Friday, May 1, 2009

From the Scene of the Crime: How the Sixers Got Dismantled

Thanks to my connection, I was awarded four free tickets to game 6 last night — in the sixth row no less. So, Toonces, silver fox and a friend of ours headed on down to the game hoping the Sixers, going against a Superman-less Magic squad (and no Courtney Lee), could force a game 7.

That, uh, didn't happen.

This did:

Sweet mother of God was that pathetic. Simply and utterly awful. It's one thing to come out and lose a game 6 to a better team, even a team without its best player. But to lose at home, facing elimination, 114-89, completely rolling over and dying? That's just sad. And it seems to be a trend for teams calling the Wachovia Center home.

To me, the most maddening thing about last night wasn't the fact the Sixers lost to the Magic without Dwight Howard and Courtney Lee. It wasn't the fact that Skip to My Lou scored 21 points or that, playing just eight players, the Magic had six of them finish in double digits. It wasn't even the fact that Willie Green, Thaddeus Young and Sammy Dalembert gave the Sixers absolutely nothing on offense. No, it was the fact that in a game where the Sixers fell behind 30-15 in the first quarter, the coach didn't make a single adjustment. Not a one.

As pathetic as the effort was for the Sixers last night, it was nothing compared to the incompetence of Tony DiLeo.

For starters, the Magic were without Dwight Howard, without the defensive player of the year, without their protection at the rim. Naturally, a smart team would attack this and do everything in their power to get to the hoop, especially when they can't shoot. So what do the Sixers do? They come out and settle for jump shots early, letting Orlando off the hook and falling behind quickly. The few precious moments the Sixers actually attacked the rim, they cut Orlando's lead to 5 points. Then they stopped, and the Magic took over.

Speaking of taking over, Rashard Lewis was the man last night. He completely abused Thad Young, often found himself in a mismatch with Andre Miller and completely lit it up, doing most of his work in the post, scoring a game-high 29 points on 11-22 from the field, nabbing 7 boards and blocking 3 shots.

Every time down the court, the ball seemed to get in Rashard's hands, and he was either taking Thad to the weight room, or completely ignoring Andre Miller on a terrible switch. And the Sixers could not stop him. At all. The Magic essentially did the same thing over and over, running a pick and roll with Lewis, and almost always, the Sixers would automatically switch, with the 6'2" Andre Miller guarding the 6'10" Rashard Lewis, allowing Lewis to easily score over the smaller man, or Thad would fight through with Lewis, only to get pounded in the paint.

So, with Rashard lighting the Sixers up, did DiLeo change up his defense on him? Nope. The only solution was to play zone for about 3 minutes while Orlando was scorching from three (the Magic made 12 of 26 threes, 46 percent), which, uh, also didn't work.

Well, Tony, here's a novel idea: How about, you know, trying a different defender on Lewis? Like Andre Iguodala maybe? You know, your best defender? Iguodala has, after all, done a pretty fine job on Hedo Turkoglu during the series. So, seeing as the Magic were scoring at will, why not try and change things up? Why not see if Iguodala could slow down Lewis? What did you have to lose?

The answer is nothing. Tony DiLeo simply didn't do it because he's not a good coach. The result was Orlando shooting 53.7 percent from the field, 46.2 percent from three and scoring 114 points. J.J. freakin Redick had 15 points for christ's sake. J.J. Redick.

To make matters worse, DiLeo buried a key player down the stretch of the regular season on the bench the entire series, claiming that Marreese Speights wasn't strong enough to defend Howard or quick enough to defend Rashard Lewis. Fair enough. He knows his players. But with Howard out, why not give him more than a short run in the first half and then garbage time in the fourth? Could it have hurt? Especially with Sammy Dalembert looking completely atrocious out there, getting outplayed by Marcin Gortat? It just doesn't make any sense to me. It really doesn't.

Don't get me wrong, I didn't think the Sixers could win this series. I didn't think they'd even be this close. But in an elimination game, why not pull out all the stops to try and stay alive? Hell, DiLeo played a completely ineffective Dalembert 30 minutes last night while not playing Theo Ratliff (4:57) or Donyell Marshall (3:47) at all, two guys who have been integral in the Sixers' two wins in the series.

Now they're sitting at home after just six playoff games, again, for the second year in a row. Make no mistake, this team has some work to do.

Sure, Elton Brand will be back and hopefully the second go-round will be much, much better than the first. But there are players that absolutely must make themselves better this offseason, starting with Thaddeus Young.

Before his ankle injury, Young was becoming a rising force for the Sixers, playing the most assertive basketball of his young career and looking like a star in the making. The injury slowed down his scoring, but the thing that became painfully obvious in this series is the work he must do on defense. Young was abused time and again in this series, either getting taken down low or beaten off the dribble. Numerous times he found himself lost, not just in the series but all season long, scrambling to find his man or failing to know if he should switch or stay with his man. If there's one thing he needs to improve more than anything else, it's his defense.

And that holds true for Lou Williams too. Lou is a spark plug off the bench and an exciting scorer. But man, he can't play a lick of defense. He needs to at least not be a horrible liability on that end; right now he is.

Of course, Speights must go through his growing pains, but it's obvious he has talent. Andre Iguodala seemed to take another step, this time actually becoming an effective player in the postseason, but a superstar he is still not. He needs to get better, especially with his shot selection. Iguodala has turned into an OK shooter at best, but he's at his best attacking, which he failed to do last night and at numerous times during the season. He should be a guy who goes to the rim as often as possible with his great finishing ability, and thus, get to the free throw line more.

And the rest of the Sixers have to improve as well, though there's no telling as to who will be here. Andre MIller is a free agent, and I can't help but think he'd at least take a gander at the Lakers. Imagine that team, whose only weakness is a lack of a point guard, with Andre Miller setting up the likes of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum. That would be scary.

Theo is at the end of the line. Ditto Donyell Marshall. Kareem Rush has been invisible. Royal Ivey is a nice on-the-ball defender and all, but he's nothing special. Samuel Dalembert is a plague that must be vaccinated. Reggie Evans is what he is and a guy that will always have a role. Willie Green is a player who has long overstayed his welcome as a streaky (see bad) shooter.

Yes, Elton Brand and Jason Smith will be back next year, and the Sixers have a nice young core. But they need a shooter in the worst way, and a coach who can instill in them a true system, both offensively and defensively. I certainly don't think Tony DiLeo is that guy. But who that guy is, I have no idea.

Let's hope Ed Stefanski does.

BallHype: hype it up!

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