There are few more terrifying places in the world than the free throw stripe with the game on the line. Maybe the pitcher's mound in the 9th inning. Maybe in net for a shootout. Maybe under center at the goal line. But only at the foul line are you totally, completely, and overwhelmingly alone.
That's where Evan Turner found himself with 2.3 seconds left in the game.
With the Sixers up two points after a huge three from Louis Williams over LeBron James, Evan got fouled by James Jones going after the loose ball. Fortunately, there wasn't a time out called in order to "ice" him. He made the long walk to the foul line with the fate of the season planted firmly on his back.
For a guy with the nickname like "The Villain", he's been awfully vilified by his own fans and the media for an underwhelming rookie year in Philadelphia. Coming in as the number 2 pick and best player in college basketball, Evan was supposed to be the savior of 76ers basketball. And though professional basketball was saved in Philly, it was not done by Turner. Doug Collins came in, changed the mentality of the team, and won 14 more games than his braces-wearing predecessor. Unfortunately for Evan, he did this without much help from his prized rookie. With the 8th most win shares on the team, he was never the number one option for more than a few times down the court.
But he was the best player on the team in game two, when he had 15 points on 10 shots, including three confident three-pointers that gave Sixers fans a glimpse at what could be. And yesterday, there were a few times down the court where we all saw the potential of Evan Turner. He finished with 17 and 6 in 27 minutes, tied for Lou for team lead in points. Jumpers were falling, acrobatic leaners at the rim were going in, and he was leading the Sixers to their first playoff victory in two years. He even got a little KG on James Jones which resulted in some pushing and shoving with Thaddeus Young helping out. He's shot 15-28 for the series and could be considered for a starting job in Game Five (though I doubt it). Erik Spoelstra said "he was aggressive tonight, playing with confidence. He's a talented young player." SB Nation's Mike Prada nominated him early-entry for Most Improved Player next year. On a national stage, things were looking up.
Only then Bosh, Wade, and LeBron blocked four of his shots. Earlier in the season, his confidence would be shaken, he'd be planted on the bench for quarters at a time, and there would be no remnants of the Most Outstanding Player from a year ago. This, however, was a different story.
With the Sixers up two, 2.3 to play, and against two of the best players in our generation, the occasionally-maligned Evan Turner toed the free throw line all by his lonesome. Two makes and he'd send the Sixers to Game Five in Miami. One miss could mean overtime. Two could spell disaster. In a game against Washington when the season was still young, he missed two shots at the foul line that would have iced the game, only to have John Wall tie it and win the game in overtime.
Five months have passed since then. For all intents and purposes, ET isn't a rookie anymore. Said Elton Brand: "He’s so much more mature than the Washington game. I knew Evan would make at least one of them." Well, he made both. Though first was an icy cold swish, the second kissed some rim before dropping in for the two possession lead. Not only did it send the Wells Fargo Center into a complete frenzy, it put another notch in the mostly unadorned belt of the rookie.
If we're being honest with ourselves, the Sixers aren't going to come back to win this series. Sure it's possible, but as a young team with a growing pool of talent, this is all about learning and developing as a team. And aside from the otherworldly play of 20-year-old stud Jrue Holiday, Turner growing a pair is the biggest story for them. He's capable of becoming that scorer in the half-court that we need. He's done a pretty terrific job covering bonafide superstars in Dwyane Wade and LeBron, considering the circumstances. In a series where the Sixers have given up what seems like a million offensive rebounds, they are allowing 9% less o-boards when Evan is on the court. He will take over for Andre Iguodala and eventually lead this young core to the next level.
And though this was just a blip in the radar for the Championship contending Miami Heat team, this win means everything for Doug Collins and the fans and all the constantly maturing kids on the Sixers. Those foul shots mean the Villain has arrived. And if they haven't already, he and Jrue will be taking the reigns of this team for years to come.