Friday, May 11, 2012
At approximately 9:40 p.m. last night, a short burst of text messages came flooding through my phone.
It all started with the Sixers, down by three to the Bulls with less than two minutes left, playing some truly stupid basketball. At this point, there was no reason for the Sixers to take a three unless a wide open opportunity presented itself, and there was certainly absolutely no reason to force a three. Yet there they were, taking two horrid, unnecessary threes at absolutely innopportune times. First, it was Jrue Holiday double-clutching and forcing up a three that stood no chance with 1:39 remaining. Thankfully, Thaddeus Young was there to grab the offensive board and kick it out to Lou Williams. Only Lou immediately dribbled left as Chicago threw a double team at him, and instead of making the right play, Williams attempted a three with two guys in his face, one of them being the 7-footer Omer Asik. And no, he did not make it.
That's when the texts started to roll in:
My friend Tommy: Fuckin Lou
Me: What, you don't like an unnecessary 3 over 2 guys, 1 a 7-footer?
silver fox: I hate this team
Me: Is it wrong if I hope they lose so they git rid of guys?
silver fox: No. If you asked me in the third I woulda said yes, but after watching this I changed my mind
After a missed three by C.J. Watson, the Sixers cut it to a one-point game on a great pass by Thaddeus Young to a wide open Spencer Hawes underneath. It was immediately followed by some of the worst defense in the history of the world coming out of a Chicago timeout, with Spencer Hawes popping out and showing on a screen instead of allowing Evan Turner to fight through and get to Watson. As Hawes showed, Asik rolled to the rim, and no one picked him up, leading to an embarrasingly terrible uncontested slam, three-point lead for Chicago once more.
However, there was Thad again to save the day, driving to the hoop for a layup to make it a one-point game again with 12.8 seconds remaining.
Then, inexplicably, Jrue did not foul C.J. Watson immediately on the inbound, instead letting the Chicago point guard bleed a few seconds off the clock. I was incredulous as Jrue let Watson get away ... but it actually became a blessing in disguise. Why? Because Watson, a good free-throw shooter, inexplicably gave the ball up to Asik, an absolutely atrocious free-throw shooter, and Hawes immedately fouled him with 7 seconds left.
Asik proceeded to miss both, Andre Iguodala grabbed the rebound and then finally did something every Sixers fan alive has been begging him to do for years: he took the ball strong to the hoop. It was amazing to watch. Over the years, we've been watching Iguodala, one of the best finishers around the rim but a mediocre to poor jump shooter, instead opt for difficult fall-back jumpers and contested shots in crunch time, not go to the hoop. This time, Iguodala finally listened, got fouled and headed to the line with the chance to give the Sixers the lead and put them in position to advance to the second round for the first time since 2003.
That's when the texts started again.
Me:Iggy's gonna miss both
silver fox:I'll be stunned if he doesn't
Arkansas Fred: Misses one
Me:I was gonna say both
(Iguodala makes the first)
Arkansas Fred:No way he makes the second
(Iguodala makes second, Sixers lead 79-78)
silver fox: Wow
Then for good measure, Iguodala blocked the last-second heave, and the Sixers advance.
The texts continued.
Me: Great, same team next year
Arkansas Fred: I still can't believe he made both
Now don't get me wrong, it was great to the Sixers advance to the second round and nice to see Andre Iguodala finally come through with a signature moment. The Wells Fargo Center was rocking, and this team has given the Philadelphia faithful a reason to be excited about professional basketball again.
But now I'm terrified that this 8th-seeded team toppling the top-seeded Bulls will be misconstrued and misinterpreted by management as a sign that these current Sixers are right where everyone wants them to be. They are not. Of course it's always impressive to move on in the postseason no matter the circumstances, but let's not pretend that this No. 1 Bulls team was the same No. 1 Bulls team the Eastern Conference has grown accustomed to seeing. Reigning MVP Derrick Rose was lost for the series in game 1. Joakim Noah got injured shortly thereafter. And several other key players for the Bulls were hobbled.
Meanwhile, the Sixers were healthy, and they had to scratch and claw their way to defeating the Bulls without their best two players. Hell, in game 5, Philadelphia only scored 26 points in the entire first half, and scoring was a struggle all six games, just as it was the second half of the regular season. Even if they manage to beat the aging Boston Celtics in the next round and make the Eastern Conference Finals, it would be foolish to think this team is capable of truly competing year in and year out for a championship. More importantly, proceeding as such would be shortsighted and detrimental, putting the franchise's true contending date even frrther in the future.
I fear advancing another round could cloud management's judgment. I fear it now means Spencer Hawes will be back, and Andre Iguodala will remain. I fear that the same 76ers that we saw thrive early on only to fade and then stumble into the postseason will be brought back for another go-round. And that's not going to get the franchise any closer to a championship than any of the other moves the past decade.
Unless this team somehow miraculously goes on a run to the NBA Finals - it won't - it has to retool. Hawes should not be re-signed. Lou Williams should be allowed to walk. Andre Iguodala should be traded. And Elton Brand should be amnestied. Hand the keys to Jrue and Evan Turner full time, find out what you have in your two young backcourt players and go from there. Because as much fun as this season was at the beginning and now is once again moving on to the next round, there was not a Sixers fan alive who didn't think the same thing as I did: "Iggy's gonna miss both."
When an entire fan base is truly, supremely surpised that its team's franchise player actually made clutch free throws to win a game, you know your team is not where it needs to be. Even after last night, and for all the tremendous things Andre Iguodala does as the most underappreciated best player on his team in the NBA, the next time the game is in his hands, I and the rest of Philadelphia will be thinking the same thing: "Iggy's gonna miss."