It was a night that from the beginning was predestined to be one that belonged to the Philadelphia 76ers and their fans. New CEO Adam Aron welcomed back on the most beloved athletes in Philadelphia history, flying in former Sixer superstar Allen Iverson to be in attendance for the Sixers' 82-75 game six victory over the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Right before tip-off Iverson's name blared through the speakers, fans screaming his name, as he handed the game ball to referee Joey Crawford. As Iverson began to hug the players on the current Sixers roster (Evan Turner's demeanor was that of a kid meeting his childhood hero, it was so cute), visibly tearing up, something inside of me said that the Sixers would win this one and a Game Seven would be just around the corner. I was always told to go with my gut instinct, and tonight was no different as the Sixers defended and attacked their way to a seven point victory.
We saw the good Sixers we all love to embrace in the first quarter as they were utilizing ball movement, getting out in transition, and most gorgeous of all, attacking the rim. The last of those efforts was lead by point guard Jrue Holiday who was in beast mode for the majority of this game. All season we wanted Jrue to stay away from the long-two and get to the bucket and tonight was the epitome of those wishes coming true. Once he got the cup a couple times in the first quarter, it looked like Holiday's confidence sky-rocketed and he felt he could take anybody to the basket, which he did.
We've seen the Sixers do well in spurts in just about every game this series, but the main worry was if they could withstand the inevitable stretch where points are near impossible to come by. Tonight's rendition came in the second quarter when the Sixers went through an 0-9 slide, giving away 4 turnovers as well (for those keeping score at home, that's 13 straight scoreless possessions). While it certainly didn't help the Sixers' chances of coming away with a win (although that would be impressive), they saw themselves down by just 3 points at the half and even that was because of a last second Mikael Pietrus triple.
More after the jump.
The second half would not be like the one we saw Monday night in Boston. Tonight, the Sixers were the aggressors and got back to what made them successful in the first quarter; attacking the basket, either finishing at the rim or dishing to the open man. While it got off to a slow start, Jrue kicked the Sixers into gear with a gorgeous take to the bucket finishing around Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett (side note: I want to talk more about the "fair-weather" comment. I don't think ESPN gave it enough coverage...). Not to be outdone, his backcourt partner-in-crime Evan Turner followed that possession up by taking the ball to the basket, drawing a defender and kicking to a Brandon Bass-like wide open Spencer Hawes for an easy deuce.
What made the third-quarter so much more significant than the actual score result was how they were able to create the margin. It wasn't like Louis Williams was hitting a bunch of his patented fadeaway long-two's with 18 seconds left on the shot clock. The Sixers recognized that the Celtic defenders couldn't keep up with them and also didn't have that overwhelming big body to the clog the lane. If there was one play from that quarter that signified the mindset, it was Andre Iguodala's ferocious dunk through traffic for the and-1 (not to mention also hitting the free throw, which is absolutely worth mentioning considering how this team shot from the line tonight). Have a looksie because this dunk will never get old.
Even though they were up just four going into the fourth and final quarter, the flow of the game just had that feel that the Sixers were going to come out on top. The Sixers looked like they had that extra step in which the Celtics were just unable to keep up with. Although Garnett was hitting his mid-range jumper to keep the Celtics alive, the Sixers kept answering with buckets of their own. And while they couldn't seemingly hit a free throw to save their lives, the Sixers buckled down when it came to the foul hitting all four of their "clutch" free throws; 2 each for Iguodala and Jrue (naturally). Those free throws sealed the deal for the Sixers as Ray Allen's depleting ankles wouldn't allow for him to hit a wide open three pointer to extend the game. Game Six officially belonged to the Sixers.
Just a couple things that weren't mentioned earlier:
- Mr. Iguodala did not play what some would consider his best game tonight. It was evident that his leg was bothering him during this game as he could not stick with Pierce went he went to his left hand. Pierce exploited Iguodala's injury (and used some acting skills) to collect 24 points on 11 shots (say what?).
- Can we give it up for Elton Brand one time, please? Sugar Bear had a little youthful vibe in him tonight to the tune of 13 points and 10 rebounds. Brand even ran solo fast break, beasted down low against 3 defenders for a dunk in the first half, and even mixed it up with KG. While I won't miss the financial quandary he puts this team in, I'll miss the effort he gives night in and night out.
- I'm not sure what the final tally was, but at one point late in the game the Sixers were outscoring the Celtics 40-16 in the paint (stat came from John Schumann).
- How gorgeous is it that Jrue and Evan are running the show out there? They each played 38+ minutes tonight.
- As a Sixer fan, I wish Game 7 started, oh, about right now. The Celtics looked like a tired bunch in that second half. They'll take full advantage of that extra day off before Game 7.
- Despite a horrendous regular season showing, the Sixers are 2-0 in the playoffs when I post the Game Thread. Dave said it on Twitter, I just have that winner mentality.
It wasn't a performance that you'd want to show at an instructional basketball camp, but the Sixers utilized an aggressive mentality on their way to force a Game 7 in Boston this upcoming Saturday night.
Them Sixers Be Crazy.
See you guys on Saturday.