02/07/12 9:12 am EST
There’s nothing particularly special about the number. It falls neatly between 23 and 25, just so. Yet, on an early February Monday night in South Philly, the number 24 was so very significant. Ultimately, 24 was a magic number for the Sixers in a 95-90 thrilling win over the Lakers.
Through 24 games, the Sixers firmly planted in first place in the Atlantic Division; a position almost no one expected to be in at the start of the season. Still, there are many who concluded that they will just fade into the background eventually for one reason or another.
So, when #24, Kobe Bryant and the Lakers came to town, the Sixers once again had to prove that they belonged and weren’t just some fluke that would blow away like a leaf in the wind. Through, the first 4 games of the 7 game “death row” stretch as Coach Collins has called it; the Sixers are 3-1, including a demolition of the Chicago Bulls.
In the first half against Los Angeles, it seemed as if the 5th game of reckoning wouldn’t end up being about them at all. It looked to be all about #24.
After all, he had 24 points in the first half and those 24 points pushed Kobe past Shaq his long time friend / rival into 5th place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.
But, in the end it was about Lou Williams’ 24 points that would be the concluding story in this one.
The Sixers were down 86-84 with 3:47 to play, when Lou Williams channeled his inner Allen Iverson and singlehandedly took the game over. It started with a 3 that the Sixers a one point lead.
He would follow with another dagger from downtown that pushed the Sixers’ lead to 3.
The final blow would be a pretty running jumper that gave the Sixers a 93-88 lead with under 90 seconds to play. He spurred a 16-4 game closing run that propelled the 7-6 to the win. In all, he had 14 points in the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, the previously mentioned #24 was terrible in the 4th quarter. Bryant went 1 for 10 in the 4th and only scored 4 points total in 2nd half.
Bryant’s complete collapse in the 2nd half was contributed to a crucial coaching switch made late in the 1st half by Coach Doug Collins.
He had Andre Iguodala exclusively guard the aging, but historically great superstar. That change accompanied with Williams champion’s effort was the difference between a win and tough home loss.
The Sixers, who were without Elton Brand, struggled to compete with the Lakers’ star frontcourt combination of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.
Bynum and Gasol alone combined to outrebound with 31 total boards. The Sixers only had 30. Bynum had a monster game with 20 points and 20 boards.
Overall, the Lakers had 55 rebounds. The Sixers big men continue to be the eye sore (specifically interior defense and rebounding) on a team that becomes more appealing with every game.
Spencer Hawes only had 8 points with a pathetic 5 rebounds. Lavoy Allen, who started in place of Brand, had 4 points and 3 rebounds.
Nik Vucevic had the best showing. He had 8 points and 6 rebounds.
Despite the Sixers’ deficiencies down low, they once again showed that they are indeed a complete team. There is no one player to stop. At any time, anyone could strike and take over a game.
This time it was Williams, who continues to make an incredibly strong push for the 6th man of the year award. Before Williams’ awakening, the Sixers looked sluggish despite being in the game from the first quarter on.
It didn’t start well as the Lakers started on a 9-2 run. But, thereafter it was back and forth affair that Williams ultimately snatched with the help of Iguodala’s stout defense.
The Sixers (18-7) now sit 4 games ahead of the Celtics and 8 games ahead of the surprisingly horrid Knicks.
They are now 4-1 after 5 games of their much ballyhooed 7-game test. Next up, will be the Spurs, followed by the Clippers.
The Sixers’ pool of doubters continues to decrease with every victory that comes their way.
This team is starting to make it pretty easy to believe in them. Surely, the Lakers would now agree.
Most certainly #24 in purple and gold would agree. As he himself witness, the power of a true team with a jolt of #23, Louis Williams.