BOSTON (AP)—Jim O’Brien was standing in a familiar hallway when Allen Iverson popped out of the locker room and tossed his new coach the game ball.
“This is for you, coach,” Iverson said, “and there’ll be many more to come, babe.”
Iverson scored 30 points to give Philadelphia a 98-95 victory over Boston on Wednesday night, making O’Brien a winner in his return to Boston while sending Doc Rivers to a loss in his first game with the Celtics.
Iverson scored five points in an 11-0 fourth quarter run when Philadelphia took the lead. The Sixers, who had trailed by 16 in the third, held on while Boston missed three 3-point attempts in the final minute.
“They easily could have given in,” Celtics guard Paul Pierce said when asked about playing against an O’Brien team. “But, just like when he was here, he has them fighting ‘til the final buzzer.”
Although O’Brien and Rivers were making their debuts, the biggest coming out party was for the World Series trophy that made its first appearance at the FleetCenter—or the Boston Garden, for that matter.
But the Celtics were unable to re-create the success of the Boston Red Sox— or even the team O’Brien coached to the conference finals in 2002.
“For him to come back to a place where he had so much success, I wanted to help him achieve something that I knew he wanted,” Iverson said. “He’ll tell you guys that it doesn’t matter, but it mattered to me.”
O’Brien did, in fact, downplay the personal aspect of the game, saying he was more pleased that his team hadn’t quit after falling behind. But he did acknowledge that it was weird to see the parquet floor from a new angle.
“Sometimes when I look at the stat sheet my eyes go to Boston first instead of Philadelphia,” he said. “It was difficult having my first game against my former team.”
Pierce had 35 points and 13 rebounds, but missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer that could have tied it. Gary Payton, making his Boston debut, had six points and eight assists while playing in foul trouble much of the night; he missed a pair of 3-pointers in the final minute with the Celtics trailing by 3.
Boston made one basket over the final 7:45 of the game. Having come back from a 14-point, second-quarter deficit, Boston led 93-87 with 5:08 left when Kyle Korver made a 3-pointer and Iverson made a scoop shot coming across the lane.
Ricky Davis hit a jumper to pull Boston within 3. But neither Payton nor Pierce could convert their final attempts.
Kenny Thomas had 12 points and 10 rebounds for Philadelphia.
Although it was the season opener, a reunion with O’Brien and a close game, by far the most excitement was generated by the pregame ceremony honoring the Red Sox.
Third baseman Kevin Youkilis carried the World Series trophy onto the court. Joining him were Derek Lowe, Trot Nixon, Gabe Kapler, Mark Bellhorn, owner John Henry and president Larry Lucchino.
Dubbed honorary captains, they shook hands with the Celtics on their way onto the court and Nixon tossed an honorary jump ball. Even referee Jack Nies came by to shake hands.
Bill Russell also got a pleasant ovation when he walked to his seat. All he did was win 11 titles in 13 years.
“It’s been a great year for Boston sports. We worked hard this offseason to bring you the joy, to celebrate this spring,” the Celtics captain said. “Let’s make it 3-for-3, y’all.”
The Celtics didn’t get off to a good start, falling behind 38-24 in the first 15 minutes. But the Celtics made 13 of 18 shots in the second quarter and six of its first eight in the third to turn a 14-point deficit into a 16-point lead.
But they scored seven consecutive points to cut the deficit in half and added a 13-2 run to take a 50-48 lead in the final minute of the second quarter. Then Boston scored the first 14 points of the second half to take a 67-51 lead.
The Celtics led 74-58 with 6:06 left in the third on Pierce’s 3-pointer.
Top draft choice Al Jefferson made his NBA debut with 3:08 left in the third quarter. … Boston and Philadelphia have the most opening night wins in NBA history. The Sixers have 38 and the Celtics have 36. … Payton was held without an assist in the first quarter.