And Spencer Hawes just gaveth the Sixers an ugly 79-74 victory to take 2-1 series lead.
Game 3 of the first round series between the Sixers and the Bulls was a perfect crystallization of a Philadelphia season that has had extreme highs and near-bottomless lows.
And right in the middle of that emotional rollercoaster was Hawes.
It was the young center who was one of the catalysts of the Sixers’ 20-9 start. For a short while, he was tops in the league in field goal percentage and blocked shots. While, he never was a dominator of the interior, he stretched the floor and was consistently draining that open jumper.
But, the injury bug bit him and even when he returned to the lineup, he was a shell of what he was to start the season. Meanwhile, his Sixers fell into coma that nearly cost them a playoff trip.
On Friday night, Hawes was once again a catalyst early on. It was Hawes who made the first Sixers’ field goal. It was a 3-pointer, no less. It was Hawes who battled for rebounds and stayed active despite the Sixers lack of offensive production.
That said, it was a nightmarish start to the third quarter for the doubled-0 big man. Less than two minutes into the second half, Hawes had an opportunity for a layup during a fast break. He blew it. That was followed by a missed dunk. That dreadful possession led to a Joakim Noah layup on the other end.
After a time out, Hawes missed two more times with easy looks at the basket. At that point, he had missed eight straight shots–a streak that finally ended in the middle of the third.
Through all of this, Noah, who has been the Sixers’ nemesis so far this series, was dealing with his own gruesome ankle injury.
Yet, it seemed a hobbled Noah could outperform Hawes, and all of the Sixers bigs for that matter. The Sixers looked as if they couldn’t buy a board. Through three quarters, the Bulls had a 38-27 rebound advantage.
Eventually, Noah would leave the game for good.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Bulls lead had ballooned to 67-53. If, there was any confusion, this certainly wasn’t an offensive exhibition on either team’s part.
That’s when a renewed Hawes emerged, like a Phoenix, from the ashes. Ok, that’s a bit dramatic, but his turnaround was dramatic in its own right.
With the Sixers trailing by nine in the middle of the fourth, it was an open Hawes jumper that cut the Bulls lead to 69-62. It was a Hawes putback bucket on the next possession that cut the Sixers’ deficit to five.
Then, with under four minutes left and the Bulls clinging to a three point lead, it was Hawes who goaded Omer Asik into gifting him a trip to the free throw line.
Asik had expected Hawes to shoot the open jumper, so he stepped up, forcing Hawes to pass. But, Hawes put the rock on the floor, drove to the lane, and earned two free throws.
He sunk them both to cut the deficit to a single point.
A few minutes later, the Hawes redemption cycle completed itself.
Hawes drains an open jumper to give the Sixers the 72-71 lead. The Sixers would, of course, never relinquish the lead.
With his 21-point, nine-rebound night, Hawes regained the trust of his teammates, his coach, the fans, and even himself. He proved that he could be the valuable player that many thought he had become just four months ago.
It was almost as if the Sixers went as Spencer Hawes went. Hawes, and the Sixers, have come full circle.