“Close” is an arena usually reserved for success in horseshoes and hand grenades, and unfortunately basketball doesn’t fit the mold. Thus the 76ers valiant effort to momentarily dethrone LeBron and the Cavs still counts as an L for the Sixers and another win for the Cavs, who pushed the struggling Sixers to their 13th loss in 14 games with a 108-101 win last night. Coming off of their first win in the calendar month the Sixers were looking to build upon that momentum, string together some wins and put themselves back in the playoff picture, which shockingly they are not too far removed from. However, LeBron had other plans as his 36 points and clutch three point shooting ruined a tremendous effort by the Sixers. An effort that would have produced a W against all but the four or five teams in the NBA that operate at Cleveland’s elite level.
The Sixers came out strong, strutting the same starting lineup that had won them their previous game against Golden State; a lineup that featured both Allen Iverson and Jrue Holiday in the back-court, along with a noticeable shift of Elton Brand to the bench. This lineup allows the team to play at a preferred faster tempo, while also working to deepen the bench. Further working to solidify the bench was the return of Marreese Speights, whose 14 points off the pine provided a glimpse of hope and worked to remind the fans what last year’s first round pick is capable of producing. His return to the lineup should greatly bolster the Sixers bench and add another scoring option. With this lineup in place the Sixers were able to keep pace much of the game, even holding a four point lead well into the fourth quarter, surprising considering the lack of production coming from the Sixers’ starting center, Samuel Dalembert, who finished with four fouls, zero points and one embarrassing swat courtesy of Lebron.
A balanced attack, led by Philadelphia’s emerging three-headed monster, Allen Iverson, Andre Iguodala, and Thaddeus Young, who accounted for 58 of the team’s points, allowed the Sixers to keep pace with the charging Cavs for much of the game. Although Lebron’s 36 ultimately proved to be too much, the Sixers showed that they can play with the best, and they certainly did not look like a team that was in the middle of a 13 out of 14 skid. In fact, before the barrage of three pointers by LeBron and his sidekick Mo Williams late in the fourth, the Sixers looked as though they would be able to hold off the charging Cavs. However, lack of execution in the final minutes, a visible trend during this losing stretch, led to another Sixer loss. Much like in recent losses to Detroit and Charlotte, the team is able to hold the lead and compete well into the fourth, only to eventually lose due to poor execution or inability to score in the clutch.
“I feel bad, that’s a game we should have won. We didn’t make shots at the time we needed to make shots,” Iverson stated after the game. His assessment was correct. In fact, before Willie Green’s late three when the game was already well in hand, the Sixers had not scored a field goal for upwards of five minutes; an unacceptable statistic for a team desperate for a win. Such poor production in the final minutes will not win games in the NBA, especially against one of the League’s premier teams.
Although ultimately this game will go down as just another loss for a struggling Sixers squad, the effort given for 43 minutes should provide the team with some sort of solace, as the fact that they were able to compete, and nearly win, against one of the League’s best should serve as a sort of moral victory. However, in a League based on records, moral victories do not count for much, and the team is going to need to perform much better in the clutch if they want to turn this season around; a feat that, based on their play for 91 of the last 96 minutes, is extremely possible.
- At the 3:30 mark in the fourth quarter the game was tied at 96-96. The Sixers went 0-for-their-next-5 on FGA and would score only 5 points the rest of the way.
- Jrue Holiday was simply amazing last night on the defensive end of the floor, we can not state that enough. So while we understand the theory behind Eddie Jordan taking the Sixers rookie out of the game with 2:31 left in the 4th Q, we certainly don’t agree with it. Jordan’s theory was that the Cavs were exclusively running the pick-n-roll with Lebron (guarded by AI9) and Mo Williams (guarded by Holiday) in an attempt to get Lebron iso’d on the Sixers rookie. Lebron is a tough guard for an NBA veteran with a strong enough defensive game, let alone a rookie. So coming out of the time out and down by 5, Jordan sent Willie Green into the game. But the problem for us is that the Cavs had been going at Holiday all night with either Delonte West or Williams and had little success. Holiday had completely shut down Williams and West — by our count when Holiday was in the game and guarding either one of those players, Holiday held the duo to 8 points combined. So taking Holiday out at the 2:31 mark when the Sixers needed stops badly, was a mistake. Our solution (if you are going to make a substituion at all) would have been to take Iverson out of the game. The easiest answer would have been to simply tell Iguodala to stay locked on Lebron, NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS.
- If anyone finds Jason Kapon’s or Jason Smith’s minutes please send them down to the Wachovia Center. Kapono who was billed as a key acquisition this summer who would finally bring a legit 3-point threat to the Sixers lineup, was a DNP-CD last night. Smith was a DNP-CD as well. Smith, the big man the entire Sixers organization had been raving about this summer and who was expected to make major contributions this year can’t even get on the court — Smith hasn’t played more then 7 mins. in the last five games. This wasn’t a one night thing for Kapono either, as he had just 7 mins. vs. the lowly GSW the other night. Between the dwindeling minutes for Kapono, Smith and $80 million man Elton Brand, does anyone else get the impression that Jordan and GM Ed Stefanski are not on the same page with regards to personnel and division of playing time?
- The announced attendance for last night was 19,517 and all the stars came out to see the Lebrons. Half of the Phillies team was in the house including Ryan Howard and the newly acquied Roy Halladay as well as a slew of Eagles players. We have to say that last night the Wachovia Center was, outside of the night Iverson returned, as loud as we have heard it all season.