The 2011-12 Philadelphia 76ers, that it is to say our 7-6, forced a Game 7 with the heavily favored Boston Celtics and I am extremely impressed. Actually, I’m more than impressed; I am stunned. I am Bud Selig after walking into a restaurant and accidentally bumping into Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, and Rafael Palmeiro. I am Stuart Scott during the Top Ten plays on SportsCenter. I am Dwight K. Schrute during a fight between two black bears. I am Tiger Woods on an Arkansas campus tour with Bobby Petrino.
This series has been wild. This series has been close. This series has been a roller coaster of awful offensive possessions, an abundance of mental mistakes and what would be defined as defensive prowess (or, again, terrible offense). But it’s been nothing but exciting for those invested in the two teams and that cannot be argued.
Nobody seems to know, including me, how the Sixers are getting the job done at this stage in the playoffs. One could point out a few things here and there that the 76 have done well; but nothing that you could consistently put your finger on.
But Wednesday night, in a “win or enjoy your summer vacation” moment, you could, which was a sight for sore eyes.
The Sixers won by being aggressive on BOTH ends of the court. I know I’m dumbfounded too. They put together a complete game. They beat the Celtics off the dribble constantly thanks to Jrue Holiday (20-points on 7-15 shooting, 6-assists and 2-turnovers) who played the way I have been proclaiming he could since the beginning of this season. Jrue’s performance helped Philly play even bigger in the paint. They beat the Celtics with depth. They played like seasoned veterans. They played team defense (per usual). They made Boston play into their hands, which was maybe the most startling of all that transpired last night.
I know that I said in yesterday’s Philadunkia prediction post that I would put my money on Boston in a Game 6 situation with the Eastern Conference Finals on the line, but boy was I wrong (though I would say, had I known at the moment of writing that post that “The Answer” would be in the house, I would have completely changed my response).
Regardless, let’s break this down a little bit. What specifically happened that got the Sixers to a Game 7?
Well for starters, Doug Collins seemed to have come up with the prefect game plan defensively (perhaps taking a page from the Pacers attack on the Heat) by forcing Kevin Garnett (20-points on 9-20 shooting) away from the basket; making him a complacent jump shooter. Along with that, the Sixers double teamed Paul Pierce (24-points on 5-11 shooting, 4 turnovers) what seemed to be every time he crossed the half court line. They forced the long time Celtic into situations he obviously wasn’t comfortable with and it looked to have a lasting effect on the small forward’s game (13 of his 24 points came from the free throw line).
Another big factor that I am going to credit Doug with is how he contained Rajon Rondo (9-points on 4-14 shooting, 6-assists, 4-turnovers). The Sixers guards did now allow Rondo to create in the paint; the Celtic guard’s bread and butter. They turned the elite point guard into a jump shooting disaster, which is exactly how you beat the Celtics and every talking head has said it from the beginning of the season; though sometimes it looks virtually impossible.
On the offensive end, the Sixers showed that they are going to be extremely hard to beat when they commit to playing an “in then out” game by slowing down the offense. Don’t believe me? Think letting the young bloods get out in the open court to run is better? How does 42-points in the paint and only seven points off of the fast break sound to you?
They also ascertained that when Jrue challenges the Celtic double team like some of the elite point guards in the League do, it completely opens up the court for everyone else to create terrific looks at the basket (everyone but Jodie Meeks and Thaddeus Young posted positive +/- stats for the game).
But with the good, there is always the bad. Wednesday night, the Sixers were as consistent as Ilya Bryzgalov’s net minding. During the first 47-minutes of the game the 7-6 shot 13-24 from the charity stripe. But in crunch time, the young squad found their stroke 4-4 with less then 40 ticks remaining. With the Celtics crawling to within six points of tying the game and every Sixer fan wondering if their beloved were a few missed free throws and a couple big shots from the Celtics away from dropping Game 6 at home, Andre Iguodala (who was 1-5 at the charity stripe at that time) hit two major FTs to keep the Sixers up by eight points. After what seemed to be an impossible 3-point basket by the impeccable Ray Allen, Jrue showed the hypothetical ice in his veins by knocking down two more freebies to keep the Sixers up three possessions; which sealed the game.
If the Sixers can play EXACTLY how they did on Wednesday night (and make more FT’s), the Eastern Conference Finals will no longer be a pipe dream.
Bring it on Boston! We’ll see you at The Garden.