Paired with the soft schedule, the biggest knock on the Philadelphia 76ers was the fact that they have yet to win a close game this season. In games decided by seven points are less they were 1-4, and they're only "close" win was against the Magic – a game where they led by 16 late in the fourth quarter.
Unfortunately, the Sixers found themselves trailing the Los Angeles Lakers by a score of 86-81 with 3:47 remaining in the fourth, and to make matters worse, the game was set up for man who many believe to be the NBA's best "closer", Kobe Bryant, to indeed, "close" the game.
The Sixers inability to win close games is usually attributed to the lack of "a closer" or a "go-to guy". Along with the fact that the Black Mamba was lurking, this game had loss written all over it. Then Boss happened.
The much-maligned sixth man with a high usage rate and reputation for taking – and making – bad shots has seen his share of late game possessions for the Sixers. As you may remember, Lou's game-winning three during the 2011 Playoffs accounted for the lone Sixers victory against the Miami Heat. Like Jrue Holiday and Andre Iguodala, Williams periodically gets his turn to play the role of "closer" for the Sixers' closer-by-committee, and while Kobe still wears the crown for "best closer", there was only one real "closer" on the floor tonight, and that was Louis Williams.
It began with a three pointer to cut the Lakers' five-point lead to two with 3:47 remaining and ended with the Boss calmly nailing the game-clinching free throws with 10 seconds left as vivacious "Beat LA" chants echoed throughout the Wells Fargo Center. The Boss scored 14 fourth quarter points in all, including 12 of the Sixers' final 14. In the final 3:47 he was 4-5, 2-3 from three and 2-2 from the line. Kobe Bryant, for the record, was 1-7 with two points and a turnover during that stretch.
What's even more shocking than Lou out-dueling Kobe down the stretch is, the Sixers won a game where they allowed an obscene 21 offensive rebounds and were out-rebounded in total, 55 to 30. Normally when a team is out-rebounded by 25 in the NBA, they're blown out, plain and simple (the last time the Sixers won when out-rebounded by 25 was 1994), but eight timely threes and a brilliant 27:4 assist-to-turnover ratio allowed the Sixers to stay within striking distance for Williams.
To recap: in the last eight days the Sixers have answered just about every question anyone had about their legitimacy. They're 4-1 with wins dominant wins over the Magic, Bulls and Hawks (on the road + short rest), and now they've finally won a close game, against the league's most frightening "closer", in comeback fashion, nonetheless.
Make the jump for a few more observations.
- Despite more than a few Lakers fans, a faint ovation for Kobe as he passed Shaq for fifth on the all-time scoring list, and a moment where the crowd chanted for "De-fense" while the Sixers were on offense, tonight's crowd was the best I've seen slash heard during a Sixers game in a long, long time (observed from TV, mind you). The "Beat LA" chants were amazing and the place was going absolutely berserk during Boss time. Plus, this guy helped Kobe find his way down the court when he appeared lost. Official attendence was 20,064.
- Spencer Hawes was bad – really bad. I know Andrew Bynum is a load and Spencer is coming off various injuries so I'll be gentle, but he served no purpose on defense whatsoever. If a rebound came anywhere near Bynum he easily corralled it and crushed the ball on Hawes' skull a few times. Hawes couldn't box out, rebound, defend, prevent Bynum from getting positioning or offensive rebound. He played 32 minutes and grabbed 3 defensive rebounds. He also took 10 shots to get his eight points. That cannot happen from your starting center.
- Although Lavoy Allen only played 14 minutes I thought he was easily the Sixers' best big man tonight. He had the same amount of defensive rebounds as Hawes in 18 less minutes, passed the ball beautifully out of the post and knocked down a few shots. He also played better post D than Hawes. I'm not sure why he didn't play more.
- Jrue Holiday finished with 13 points, 6 assists, 3 steals, 3 rebounds and only one turnover – at first glance, a very good stat line – but his long twos, lack of free throws and penetration absolutely kill the Sixers' offense sometimes. By my count he got into the lane twice – one lay-up and one pass to Iguodala for three – and had no free throws. I know Bynum clogs the lane, but Derek Fisher was guarding Jrue. He has to attack more. I cannot emphasize this enough. Without attacking consistently Jrue's offensive potential is severely limited. And the frustrating part is it's not a matter of ability – it's a matter of settling. As far as I'm concerned, he's regressed offensively.
- Meeks, Iguodala, Young, Turnver and Vucevic all get lumped together because they either played a typical game and/or didn't affect the game tremendously. Meeks hit three threes which is always huge, especially at home. Iguodala was pretty quiet, but played solid defense on Kobe in the second half. Kobe had 24 in the first but only four in the second. Thad was Thad. Turner was Turner – he had a few nice dribble-hesitation moves, as always. Vucevic had a lot of trouble with Bynum and Gasol, but played better than Hawes, in my opinion.