Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Turning Point: Iggy Missed Both

For the Sixers to realistically hav a shot at advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals, they really needed to win game 5 on Boston's home floor. Having to win back-to-back games, with one of them being a game 7 in Boston, is just too much to ask of a young, offensively challenged team like Philadelphia.

Last night, the Sixers had a tremendous opportunity to take game 5. They came out and played arguably their most impressive offensive first half of the playoffs, posting 50 points after 2 quarters and taking a three-point lead into the half. Ironically, it was Elton Brand, the same guy I buried yesterday, leading the way.

Again behind Brand, the Sixers came out in the third and extended their lead. Minutes later, Andre Iguodala swiped the ball and broke the other way. Paul Pierce reached out and grabbed Iggy to prevent a momentum-building breakaway dunk and was called for a clear-path foul. Up stepped Iguodala to the line with the chance to give the Sixers a 6-point lead and the ball. It was an opportunity for the Sixers to go ahead by 8 or 9 ponts and take further control of the game. It was the type of moment that can really swing the game one direction or the other, a big moment for the Sixers to exert themselves.

Instead of doing that, Iggy missed both freebies. Then Spencer Hawes turned the ball over on the ensuing possession, and the wheels came completely off. Moments later, the Celtics took the lead and never looked back, ultimately blowing out the Sixers for an emphatic 101-85 victory to take a 3-2 series lead.

Following that huge missed opportunity, the Sixers' offense reverted back to its painful form, settling for contested jump shots and becoming a mess with turnovers. The Celtics suffocated Philadelphia on the defensive end, then went to work offensively. Rondo was magnificent, Garnett dominant once again and Brandon Bass of all people was carrying the scoring load. Boston saw a young, inexperienced team in a moment of weakness and made sure to strike while the iron was hot. And it all started with those missed free throws by Andre Iguodala.

Look at the play-by-play, and it tells the same story. Following that dreadful sequence, the Celtics went on a 10-run to take a 6-point lead, a lead that would only grow as the game went on. Doug Collins even brought it up during a timeout, as TNT showed us him telling his team they had the ball with a lead and chance to extend that lead with the clear path foul and let it slip away. That was the pivotal sequence of the game, the moment that truly determined which way this one was going. Andre Iguodala and his Sixers failed. The Celtics, with their Hall of Fame roster and mountain of experience, took the reins and then stomped out Philadelphia.

Now, I'm not going to go out and kill Andre Iguodala for this. Truthfully, the man has hit more clutch shots this postseason than he ever has, and he's only increased his trade value. I will admit that I cannot understand how in the hell the guy has progressively gotten worse at the free throw line, going from a career-best 82 percent free-throw shooting in his third season (after shooting 74.3 percent and 75.4 percent in his first two seasons) to 72.1 percent, 72.4 precent, 73.3 percent, 69.3 percent and finally a career-low 61.7 percent this season. It seems counterintuive that a player would get worse in that area, yet here we are.

Still, while the sequence that included the missed clear-path free throws and ensuing turnover was the turning point, it's an indictment on the whole team how this game spiraled out of control. The best players for the Sixers last night were arguably Elton Brand and Lavoy Allen, and let's face it, if those two guys are your best players on any given night, your team is in trouble.

No matter how many times this team surprises me with a huge comeback or a resilient effort, no matter how far this Sixers team goes in the playoffs, I can't help but see a completely flawed roster. Spencer Hawes is too soft to be worth the trouble on a team in flux. Iguodala needs to be traded so his talents can be utilized appropriately on a team that needs a great defender and very nice all-around player, not a star. Elton Brand is on his last legs and should be amnestied so he can ride out his twilight somewhere else. Lou Williams is a great spark plug, but he's not what this team needs.

It needs a superstar. It needs to find out if Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner will ever be able to take the next step and be cornerstones of the franchise. It needs to get Thaddeus Young on the court more. Did I mention it needs a superstar? The Sixers won't get any of those things if they continue to be a mediocre team with a flawed roster devoid of a go-to guy, a game-changer. They just won't.

The Sixers aren't a team ready to take on those pivotal moments and own them. They had the opportunity last night, a huge opportunity to get within one victory of the Eastern Conference Finals. But they couldn't do it because this team just isn't quite good enough to do it. After all, they are an 8 seed that got extremely fortunate with the injuries to Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, an 8 seed that backed its way into the playoffs. Let us, and more importantly let the Sixers ownership not forget that, while enjoying this surprising ride for what it is.

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