Yesterday I wrote about how these playoffs mean much more than wins and losses for the Sixers. Despite a potentially small sample size of four or five games, I believe the playoffs is where the most meaningful player evaluations occur. Now more than ever, the regular season is a joke in the NBA, with half the league coasting and the other half tanking at various points.
Every game, play, and basket is magnified in the playoffs, and if a player isn't capable of performing as expected on the big stage – for whatever reason – then his future needs to be seriously re-evaluated. With as many young and inexperienced guys as the Sixers have, this is the perfect oppurtunity for the Sixers front office, and armchair talent evaluators to find out exactly what they have in guys like Jrue Holiday, Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes, Marreese Speights, and Jodie Meeks. For some, game one was a big step in the right direction, and others will have to perform better in game two. Hit the jump for three players who's arrow is pointing up following game one.
In the most important game of his career the 20 year-old point guard finished with a near-flawless line of 19 points (on 12 shots), 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and 0 turnovers. There were some moments where Jrue looked lost defensively. He also passed up a wide open three with the game on the line, despite having the hot hand. But he's young, he's inexperienced, he's going to make mistakes. Nonetheless; what an encouraging start to Jrue's playoff legacy!
The back-to-back threes Jrue hit in the fourth to cut the lead to six, then three, paired as my favorite moment of the game – the second three especially. He caught the ball at the top of the key and drilled a ballsy three in the face of James Jones. On a team lacking a true go-to scorer/closer, Jrue has shown brief flashes throughout the season – and yesterday's game – hinting he could potentially seize the vacant role for the Sixers in the near future. Coach Collins even ran an rare isolation play for him at the end of the first quarter, resulting in a sweet lefty layup.
As it's been throughout his young career, consistency is where Holiday struggles. Will his outstanding game one performance carry over to game two, or will he revert to his reguar season numbers (9.3 points and 2.7 turnovers on 35% shooting) against the Heat? Regardless of the answer, Sixers fans have to love they saw today. Newsflash: Jrue's future still looks bright.
To a lesser extent, Jodie Meeks' play in yesterday's game should also make Sixers fans feel a little more comfortable regarding his future in Philadelphia. His job all season has been to spread the floor, take open threes without hesitation, make open threes, and not by a complete liability on defense. And all year long he's been successful, adding a completely new dimension to the Sixers normally bland half-court offense.
Normally young role players like Meeks falter when the lights shine brightest, especially in the Playoffs, on the road. Meeks did no such thing and continued doing what he's been doing all season. He finished with 9 points, two threes on three attempts, one open-court throw down on Dwyane Wade (which should have been an 'and 1'), and played respectable defense on Wade to boot.
Jodie made smart decisions, executed the game plan, and didn't look like a 'deer in headlights'. In other words, the moment never looked to big for him. A young role player who's able to maintain composure and succeed in his role during a road playoff game is a guy I want on my team.
If not for Thad's incredible final quarter where he almost single-handedly sparked a Sixers comeback with his energy, intensity, and 12 fourth quarter points, he wouldn't make this list. He's a guy who's made a living "turning garbage into gold", and simply out-working his opponents. Both those strategies become significantly less successful in the playoffs, where everybody's playing just as hard, and everyone's just as hungry.
Watching Thad do 'Thad things' during the first three quarters without success made me think to myself "He is who I thought he was, an energy guy off the bench and nothing more." Then the fourth quarter happened, during which Thad ratcheted up his energy and intensity to a level I've never seen before, a level significantly higher than any other player on the court. If there was a "50/50" loose ball, Thad was getting it. He was relentless in the paint, in the open floor, and on the offensive glass. Sixers fans have seen stretches where Thad sparks a comeback or run with his energy alone, but witnessing it occur in the fourth quarter of a playoff game was a sight to behold.
The question remains, is that type of energy sustainable? And can Thad be effective otherwise? I have serious doubts on both counts, but now's not the time to worry about that. Now is the time to bask in the incredible-ness of Thaddeus' fourth quarter, capped by this unbelievable display of athleticism.