It's safe to say the three games played this series have been pretty one-sided; there had been a total of four lead changes and four ties. However; today's game was tied eight times, with the lead changing hands 11 times. Somewhere Marc Zumoff got to use his patented "see-saw" phrase and everybody tuned in to the Easter matinee on ABC was finally treated to a competitive Sixers-Heat game.
Besides the game two debacle every game this series has followed the same script: The Sixers come out with a ton of energy and out-hustle and out-execute the lethargic Heat. Then the Heat realize they have LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and devour the lead before halftime – evidenced by the Sixers being +26 in the first quarters this series and -48 in the second quarters. Today's game was no different. The Sixers jumped out to an early double-digit lead only to see it evaporate as soon as Miami flipped the proverbial switch, tightened their defense and completely stifled the Sixers' half-court offense. At the 9:00 mark in the second quarter the Sixers held a 16-point lead, but went into the half down one.
(Speaking of the 9:00 mark, that's when the best part of the first half occurred. James Jones caught a pass, stepped out of bounds, but still attempted to shoot it. In KG-esque fashion Evan Turner tried to block it. Jones didn't enjoy Turner's gesture too much, so he pushed him, prompting Thaddeus Young to body-bump Jones. A mini-scuffle ensued, the crowd got into it, and Evan Turner proceeded to take his anger out on LeBron James the next possession by taking him off the dribble, giving him a half-spin-shimmy, followed by a sweet fadeaway. The crowd erupted, the game thread filled with goosebumps, and it felt like Turner had finally earned his Sixers stripes. Just a fantastic sequence – one of the best this season.)
Trailing three games to none and another blown lead in the books I honestly believed this was the Sixers' swan song, but the resiliency they've shown all year showed up once again. The Heat held a five-point lead – which felt insurmountable at the time – with eight minutes remaining, and the clock ticking on the Sixers' season. At this point Louis Williams was 3-9 with six points, and a lot of angry Sixers fans calling for his head. From then on Lou made the transformation from 'bad Lou' to 'good Lou', put the Sixers offense on his back, and scored 11 points on five shots, all leading up to this sequence:
Down six with a minute and a half left, the Sixers – who hadn't been able to close games all season – faced the tough task of scoring at least six points in a minute and change, while simultaneously preventing two of the best players in the world from scoring. First, Evan Turner made a tough runner from the baseline to cut the lead to four with 1:22 remaining. Then the Heat ran the clock down to :58, when Mario Chalmers missed a three. After finally securing the rebound, the Sixers pushed the ball up court, down four, where 20-year old Jrue Holiday – playing in his first playoff series – pulled up for the ballsiest shot of his career. He drilled a transition three to cut the lead to one with :47 remaining. Once again the Heat milked clock and once again the Sixers defense stood tall. Now down two points with 24 seconds left, Coach Collins decided not to call a timeout after the Heat miss. For 14 seconds the Lou dribbled the air out of the ball while his teammates stood around and watched, and every Sixers fan peed their pants. Then the BOSS himself decided to pull up for a 28-foot contested three over Dwyane Wade ...
Regardless of what happens in game five, today's game made the whole season worth it for me. Not just because the Sixers won a playoff game in dramatic fashion, but because of the way they did it. The heart they showed down the stretch, while being down three games to none against a far superior opponent was unbelievable. Also the fact that Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner both played fairly well, were both on the floor during crunch-time, and both hit clutch shots was amazing to watch, and gave every Sixers fan a taste of what the future may look like. These guys have a combined age of 42. Both have risen to the occasion and taken their games to another level in these playoffs. Not only are they getting it done offensively, but they've each held their own defensively against Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. Think about that for a second. The fact that they figure to man the Sixers backcourt together for the next decade makes me schoolgirl-giddy.
The future of the team is number one priority in my eyes, which is why Jrue and Evan playing so well together these playoffs has me thrilled, but not to be forgotten are the team's veterans who quietly put together big-time performances. Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand and Tony Battie played their butts off today. Iguodala was hot early on, and continued to hound 'Bron and Wade defensively. Brand was drilling jumpers left and right, carrying the offense for stretches, and came up with a huge block on LeBron's game-tying attempt. And Tony Battie played an adequate center on a team desperately lacking any paint presence.
A total team win today, from the future to the veterans, all lead by the brilliant coaching of Doug Collins. Game five isn't until Wednesday, so until then celebrate Sixers fans. This is by far the best game the franchise has seen since Iverson left.