The Philadelphia 76ers had a great opportunity to steal the first game of their series with the Celtics, but were unable to capitalize. They shot out of the gates, built a first quarter lead, and proceeded to control much of the first half. Predictably, the Celtics made a number of runs, but the Sixers were able to respond each time. Their final response – a Iguodala three, followed by two Jrue Holiday free throws – just came a little too late.
There's a lot of blame to go around for this loss, but first, credit where credit is due. Kevin Garnett was a man possessed tonight. I thought I was watching The Big Ticket of 2008. Also, Rajon Rondo done messed around and got a triple double. He had seven turnovers and shot 6-15 from the floor, but played a great fourth quarter, which included the game-winning naked bootleg.
Now for the blame. I've noticed a lot of venom being spewing in Doug Collins direction for both, "going away" from Evan Turner in the second half, and playing a combination of Louis Williams, Thaddeus Young and Spencer Hawes down the stretch. Without question, Collins made some questionable decisions, but this is nothing new, and players still have to make plays.
The man who deserves the most blame is none other than the Boss, Lou Williams. He was absolutely atrocious after entering the game with three minutes remaining. In the span of two minutes he: blew a 2-on-1 fast break, turned the ball over, and took the most ill-advised three pointer I've seen all season. He self-combusted with the game on the line, but that's the thing with Lou – he has these moments and these types of games, but he also has incredible moments where he carries the team offensively. His play in the final three minutes is indefensible, but these are the blunders we've come to expect from him sometimes.
The rest of the bad: Jrue Holiday was non-existent on offense – I think he misses C.J. Watson. Elton Brand only played 15 minutes, because he was awful. Thaddeus Young was also awful. Hard-hitting analysis, I know, but there's not much to say about these three guys, other than how terrible they were. Insert the synonym of your choice.
Now that we got that out of the way, on to the good.
Andre Iguodala came out with some serious swag, following his game-winning free throws in the Bulls series. I wasn't the biggest fan of his overall shot selection, but he was feeling it, making shots early, and deferred once his shot stopped falling. His floor game was on point, as usual. The behind-the-back pass he threw to Hawes between two defenders was a thing of beauty.
Evan Turner was excellent in the first half, so Doc Rivers decided to throw Avery Bradley on him in the second. With the tenacious-defending Bradley in his jock, he was significantly less involved in half number two. He had 12 points and eight boards at half, but finished with only 16 and 10. Besides disappearing in the second half, his lone blemish in the box score was his four turnovers.
Lavoy Allen, aka Mr. 500, was great in limited time. He finished with 12 points on seven shots, six rebounds (two offensive), a block and a steal in nearly 20 minutes off the bench. He was splashing mid-range Js like his name was Sugar Bear and flashed good activity on defense and the glass.
Last but not least, Spencer Hawes. Opinions of Hawes remain supremely mixed. Some feel he's suddenly become this stud and "blossomed" in a quality starting center. I'm sorry, but that's far from true. The other side of the spectrum: there are those who think, despite his good stats, he's the worst player in the history of the NBA. Also, wrong.
Spencer finished with 15 points, eight rebounds, three assists, two blocks and steal in 34 minutes of action. He also had the second-highest +/- in the entire game, if you're into that sort of thing.
We're going to have to find a happy medium in our evaluation of Spencer Hawes. Here it is: he's not as good as his stats suggest, because he has more "negative plays" during the game than any other Sixer – plays that don't manifest in the stat sheet. I'm talking failed box outs, failure to go up strong at the basket, inability to grab rebounds in traffic, etc. However; he's not as bad as those plays suggest. He's still a good passing big man, who can step out and hit an 18-footer and stand near the basket with his hands up to block a few shots. He had a few good moments tonight – crafty post moves, shot blocks and alterations – but most of us choose to ignore the good with players we "hate" and magnify their bad moments. Same goes for players we "love", only opposite. This practice has never been more apparent than with Hawes. He's not a good basketball player, or a quality starting center in the NBA, but he's not that bad.
The best way to describe my feelings on this game is disappointed, but not surprised. My official prediction for the series was "Celtics in 5 or 6, but all the games down to the wire." Game one followed the script. I think the Sixers can compete with the Celtics – they're actually a better match-up than the Bulls – but the Celtics are far too superior in late-game situations for the Sixers to win more than a game or two.
If a couple breaks went their way, it's not totally inconceivable to think the Sixers could upset the Celtics, but one of those breaks went the other way tonight and their upset aspirations took a huge hit. Boston won't shoot 2-18 from beyond the arch again, so that's a bad sign.
Game two is Monday.