Iguodala Sparks A Backcourt Young Gun Charge: Sixers Defeat Heat And Stave Off 1st Round Elimination
I walked out the house a very beautiful Easter morning on the way to the Wells Fargo Center and immediately thought the Sixers would win and it had nothing to do with growing up a Philly fan. Don, a neighbor who lives two doors down and is die hard everything Philly said “They have to win one right? Why not?” His voice and face exuded nothing but pride. Who wants to be swept despite everything great that awaits a professional athlete in the off season? The 76’ers were down 3-0 in the first round of the NBA playoffs to the Miami Heat in Doug Collins’ first season and hadn’t beaten the vaunted contingent from South Beach in the last 10 tries. Last time the Sixers were swept was in ’99 to Reggie Miller, Jalen Rose and the eventual NBA runner up Indiana Pacers. That series was demoralizing in particular because Miller and Rose both tossed in 40 in the first game and never looked back on their way to the Eastern Conference Finals. That team was a veteran outfit led by Indiana legend Larry Bird. We all know about the origin of this Miami Heat team and the scrutiny their young coach has weathered…so far. What stood in the way was a Doug Collins team not ready to go home.
He would not let them go home and despite the much highlighted struggles of Andre Iguodala, Collins was cool and media complimentary, yet focused during the pregame press conference. I thought back to ’08 when the Detroit Pistons bottled up Iguodala and wondered if this would be his break out game from a scoring perspective. Andre has scored a paltry 19 total points in the series but does have a series high 26 assists and also 20 rebounds which is tied for Sixers lead. I wonder what going through Collins’ mind while he obviously was aware of the situation at hand, he was very loose and down right happy to be here…
Michael Tillery: Doug you have a young team. What is the preparation to make sure they don’t press too hard in an on the brink (of elimination) situation?
Doug Collins: “Just play free. Just get out there and if you have a open shot then take it and don’t think of the consequences if you miss it. We wanna play with confidence and for the most part in this series we’ve done that a lot. We’ve had our moments when we’ve gone cold and haven’t been able to make a basket…more specifically in Game 2 I think we missed our last nine shots of the second quarter when they went up on us by 18 at half but other than that we’ve felt like we’ve played with confidence. We’re not gonna put any pressure on guys to reinvent the wheel today. We’re gonna go out…we feel like we’re prepared. We had a great day on Friday and went through all of our defensive things on yesterday. We went through offensive things. Things that we think can get through to some good shots and we just gotta shoot ‘em with confidence.”
MT: Obviously he’s (Iguodala) focused on defense as well. Do you think he might be pressing because he’s so focused on the defensive end?
DC: “I don’t think so. I think great players play both ends of the floor. As I said before, I think what separated Michael Jordan as the greatest player ever was that not only was he the greatest offensive player at his position…he was the greatest defensive player too. To me, great players play both ends of the floor so I don’t look upon that at all.”
Next up was Erik Spolestra. The third year coach has been with the Heat organization for 16 seasons so he knows the championship highs and the missing the playoffs lows but this year was something different. The Heat were one of the most scrutinized and ballyhooed teams in professional sports history and while at the pre game podium what I saw in his face was a will to kill. He wanted to get this series over with because while he’s faced the music the entire season, the glare will be turned up decidedly with each Heat win…or loss. He spoke of how his Heat needs to put this young and unpredictable Philly team to bed and what it was going to take to get that done…
MT: Coach you alluded to (in pregame presser earlier) a sense of urgency. Is there a difference in coaching philosophy playoff game by game?
Erik Spolestra: “Yes. Yes on both sides. You have to make some adjustments but so far with this series it’s been about who can hit first and sustain that type of effort. There has been some schematic adjustments both teams have made, but the effort areas…the hustle areas…first to the ball and rebounding…50/50 balls…they have been the indicator so far.”
Hmmm. This game right here would come down to effort…who wants it more.
I walked through the Sixers locker room and greeted a few players since Ron Glover covered the majority of games for TSF this season. In particular I had a conversation with Thad Young and something he said most striking was a revelation Collins was lot more detailed than any previous coach he’s had here. Plays are now being run for the young athletic forward. He has the confidence of a pro now. He was relaxed but eager to go and I definitely got a sense he is a much happier player after the forgetful year under Eddie Jordan. I could also see the maturity but the kid still has stars in his eyes. He’s not media broken and that’s a great thing.
The arena itself was jumping. After a year of missing the playoffs completely, the Wells Fargo faithful were electric from the start. When the Sixers jumped out to a 28-13 lead on Evan Turner’s 25 foot three pointer, I wondered which team would have enough to gut out what was to fourth quarter come. The veteran players stepped up in the first quarter. Elton Brand had a team high eight points but more importantly Andre Iguodala had seven…he’s averaged 6.3 the entire series. LeBron James had 4 in 7:39…picked up two quick fouls guarding the active Iguodala and Chris Bosh had 6 to lead the Heat. Dwyane Wade had 3 but was all over the court and playoff experience was evident in everything he did early. As a team Miami was off in the 1st…shooting 6-22 (27.3%) and missed 4 of 6 shots behind the arc. Philly shot 11-21 (52.4%) and hit 4 of 7 threes. The 76’ers led by 12 after one, 28-16.
The second quarter was much of the same…at least early…and after a skirmish that was immaterial at the 9:00 mark, Evan Turner hit a 10 foot jumper to push the Sixers’ lead to 35-19. The crowd was really into the game and when Iguodala scored on layup at 7:31 Philly still led by 16 at 39-23. The game was pretty chippy at this point. Physical. Hardcore. The Sixers were not giving the Heat anything easy inside and the drive and kick was there but Miami was cold from outside. Then Wade had a driving dunk off a James rebound and Chalmers hit a 25 foot three off a James pass to score five quick and Collins called for a timeout. He was fidgety on the sideline and one could tell he sensed a Heat run was forthcoming. Right after the timeout, Holiday made a bad pass which led to a steal and another dunk by Wade.
The lead was nine. Sixers went cold…weren’t executing…the Heat were. Chalmers hit another three. LeBron made a steal and dunked off the break. Collins calls a 20 second timeout. The Sixers finally score of a Iguodala bang from Young. The lead was six and when LeBron missed a 24 footer it stopped 7 straight Heat makes from 8:39 to 4:58 of the second. The lead was four and then Wade went off. He hit a fade from 18, hit two free throws, had a 19 foot pull up, a steal and an oop pass to LeBron. When he hit a step back 16 footer, the Heat led 47-43. A Brand free throw and a Turner driving layup closed out the 2nd quarter scoring and the Heat led by one, 47-46. The Heat capped off an amazing 20-2 run and shot a monster 68.4% for the quarter (13-19). The Sixers shot 7-19 for 36.8%. Evan Turner had 6 in the period and Wade led the Heat with 14. He was everywhere. From what I saw, you could definitely make a case for Dwyane Wade as the league’s MVP. He was impressive. He did not want to go back home.
Half totals were 19-41 (46.3%) for the Heat (4-13 30.8% from the arc) while the 76’ers shot 18-40 (45%) from inside the arc and 5-12 (41.7%) from beyond. Both teams hit 5 free throws with the Heat being perfect from the stripe and the Sixers missing one. Philly had a one rebound edge with 21. Wade had 17, James 13 and Chalmers 9. Iguodala had 12, Brand 11 and unexpectedly, Turner had 9.
Had decent conversations halftime with the Philly Tribune’s Donald Hunt and Bill Rhoden of the New York Times. I take advantage of every minute I’m given wherever I am covering sports. These are two of the guys who blazed a path for this site to actually be. If you want to be good at anything you do in life, seek out and speak with the ones talented and driven before you. Eras become linked and legends are indirectly validated merely because of respect.
Anthony Gilbert and I sat next to each other during the game in back of Ashley Fox and Bob Ford of the Inky. There were times the only fans standing (it seemed) were directly in front of us…blinding our view of the court. These fans were antsy. They knew the Sixers’ season lay in the balance.
As the 3rd quarter ran down, neither team took charge. The teams both shot about 30% with the Heat making six field goals and the Sixers five. Things were tightening up. There were five lead changes in the period and I tweeted this quarter was the Sixers season. Everyone anticipated the Heat would pull away but their largest quarter lead was just two points. The Sixers were not dying. LeBron seemed pretty annoyed. There were hard fouls. This was playoff basketball and I would say the Sixers won the game in the 3rd quarter by making the Heat work for everything. The Heat won the period 19-18 to take a 2 point lead heading into the fourth. Who wants it? Who will be the one to step up?
We all know LeBron was due for a scoring explosion of sorts. He’s been relatively quiet up to this point despite scoring 19 and it was only a matter of time the 2nd best player on the planet did his thing. This was a defensive battle so Detroit Game 5 wasn’t going to happen but that he scored 12 of Miami’s 16 points in the quarter on 4-8 shooting meant he was on a mission. Too bad for Heat fans there wasn’t one bucket more. The Sixers missed 8 straight field goal attempts from 6:35 to 1:22 in the fourth and when the Heat led by seven, you thought the balloon advantage was imminent. Before the cold spell Lou Williams had 7 points in a span that saw a Heat 3 point lead become a tie ball game and with 1:35 Miami had a 6 point lead at 82-76. Turner’s 11 foot runner broke the scoreless drought and subsequently Jrue Holiday hit a step back 25 foot three with 46.9 to go to bring Philadelphia within one. Huge shot. It gave the crowd a moment not seen since Mo Cheeks was at the helm. Wells Fargo felt like a club but the best was yet to come. After Wade missed a 13 foot jumper, Evan Turner and Jrue Holiday tried to get to the rim. The Heat defense wasn’t having it and Williams had the rock with time ticking down. He looked inside once before pulling up with 8.9 and hitting a 27 foot three that Philly fans will remember for a long time. It gave the Sixers a 2 point lead. LeBron James tried Iguodala right on a driving layup attempt, but Elton Brand slid over quickly to block the shot at 3.8. Turner grabs rebound and is fouled. He hits one of two. Miami calls a 20 second time out, Wade gets off a 26 foot three…misses and the Sixers celebrate in avoiding the sweep but it’s only one win.
Turner and Williams scored 17 a piece. Iguodala had 16 and Brand tossed in 15 to go along with 11 boards. Philly shot 32-79 for the game (40.5%). 8-18 from Harrisburg (44.4%) and hit 14 of 18 free throws (87.5%). They out rebounded the Heat 49 to 41 and had more assists…18-14.
LeBron had 31 points, 7 boards and 6 dimes. Wade had 22 points, 8 rips, 4 assists, 3 steals and 5 blocks. Bosh had 12 and 5. Miami shot 30 of 78 (38.5%). 5-23 from Cleveland (21.7%) and hit a 81% clip from the stripe (17-21).
Game 5 Wednesday in South Beach.
To be honest, the one thing I’ve noticed about the Heat is their displeasure for the media this year. That wasn’t always the case. Even in losses there would be smiles. Now, they jump up when the last question is asked. Wade has a Jordan/Erving professionalism about him in pressers and was complimentary to the Sixers in defeat. As LeBron said in the presser (first part with my question seems to have been taken off site. Anthony Gilbert leads off the questions in part 2), every regular season game seemed like a playoff game with hyped fans and a media seeking to over analyze their every move. This team was expected to sweep the Sixers and despite being up 3-1, LeBron will be criticized once again for not coming through in the clutch. Even Cleveland Cavaliers fans were captivated.
Credit goes to the Sixers for toughing out a win and when Holiday, Turner and Williams stepped to the podium, the moment was unique. Evan Turner was huge in this game.
MT: Lou you have playoff wins under your belt. You guys are young and getting your first playoff win. Could you talk about what this means to you?
Jrue Holiday: “Honestly, it means the world. We didn’t really want to go home. We’d been talking about it all week. Last couple of days, we really reiterated it. We didn’t wanna go home. That was the biggest thing. Again, we pulled together and you know just had each other’s backs.”
Evan Turner: “I thought it was cool especially considering the fact we haven’t had a win in a while. To be able to get a win on our home court and get a playoff victory is definitely key. I think it’s a mark…for me and Jrue to see how hard it is to win in the playoffs and everything like that and what you have to do.”
MT: Doug you were talking earlier about how big this win would be for the city. Could you talk about how the crowd (Collins chuckles) affected the whole situation and did you expect someone to unexpectedly step up today?
DC: “You know when you do television as I have done for the longest of time, one of your models is to expect the unexpected. So be prepared so when the unexpected occurs you’re ready for it and that’s one of the things I’ve always tried to pride myself on is being prepared for the unexpected. It’s what I’ve always been taught…that way you don’t get caught with your pants down. I just um…if you guys could have been in our huddles…the resolve that our players had…there was no…there was no…giving up…there was nothing. They felt very strongly…I mean with 8.3 seconds to go they all said we’re going back to Miami.
I said I’ll be there with ya.”
(Check the video. Doug almost gets choked up at 7:38 when talking about how he imagined coming back to Philly and coaching in the playoffs in what was an electric atmosphere yesterday.)
MT: Did you specifically game plan for Evan Turner? Seemed like he was the spark plug…
Erik Spolestra (video): “He was aggressive. He’s a talented young player. He came ready to play and got some good opportunities at the basket and played well.”
MT: What do you take from this loss and how do you get over it and move on?
Dwyane Wade: “It started with the floater by Evan Turner…tough floater…great contest by Chris (Bosh). I don’t feel the next play down we executed as well…not really the shot we wanted…but they came up and hit some big shots. The one with Jrue Holiday…he froze me and got off a shot. Not many people in the arena expected him to shoot. Then Lou Williams hit a tough…tough shot. We got a couple of good looks on the other end after that. I got a good turnaround that just didn’t go in and LeBron had a good drive. Elton Brand made a good play to come and block it.
What this loss does for us is let us go back and look at the film to see what we did wrong. I think it’s obvious from our standpoint to start games off better…to start halves off better. I thought we did a pretty good job defensively.
They just made shots at the end to win the ball game.”
MT: I asked Doug pregame were you pressing too much defensively. It reminded me of that Detroit series where you had some struggles. Scored 16 huge points today that I felt was the difference. Speak of your flow today. You came out aggressive. You set a tone. You guys won the game.
Andre Iguodala: “I just tried to make a stamp early.
People who don’t know the game tend to say he doesn’t score the ball so he wasn’t effective.
Miami was used to me facilitating early on. Tonight I just wanted to go out there and attack. I think the guys did a good job of keeping good spacing so I could attack and be able to get shots (Coach Collins’ grandchildren come in and get some love from Dre).”
MT: Obviously you have more aspirations than just winning one game…
AI9: “Right. Right. Definitely.”
MT: This was a huge game for the city. The crowd was hype. What’s it gonna take for you all to take little chunks and little chunks and little chunks to ultimately defeat what is an elite team in the league?
AI9: “I have to continue…first of all it’s all about believing….
Guys are hungry now. When you never had a playoff win you don’t know what it’s like. Now they have it.
It’s 3-1 now.
No one thought we were gonna win tonight. It can be 3-2 and what about after that?
Like I said, they are hungry now. Now you get that I’m ready to get it. It was good to get this win…”