Apr 23, 2012; Newark, NJ, USA; Philadelphia 76ers shooting guard Evan Turner (12) during the first half against the New Jersey Nets at the Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Jim O'Connor-US PRESSWIRE
That golf clap you heard throughout southeastern Pennsylvania was the reaction most Sixers fans had when their favorite team clinched a spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs by virtue of their 105-87 victory over the team (currently) residing in Newark that remotely resembles an NBA team.
With the win -- which was somewhat in doubt until Thaddeus Young scored 10 points in the third quarter to push a 1 point lead 8 by the end of the quarter -- secured the Sixers not only a spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs but also their first winning season since the Jim O'Brien led club of 2004-2005 went 43-39.
With both Chicago and Miami idle, the seeding at the top of the East has yet to be finalized, although Chicago is up 2 games with 2 remaining. The Sixers entered into a tie with the idle Knicks for the 7th seed, but due to the Knicks owning the tie breaker between the two teams the Sixers currently occupy the 8th seed. The Sixers will end the season on the road against Milwaukee and Detroit, neither of whom have anything to play for, while the Knicks will end the season at home against the Clippers and on the road against Charlotte.
About the game
Overall, the Sixers played a relatively complete game, getting contributions from across the board. 6 players scored in double figures, with 3 (Thaddeus Young, Elton Brand, and Jrue Holiday) tied for the team lead at 15 points each. Young scored all 15 of his points in the second half, including 10 during a third quarter sprint that helped the Sixers extend a 1 point lead to 8 by the end of the quarter. Young hadn't even taken a shot during a lethargic first half.
Iguodala played the best overall game, grabbing 7 rebounds and 9 assists in addition to his 14 points, and Jrue Holiday finished the game off strong with a couple of tough jump shots and a beautiful setup of Brand.
Outside of Young, it was Evan Turner who was the catalyst in the third, after the Nets trimmed the 10 point half-time deficit down to 1. Turner finished with 13 points on 6-8 shooting to go along with 5 rebounds and 4 assists.
There's not a whole lot you can take out of a game where the opposition started Sundiata Gains and Jordan Williams, but the Sixers were able to win their third straight game. Iguodala and Holiday have picked of their games of late, with Iguodala averaging 16.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 5.3 assists in his last 6 and Holiday averaging 16.8 points and 5.5 assists over that stretch.
Turner has picked up his play as well, scoring 10 points on 54.2% from the field to go along with 5.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game in only 23 minutes per night. Jodie Meeks, the starter, has averaged 4.8 points, 1.9 rebounds, and 0.5 assists in 24.5 minutes per game on only 26.7% shooting, 11.1% from three, over that stretch. Meeks has struggled mightily since returning to the starting lineup, scoring just 5.1 points in just under 25 minutes, while shooting 28.3% from the field and 11.1% from three, making only 2 three's during that 8 game span.
Rest for Iguodala and Brand
Doug Collins announced after the game that he is going to rest Elton Brand and Andre Iguodala for sure, and probably Louis Williams as well. This is especially important for Iguodala, who was limping through the end of the game after hitting his leg.
Resting Iguodala and Brand will, of course, help the Sixers lose, something that would be good if they want to avoid the Miami Heat in the first round. The team will never admit to dodging an opponent, but it makes no sense to play veterans who need rest in order to secure a series against a team who beat you by a combined 53 points on their way to a 4-0 regular season record.
What does it mean?
You'll probably see a lot of quotes in the coming days about how much this valuable playoff experience will mean for the Sixers young nucleus. Needless to say, us here at Liberty Ballers disagree with that assessment. We'll talk more about that in the coming days.
Chance to evaluate
With Brand, Iguodala and possibly Williams missing considerable time, it will give the Sixers more chance to evaluate their young group. Again, many will focus on guys like Nikola Vucevic, Lavoy Allen, and even Sam Young, and for Vucevic and Allen they'll likely see a role in the postseason, so this is warranted. But the focus for me will still be on Turner and Holiday, particularly since it seems like those two should start together for the remainder (RE: 2 games) of the regular season, unless Doug wants a glue guy like Sam Young getting the nod over Turner.
Quote of the night
Evan Turner: "I think the most important thing is coach Collins may be able to sleep tonight, and that will lead to a peaceful atmosphere"— Derek Bodner (@derekbodner) April 24, 2012
Player of the game: Thaddeus Young, solely for that stretch in the 3rd.
Next up: Wednesday, PM @ Milwaukee in what has become a meaningless game.