sixers.
Collins had been browbeating the officials about Garnett’s picks, but the timing for this call was eye-popping.
“That was worth everything,” Turner said of the whistle on Garnett. “I was surprised he called it, to tell you the truth. I was like, ‘What happened? What’s going on?’ And they called a foul. I was like, ‘Wow. Somebody’s gonna be mad.’”
Lou Williams and Jodie Meeks made free throws in the final 10 seconds, which were crucial when Boston made two 3-pointers, including a too-late shot by Garnett at the buzzer.
After Boston jumped to a 9-0 lead to open the game, the Sixers battled back behind Holiday’s 13 first-half points and it was 38-36 Celtics at half.
The third quarter started like something spawned from a sixth-grade CYO game — the Sixers went 0-for-5 from the floor with six turnovers in the opening 51/2 minutes. After getting a quick yank when the Sixers came out weakly to open the game, Turner got that fast hook when he made a couple of sloppy giveaways to start the second half.
The guy who came to the rescue was Lavoy Allen. The rookie had another huge game off the bench, getting 10 points and eight rebounds while playing fierce defense against Garnett. Allen’s biggest basket was his luckiest — a fadeaway bank shot from 20 feet on an inbounds pass with .9 second on the shot clock.
“It was pretty clutch,” Turner said of Allen’s prayer. “We needed that.”
After putting Garnett through 38 laborious minutes in Game 1, the Celtics tried to save a little in his tank in the first half. Garnett played 15 minutes and only attempted three shots, his two makes coming in the opening three minutes as Boston ran out to its early lead.
But Allen was ready for his late push, and he and Turner made the Celtics show their age as the Sixers wrested home-court advantage away after feeling like they let Game 1 slip away.
“Sometimes in losses you learn the most and realize how close you are,” Turner said. “Last season we went 3-13 and lost to the Heat in a close game and ‘Dre said, ‘We’re almost there, we’re close to turning a corner.’ And we did.
“Hopefully the fans will be our sixth man and help us protect home court.”