The Sixers lost yet another heartbreaker, relinquishing a first-half lead before coming back late only to fall short 96-91 to the Chicago Bulls, who just so happened to have the best record in the NBA.
It was the Sixers' 7th loss in 9 games, an alarming streak for a team that looked so poised and mentally tough in the first half of the season. Everyone knew that as the schedule got tougher, the Sixers would come back down to earth slightly, but I don't think anyone really expected the current slide they are on. Not with the way the team had matured and progressed through the first part of the season.
The good news is that the Sixers really have been close in almost every game. They aren't getting blown out by the better teams they face. In fact, you could argue that during this current skid, the Sixers could have won 4 of those 7 losses. But last night was just another instance of the difference between the Sixers and the top teams: the Bulls leaned on Derrick Rose down the stretch, a superstar who took over and willed Chicago to victory, while the Sixers just couldn't find that go-to guy.
Rose was magnificent last night, scoring a game-high 35 points and completely taking over the game in the second half. Each and every trip down the floor, Rose had the ball in his hands, and damn near every time that meant trouble for the Sixers.
Conversely, there were Sixers, following a late comeback sparked by the tremendous play of Thaddeus Young, juggling the ball back and forth between Andre Iguodala and Lou Williams.
When the fourth quarter rolls around, Doug Collins has made it a habit of putting the ball in Williams' hands and letting he and Iguodala decide the Sixers' fate. In theory, this makes sense. Lou Will has been Philadelphia's best clutch scorer the past two seasons, a guy who is among the highest scorers in the fourth quarter this year in the entire NBA. He's hit some big shots and been the difference down the stretch in a good number of games. And Andre Iguodala, for all his clutch shooting woes, is Philadelphia's best player, a guy who has matured and developed with his shot selection the older he's gotten. So yeah, in theory it makes sense to put the ball in the hands of Williams and Iguodala, two of the senior members on the roster.
But in practice, it's actually detrimental to the team, at least in the long run, to always put the ball in those two players' hands and taking it out of the younger players' hands. For starters, Lou Will is a chucker, plain and simple. Yes, he's been a guy who has hit some big shots for this team, but his shot selection is awful. One of the worst things to ever happen to Lou is that now that he's hit a few big shots, he feels like he has to take every big shot. Here's the thing, he's not that guy. He's not Kobe or Wade or LeBron or Dirk. He's not D-Rose or Deron Williams or Kevin Durant. He's not the other-level guy who can get and make any shot on the floor. Yet he thinks he is, so he's out there to shoot, shot selection be damned. He's going to iso himself more times than not and play one-on-one, whereas the Sixers are actually at their best when the ball is moving from side to side and everyone is involved. In fact, the Sixers are actually at their worst when they iso a player and everyone else stands around. It's the opposite of the Allen Iverson era in that regard.
Then there is Iguodala, a guy who has become so synonymous with bricking clutch shots that it's becoming known as "the Iggy." That's not a good thing. It's the equivalent of "the Jimmy," in Phillies terms. Every Phillies fan alive knows what you're referring to when you say that's "a Jimmy" right there. A Jimmy is popping up the first pitch lazily for an out. Well, "the Iggy" is bricking a clutch shot that would either tie the game or win it, certainly not something any player wants to be known for, but something Andre Iguodala has earned over the years. He did it again last night, taking an absolutely horrendous three-pointer that could have tied it. It was an awful shot, one that stood no chance, because Iguodala rushed himself and fired an ill-advised shot instead of using the time he had to get or create a better one. Same old, same old.
And this brings me back to Doug Collins. It's no mystery what his logic is when he puts the ball in the hands of Williams or Iguodala at the end of games. The biggest problem is, however, that he's taking the ball out of young point guard Jrue Holiday's hands, stunting his growth, and rarely if ever putting Evan Turner, last year's number 2 overall pick, on the floor in these clutch situations. It's a clear sign that Collins doesn't trust his two youngest, most promising players, and worse, he's not giving them a chance to develop in those situations for the future. That is inexcusable to me.
Don't get me wrong, the Sixers are a competitive team that should be out there trying to win every game. But let's not fool ourselves. The Sixers are nowhere near championship-level. This current nine-game stretch has proven that, and Derrick Rose really drove that home last night. So for the betterment of the team moving forward, it would behoove Collins to put the ball in his young point guard's hands and let him decide the outcome. That's what a point guard is supposed to do, make plays at the end of the game to put his team in position to win. Jrue is now in his 3rd season. It's time to hand the reins over to him full time and let him grow, otherwise, what's the point?
The same goes for Turner. In his second year now, Turner looks a lot more like the confident, versatile player he was at Ohio State. But for whatever reason, he can't seem to get on Collins' good side. Despite playing stellar defense, rebounding with abandon and looking more confident with his shot, he never seems to be on the floor consistently, most especially in the deciding moments of the game. I just don't get it. I really don't.
If the goal for Philadelphia is to develop this young talent and ultimately decide whether or not they can become a true contender down the line, then Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner need to be the centerpieces. We all know what Andre Iguodala and Lou Williams are at this point. They are both valuable players on any roster, Iggy the do-it-all type who can defend at an elite level, Lou instant offense off the bench. But they aren't the building blocks of a potential future contender. Maybe Jrue and Evan aren't either, but they have the potential to be, otherwise they wouldn't have been drafted when they were. Now's the time to let them grow, let them spread their wings and find out what the Sixers really have in them.
For the good of the franchise, we need more Evan and Jrue, less Andre and Lou.