NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — With a little more than a minute remaining in the Nets’ final game in New Jersey, Philadelphia 76ers coach Doug Collins looked up at the scoreboard and exhaled — deeply.
It had nothing to do with not having to come to the Garden State again.
After a 20-9 start following the lockout, a dreadful midseason slump and a much-needed late run, Collins had the relief of knowing his 76ers were headed to the postseason for the second straight year.
Philadelphia nailed down the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference and spoiled the Nets’ Jersey farewell with a 105-87 victory Monday night.
“Adversity can send you south or make you forge together and be stronger,” Collins said. “I think our guys have done that. Every team goes through it, especially in a season like this, where games are piled on with no practice, no rest days, five games in seven nights in five cities, three games in a row. I am so proud of my guys. I really, really am. They answered the bell and when I looked up there with one minute to go and I knew we were going to be in the playoffs, it was a very satisfying feeling.”
Thaddeus Young was the catalyst against the Nets. He scored all 15 of his points in the second half to move Philadelphia (34-30) into a tie with the New York Knicks for the No. 7 seed with two games remaining in the regular season and to eliminate the Milwaukee Bucks from the playoffs.
Young, who didn’t take a shot in more than 9 minutes playing time in the first half, finished 7 of 8 from the field, with 10 of his points coming after the Nets cut a 15-point deficit to one late in the third quarter.
“We just wanted to get this over with, and finally clinch and not have our minds on other things,” Young said of making the playoffs and avoiding a showdown game with Milwaukee on Wednesday. “We wanted to start thinking about the playoffs and getting ourselves mentally prepared and ready physically. It would have been real ugly if we lost tonight.”
Collins now intends to rest some players, including Andrew Iguodala. who strained an Achilles’ tendon late in the game.
“I think the most important thing is that coach Collins will be able to sleep tonight, and that will probably lead to a peaceful atmosphere,” Evan Turner quipped.
Jrue Holiday and Elton Brand added 15 points apiece and Iguodala had 14 points and nine assists for Philadelphia.
“It’s a big sigh of relief,” Brand said. “It’s been a whirlwind season. Now we are in and looking to see who our opponent is. Now we can breathe a little easier. We could have beaten Milwaukee at Milwaukee, but why when you don’t have to.”
The 76ers will play either Chicago or Miami in the opening round, which will probably start this weekend.
MarShon Brooks had 18 points to lead the Nets, who will move into a new arena in Brooklyn next season.
“I’m excited,” Brooks said. “I’m a little sad leaving New Jersey, but I’m Brooklyn ready. I have to whole offseason to think about Brooklyn. Like I said before, I was born in Jersey. I have a lot of family helping me get through it, my grandmother, my mother, and I appreciate everything this year and playing in front of wonderful fans. The reality is we head to Brooklyn.”
The short-handed Nets made the Sixers work for the final playoff spot. They trailed by as many as 15 points in the first half and made a third-quarter run to get within 63-62 on a jumper by Gerald Wallace with 3:44 left in the quarter.
Collins called a timeout and the 76ers closed the quarter with a 13-6 spurt to take a 76-68 lead. Young had the first two baskets and 10 of his 13 points.
The Nets never threatened again over the final minutes and seemed time to be thinking about their 35 years in New Jersey.
Actor Bruce Willis got up in the closing minutes and asked the sellout crowd to cheer the Nets on, while the team left the court to the music of New Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen.
Turner added 13 points and Lew Williams had 11 for Philadelphia, which shot almost 54 percent for the game.
Kris Humphries added 16 points and 12 rebounds for New Jersey, which will finish its season on Thursday in Toronto. Wallace added 11 points and Johan Petro and Armon Johnson had 10 points apiece.
The Nets introduced more than a dozen former players, owners and team executives at a halftime ceremony.
NOTES: Nets All Star point guard Deron Williams missed his fourth straight game with a sore right calf. … Collins was fined $15,000 by the league for verbal abuse of an official during Saturday’s game at Indiana. … This was the seventh sellout in 33 homes games this season. … Holiday suffered lacerations on his nose in the first half and played the second with cotton in his nose. … Minutes after the game ended the Nets website put up a sign reading “Hello Brooklyn.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)