Parallels are often drawn between the world of sports and that of superheroes, with athletes frequently being depicted as having incredible powers, above and beyond those of the average human. If this parallel has any merit than the Sixers must have gotten their collective inner-Superman on, because they sure dodged a bullet in Game 1 of the Orlando series.
Typical of storylines involving non-mortals, things did not look so promising for our heroes for a while, as the Sixers were simply were outplayed for most of the game, but especially in the third quarter. For three full quarters, the Philadunkia faithful most likely had that sinking feeling they have become so familiar with over the past few years from recent first round exists. However, thanks to major contributions for the apparently ageless Theo Ratliff and Donyell Marshall, along with some late-game heroics from their star, the Sixers managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and gain the upper hand in the series.
Over 75% of teams that win the first game go on to win the series. However, with that being said, this is already not an ordinary series with the underdog Sixers serving as the kryptonite to Orlando and their own Superman, Dwight Howard, in the first game. Plus we all remember that the 76ers stole Game 1 in Detroit last year only to eventually be unceremoniously dismissed from the post season by the Pistons in six games.
The Magic are certainly going to come out determined and focused in Game 2, making them very difficult to beat as they demonstrated to the Sixers during the season. But, the Sixers own the momentum and have Orlando on their heels. They need to keep the “Mr. Mo” on their side and Orlando off balance by coming out and attacking the Magic from the opening tip in Game 2. Overcoming a double-digit, second half deficit against one of the L’s best teams is a once in a post season event, so the Sixers must avoid putting themselves in that position again.
In order to do this, the 76ers must take Game 2 one quarter at a time and use the momentum they have built to keep the game close. They can not allow themselves to get dominated at any point in Game 2 as they did in the third quarter of Game 1. This will put them in position to win the game in the fourth quarter, without requiring Iggy to put on a cape and serve as the Sixer’s superhero.
Still the Sixers will need more then just momentum to come back to Philly up 2-0 and eventually advance past the Magic. Despite his spectacular last second shot, slightly more production out of Iguodala will be necessary for the Sixers to win the series. His 20-8-8 resembled his season averages, which need to be bumped up come playoff time, especially considering he is the team’s de-facto star. The surprising offensive output from the aforementioned Marshall and Ratliff were well-appreciated, and their continued contributions will be crucial throughout the series. More production must come from Thaddeus Young, who developed into the team’s second-option in the regular season, and Samuel Dalembert, who added a paltry seven points in seventeen minutes, must be a bigger factor.
Lastly, the Sixers need to do a better job defensively on Dwight Howard, who had a monster game with 31 points and 16 rebounds (both improvements from his MVP-caliber regular season numbers). Luckily, this responsibility does not fall on one man, but can be diffused between several players. Thus, it will be up to Dalembert, Ratliff, Speights, and Evans to slow the All-Star center. If the Sixers can extend their Game 1 fourth quarter efforts into Game 2 and successfully make these adjustments, they may just be able to pull the upset in the series and spoil the Magic’s stellar season.
That would certainly be a super heroic achievement by this squad.