For the second time this season the 76ers had pushed the streaking Boston Celtics up against the ropes in the final quarter. And for the second occasion this season the C’s were able to come away the victors, pressing their win streak all the way to 14 games.
The final horn resulted in such a familiar theme for Doug Collins. His Sixers (11-18) are now 1-8 in games decided by less than seven points and tonight’s cave in was just all too proverbial. Choking away a 44-38 halftime lead — Boston’s lowest output all season, leaving star players wide open on switches and turning the ball over in critical moments. Still this was an commendable defensive performance against the league’s hottest team especially the night after a 45 point loss. It was refreshing to see the Sixers didn’t suffer from that hangover effect like they had during losing streaks in November.
The Sixers started the fourth quarter only trailing 64-61, mostly justified by the continued stifling defensive effort. Paul Pierce was forced into point forward duties for bulky parts of the game because of Nate Robinson’s foul trouble and was completely irrelevant finishing with 11 points after being shutout in the scoring category during the first half. Andre Iguodala’s defensive muscles have helped keep star players in check over the last month; clearly one of the main factors why the 76ers have become semi-significant.
With eight minutes to go the Sixers picked up the lead 70-68, following a deep jump shot from Lou Williams who finished with 12 points off the bench. The lead would bounce back and forth until the final minute, when Elton Brand fouled Shaquille O’Neal in the act of shooting. Although the foul resulted in Brand’s sixth and final of the game, it put the NBA’s worst free throw shooter of all-time on the line. To not one persons surprise, Shaqtus subsequently missed both free throws.
If before the game I told Doug Collins with one minute to play our team would be trailing 82-80 and would have the ball, he probably would not have taken that situation.
10 of the Sixers 11 wins have been by eight points or more. When games are close in the fourth quarter Philadelphia always finds themselves collapsing. It’s happened against Oklahoma City, Washington twice, Atlanta twice and now Boston twice. Sometimes it’s dumb shot selection by a young player like Jrue Holiday. Sometimes it’s terrible team defense. But most of the times in those close games the better teams win.
The setting was just right for Iguodala and the Sixers to finally get that signature win of the season. Defeating Boston, winners of 14 straight, would dominate the highlights on both ESPN and NBATV. This could havebeen used as a huge swing in momentum to kick off the five game west coast road trip; a win that could’ve swung the Christmas spirit into the mood of the 76ers.
This time the script was a lot less dramatic than what unfolded at Wells Fargo and nationally on TNT a few weeks ago, but just as sad for the 7-6. Down two with :50 remaining in the game, Iguodala was handling the basketball but slipped and turned the ball over as he crossed the three point line. With 15 seconds left and still only trailing by two points, ‘Dre miraculously was given another chance to tie or win the game after a Sixers defensive stop.
As he should do in these situations, AI9 put the ball on the floor and drove to the rim, but he didn’t go hard enough to dunk the ball or draw significant contact from the defenders, so he simply ran into a host of Celtics and Kevin Garnett awkwardly swatted him underneath the hoop. AI9 desperately pleaded for a whistle, but the refs didn’t bail him out. That air had been deflated from the Sixers and Ray Allen would swish the final free throws to finish with 22 points and six assists.
Yes, the 76ers record has improved of late. However when a team comes from the basement of the East to all of a sudden a middle of the pack team, other squads around the League start to take notice —hence the Bulls drubbing Tuesday night. Boston might have been looking ahead to Christmas day in Orlando, but they still came through in the end.
Is it time we start questioning whether Collin’s coaching schemes are at fault for some of these late game meltdowns? Too bad Iguodala had his worst shooting percentage (2-for-11) of the entire season and just wasn’t himself offensively with only nine points. But I think opposing teams practically salivate when they know a game is going to go down to the wire against the Sixers. Because in the end, they know Andre Iguodala will have the ball in his hands. And Andre Iguodala normally will fail to come up with the right answerson the offensive end. Perhaps Iguodala just isn’t the player the Sixers are asking him to be.
It was sloppy affair and an ugly loss that brought to attention some thoughts that keep preoccupying my mind. Outside of Elton Brand (16 & 12), not one Sixer played anywhere near their best basketball. The Sixers were able to keep the tempo of the game in their control and relied heavily on their 31 free throw attempts. They really played team basketball tonight, Doug Collins favorite thing to preach about the sport. If the Sixers are somehow able to draw a 1-vs-8 matchup in the playoffs with Boston, the Celtics could get a run for their money like they did with Chicago two years back.
- The last time Jodie Meeks scored over 10 points was six games ago against the Nets and he’s starting to become a liability in moments that matter. With a little more than five minutes left in the fourth Lou Williams had his pass tipped near Jodie’s vicinity. Jodie reacted lazily and Paul Pierce swooped in four the steal and proceeded to dunk right in Jodie’s face. That was a big turning point in the crowd’s energy in Boston which sort of helped prevail the Celtics without Rondo. Last night Meeks played 31 minutes, was 0-2 from the field and finished with 3 points. He also missed a technical FT.
- Spencer Hawes has also seen his hot streak hit the fan. His scoring has faded (only eight points in the last three games) and he has constantly been out of position defensively. Shaq undeniably is a tough matchup in the post. But that’s my point. Hawes hot streak rarely involved the post, rather his surprising outside shooting touch. ‘Suspense’ still pulled down seven boards; he just wasn’t in when the game mattered. Tony Battie was and he actually scored 10 solid points and had six rebounds.
- Jrue Holiday was effective but inconsistent. Holiday exploded out of the gates with nine first quarter points but failed to score again until the fourth quarter. His +/- of -16 was by far the worst of any player Wednesday in Boston. However, he did score 15 points, hand out 5 dimes and grabbed 5 boards. Ohh and he had zero turnovers against one of the better defensive teams in the NBA. Remember I’m keeping tabs on Holiday’s growth during this treacherous road trip.
- Oh by the way, Evan Turner was a DNP-CD. Even the Celtics rookie Avery Bradley, who was selected 17 spots after Turner in the 2010 NBA Draft and is still obviously recovering from an injury saw the floor. He was the key to shutting down Holiday’s hot start to this game. Just thought I’d let you know.
- Finally, we give credit all the time to AI9 for his stellar defensive play on the other team’s leading scorer, so it’s time to flip the script a little and give a nod to Paul Pierce of the Celtics who did an excellent job on ‘Dre all night. One of the more underrated defenders in the NBA, Pierce played right in AI9’s grill and forced Iguodala to shoot a slew of jumpers and off balance shots.
- Take a look at ‘Dre’s final five touches of the night which all came with under 6 minutes remaining in the 4th: missed jump shot; missed 3PA; missed fade away jumper; turnover; blocked layup attempt…Not exactly an All-Star performance from the “best player” on the team (Doug Collins words not ours).
- Of course NBA.com has the highlights of another Sixers loss to Boston.
- For a look at how the Celtics avoided losing a trap game last night we turn to our friends at Celticshub.com.