A loss tonight by the 7-6, a team that when you combine the regular season and playoffs is 17-19 on the road and 1-3 in Chicago, would lead to certain elimination in Game 7 back at the “Madhouse on Madison”.
So, seeing how this is a cliche “must-win” for the Sixers and especially the likes of Brand, Dre, Hawes, Meeks and Louis — current 76ers whose future with the franchise is uncertain — we thought it would be a solid post idea to have each of the Philadunkia scribes briefly point out a few keys for our 7-6 tonight and then lay out a prediction for this all or nothing Game 6.
After the jump, our Game 6 predictions…
The Sixers win if…they score in the paint.
Everybody who follows the Sixers knows that the team lacks consistent shooters. In a hard-fought defensive series the Sixers need to attack the basket, especially with enforcer Joakim Noah out and Taj Gibson now ailing. Settling for contested jumpers will doom the Sixers. It starts with Sixer guards Evan Turner and Jrue Holiday using their size and strength to get in the lane and draw some whistles. Andre Iguodala, Lou Williams, and Thaddeus Young are all capable of doing this as well. The 32 percent shooting in Game 5 cannot be repeated.
The Sixers lose if…they sleep on defense.
In the fourth quarter of Game 5’s 77-69 loss to the Bulls, Loul Deng hit three open three-point daggers to keep the game out of reach. Unlike the Sixers, the Bulls have the players who can knock down shots if open. Deng, Korver, Hamilton, and Watson are all capable of knocking down shots with ease if left open. The Sixers have to defend these shooters for the full 48 minutes. To close out the Bulls you have to lock all doors and windows on defense.
Game 1 ended on a tear for the Bulls. In Game 2, the Sixers decided to crash the “Do it for Derr1ck” themed party nobody in Chicago invited them to; much in part to Chicago’s very own, Evan Turner (19 points, 6 assists, 7 rebounds). In Game 3, they gave the returning fans of Philadelphia basketball something to cheer for as they took control of the series. In Game 4, they once again proved victorious with the aid of Spencer Hawes (24 points on 9-11 shooting). In Game 5, the Sixers shot an abysmal 32% from the field; the only offense was how offensively grotesque they looked with the ball in their hands (only Brand had a positive +/- at +1).
So what do I expect from Game 6? Well let’s break it down by what I expect, I hope, I fear and what I know. I expect Joakim Noah to try and give it a go Thursday night providing the Bulls with even more energy between the blocks. I hope Iggy dials down the shots on the offensive end (19 attempts in Tuesday’s Game 5 loss), while Evan Turner amps it up (four points and four turnovers in 33 minutes of action). I fear Doug Collins will, in a sense, try to out coach Tom Thibodeau to avoid a seventh game after his latest comments about wanting to avoid stretching the series out to its full capacity. And for some reason, I know that this series is destined to do just that, because that’s what the basketball God’s seem to enjoy doing to the 76 faithful.
Game 6 is for the series. The Sixers have the opportunity to wrap it at home in the comfort of the Wells Fargo Center, and they must make the most of it, as they certainly don’t want to have to travel back to Chicago riding a two game losing streak. Coach Collins is certainly aware of how difficult it would be do dethrone the East’s number one seed in a decisive game 7 on the road, and hopefully he expresses this urgency well to his players. A quick start is key and the Sixers need to come out of the gate swinging, as slow starts have hurt them in both Games 1 and 5. The Sixers just can’t allow the Bulls to build any confidence.
The play of the starting backcourt will be extremely important for the Sixers, as they should go to Evan and Jrue early and often, allowing them to attack the paint, draw fouls on the Bulls bigs and open things up for other players. The four spot will also be critical, as Philly needs Brand and backup Lavoy Allen to consistently hit the open jump shots created by guards’ penetration, as well as keeping the Bulls off of the offensive boards.
If the team is ever going to take that next step now is the time, and they know it. Expect them to come out motivated and determined and send the injury-riddled Bulls home earlier than expected, because they certainly don’t want to have to see a Game 7 in Chicago.
If the Sixers get back to what has worked for them in this series — fast break basketball whenever possible; driving the ball to the hoop in the half-court through isolation play; and stellar defense – they will win Game 6 and advance to the second round.
The problem is that two of those three winning elements go against the very nature of our head coach and many members of this roster. The coach hates isolation offense (a.k.a. “NBA basketball”). We have seen over the last two years that Collins prefers a lot of ball movement and balanced scoring from his team. However that has not worked in this series. What has worked vs. Chicago is Jrue, Turner and Dre (on occasion) taking their man to the tin and seeing what develops – a hoop; a foul or an assist. So tonight, Collins needs to relax his death grip on this team and let his players…wait for it…PLAY.
But Collins’ decision to let them play NBA ball will not be enough to secure a victory. Outside of Jrue, Turner and Louis (in streaks) most of the players on this team would rather settle for the jump shot instead of going hard to the basket. That typical 2011-12 Sixers thought process can not be the mindset for the squad tonight. Dre, Brand, Louis and Hawes must join the 7-6’s guards in driving the ball to the basket. Good things happen when the Sixers put the ball on the floor vs. Chicago. They must consistently execute that game plan tonight if they want to win this game and send the MASH unit that is the Bulls packing.
Ohh yeah, it would also help the 76ers’ attempts to close out this series in six if Thad Young showed up tonight and contributed.
Alright. The prevailing narrative, since the final buzzer sounded in a barely watchable Game 5, has been this: the Sixers had the Bulls on the ropes, a perfect opportunity to topple the wounded one-seed once and for all — to finish them — but they blew it and now their window may have slammed shut. Watch your fingers. Suddenly, Joakim Noah is optimistic he’ll play for Chicago, and the national angle has shifted from “woe is the Bulls” to “can they do it?”
I don’t think they can. Despite the fact the Sixers have shot under 40 percent in each of the series’ last three games; despite the fact that their 3-1 advantage was held together by shoestring, bubblegum, radical free throw disparities and Spencer Hawes; despite the fact that if there was ever a team whose season was meant to end with a blown 3-1 lead in a playoff series , it was the 2012 Sixers—despite all this, and more, I think the 7-6 hang on.
The source of my optimism is this: 23. As in, the number of fast-break points the Sixers scored on Tuesday. The Bulls love to crash the offensive boards, so much so that they do so at the expense of getting back defensively. So it’s a strength that, if properly exploited, becomes a weakness. Art of War style. And the Sixers can exploit it. As awful as they were in Game 5, they scored 23 in transition, and with Noah likely back, and a renewed focus on second chance points sure to return with him, the Sixers will, it says here, run all over the Bulls tonight and punch their ticket to the second round on their home court. The confetti will fall and, for once, look appropriate.