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O'Brien returns to Boston a winner

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.

Willie Green made a 3-pointer to give the Sixers a 95-93 lead
with 3:34 left. Mark Blount missed two free throws, then Iverson
made a 3-pointer to make it a five-point game.

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.

Pierce addressed the fans before the tipoff and alluded not just
to the Red Sox victory over the St. Louis Cardinals last month but
to the New England Patriots' Super Bowl victory in February.

"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.
^Notes:@ 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.