Tuesday night, the Sixers got stabbed in the face with a soldering iron by the Bulls.
They needed to sew up the wounds and rebound quickly with a date in Boston against the defending Eastern Conference champions last night.
One night after getting completely and utterly embarrassed by the Chicago Bulls, the Sixers rolled into Boston and were the aggressors right from the jump, attacking the Celtics and their 13-game winning streak without fear.
The Celtics did manage to go up by six after the first quarter, but the Sixers never relented, kept going hard to the rim and pounding it inside, and it resulted in foul trouble for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Nate Robinson. That led to the Sixers outscoring the Celtics 27-15 in the second quarter, taking a six-point lead into halftime. Elton Brand and Jrue Holiday did a lot of the heavy lifting early, with some nice contributions off the bench by Lou Williams and Tony Battie.
But the third quarter was a completely different story. Boston flipped the script, outscoring the Sixers 26-17, and the game went on the see-saw. The Sixers hung close, played tough and displayed the effort and aggressiveness they lacked the night before, but when it was all said and done, the Celtics had Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, and the Sixers didn't.
Oh, and Andre Iguodala really isn't very good in the clutch — turning it over, pounding the ball and then forcing up horrible shots, you know, the usual from Iggy at the end of close games.
Despite getting to the line 10 more times than the Celtics and having their bench far outplay Boston's, the Sixers couldn't come away with the victory. In the end, it was Allen, Pierce and Garnett that made the difference, giving Boston a hard-fought 84-80 win. Jesus Shuttlesworth led the way with a game-high 22 points, making up for the struggles of Paul Pierce throughout. In the first half, Pierce was held completely in check, saddled in foul trouble. And his finishing stat line looks horrendous: 11 points on 4-15 from the field with 2 turnovers. But he hit a couple of huge shots in the fourth quarter, including a dagger three, and got to the line, heating up when Boston needed him the most. And Garnett, while also struggling with his shot (4-10 from the field for 12 points), hit a couple of clutch jumpers late, added 7 rebounds, 2 steals and a block.
Oh, and some other guy you may have heard of, Shaquille O'Neal, had a pretty damn good game as well: 13 points on 5-8 shooting with 9 rebounds and 2 blocks.
You can't fault the Sixers for their effort. They gave it all they had. But the simple truth is the Celtics have four Hall of Famers on their team, three of whom are better than anyone on the Sixers right now, while Philadelphia doesn't even have a legitimate all-star on the entire roster (though Elton Brand was once upon a time).
Brand did continue his quiet season of good play, leading the Sixers with 16 points and hauling in a game-high 12 rebounds. It begs the question, especially with Garnett in foul trouble, why Brand didn't get more touches and shots. He only attempted 8 field goals (going 5-8) and did get to the line 8 times, but he should have, given his effectiveness, had double-digit shot attempts, which more than likely would have resulted in double-digit free throw attempts. Doesn't make much sense that he didn't get more shots up.
Jrue had a nice game himself, especially in the early going. He finished with 15 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists without turning the ball over once. But he did seem to disappear at moments in the second half.
The biggest surprise and the most energetic player for the Sixers was veteran Tony Battie. With Spencer Hawes shaken up on a hard fall sustained going up against Shaq and then struggling throughout, Battie played a season-high 25:33, scored 10 points, had 6 boards, blocked 4 shots and made five of his eight shot attempts. It was quite an inspired performance by the elder stateman of the team, showing he still has something left in the tank.
Louis Williams had a nice performance as well, scoring 12 points off the bench, and the Sixers were +9 with Lou Will on the floor. Trouble is Lou turned the ball over 4 times and couldn't guard anyone, allowing Nate Robinson some open looks from three and lacking the size to guard anyone else.
The rest of the Sixers, despite giving the Celtics all they could handle, left plenty to be desired. Jody Meeks was absolutely terrible, scoring just three points in over 31 minutes and not recording a single other stat besides 3 turnovers. It was like he was completely afraid of the situation. Meeks attempted just 2 shots all night, missing them both, and finished with nothing in the way of rebounds, assists, steals or blocks. I'm not sure how that's possible in 31-plus minutes of action.
Spencer Hawes, after putting together a nice stretch of games, has come crashing back down to earth. He struggled against Chicago, and before that in Orlando. And last night, he had just 6 points on 3-8 shooting and turned the ball over 4 times. Not good. Thaddeus Young did pretty much nothing, and Evan Turner, the No. 2 overall pick, literally did nothing, not playing a single minute. Unreal.
But the biggest disappointment of all was Andre Iguodala.
Everyone in Philadelphia knows Iguodala is not a real franchise player, not the guy you want carrying your team. But Iguodala is a very good player, and most definitely the best player on the Philadelphia 76ers. Given that, you expect him to be the one leading the way in a game like this — a tight contest against one of the league's best team a night after a poor effort.
But save for a breakaway dunk here and an assist there, Iguodala was awful last night. He scored just 9 points, shot 2-11 from the field and 0-3 from beyond the arc. he had just 2 rebounds. All of this despite Paul Pierce's foul trouble and struggles, all while Iguodala himself played nearly 40 minutes. I'm sorry, but that's just pathetic.
The thing that really frustrates you the most is the end-of-game play by Iguodala, which was in stark contrast to Pierce's play. After coming alive a little in the third, Pierce scored six big points — a momentum-shifting dunk that brought the Celtics to within two, two free throws courtesy of an Andre Iguodala foul that tied the game, and a jumper that put the Celtics up 82-78 with 1:36 to play.
Meanwhile, Iguodala didn't score a single point in the third quarter. He missed all four shots he took, including a quickly jacked three-pointer and horrendous fade-away with a hand in his face forced by his own doing — dribbling the ball in one place as the shot clock wound down. Then, to show just how un-clutch he really is, he dribbled the ball off his foot and turned it over with 50 seconds to play with the Sixers down a bucket. The Celtics failed to score and the Sixers got the ball back with the score still sitting at 82-80 Boston. So to top it all off, Iggy got blocked by Garnett with 14.9 left, Pierce grabbed the rebound and the Sixers had to foul Ray Allen, one of the greatest foul shooter in the history of the NBA, with five seconds left. That was that.
I like a lot of things about Andre Iguodala's game, but I'd rather be stabbed in the face with a soldering iron than have to rely on him to carry his team in a big game, especially in crunch time.