The battle for the 6th seed in the Eastern Conference went down in the Wells Fargo Center tonight. As anticipated, the ramifications of the outcome inspired both teams to duke it out as if they were Birdie's crew and the Bombers in the championship game of the shootout (if you get that reference, I love you). Okay, maybe I embellished that comparison a bit much. Nonetheless, there was a playoff atmosphere in the building that couldn't help but get fans excited for the upcoming weeks. No the Sixers were not able to come away with a win in which they erased a 19-point third quarter deficit, but they put up an exciting effort in the fourth quarter, making for quite an enjoyable viewing experience purely as a fan.
An inability to capitalize on open shots mixed in with some poor shot selection were the downfall for the Sixers early on. Resident three-point specialist Jodie Meeks was unable to get anything going with the looks he was given. Normally I would have expected Jodie to hit these shots. He was receiving the ball in rhythm and had plenty of room in front of him more times than I can count (I've told you before, I have trouble counting).
The poor shot selection came mostly at the hands of one-legged Andre Iguodala and Spencer Hawes. Both of them had a rough time last night in Boston and decided to pack their struggles on the ferry ride home to Philly. Dre was taking far too many jumpshots, especially off the dribble. He looked hesitant at trying to get to the rim and against a Knicks team that doesn't really have an interior defensive presence. Hawes, contrarily, was getting the ball around the rim but moved far too slow on post moves to create any sort of separation. Spencer has been struggling for the past week and looks like he's come back down to earth after the impressive stretch he put together in late March.
The story on the rest of the game after the jump.
The only thing the Sixers had going in the first half was Elton Brand. It was clear the gameplan from the get-go was to feed Elton the ball in the post. Elton was cleaning house (he used Lemon Pledge!) whether it was around the rim or stroking his patented short/mid-range jumper. Brand quickly accrued 8 points and 4 rebounds in the first quarter and was the only reason the Sixers weren't down double digits.
Despite the Knicks not being able to stop Brand, the Sixers went away from him in the second quarter. A combination of unwarranted double teams and more missed open shots by the Sixers allowed the Knicks to extend the lead to 8 points at the half. Then, Carmelo Anthony happened.
I think it's safe to say that Melo went absolutely bonkers in the third quarter. With hardly any room to work, Melo was getting off the jumper he's so well known for and dropped one after another like Nicholas Sparks pumping out sappy romance novels (we're actually researching to see if they are indeed the same person). When the Knicks traded their whole team to acquire Melo, this is what they were banking on getting. The Knicks jumped out to a commanding 19-point lead and the game looked just about over at the point.
Cue Thaddeus Young and Brand's second act.
Thad was all over the place whether it was on the defensive end, on the break, down on the block, or at the foul-line extended. Thad was doing everything in his power to get these Sixers back in the game. The omnipresent Young netted 15 of his 25 within this second half stretch. Many points on efficient shooting? Sounds like the Thad I was crushing on so hard two season ago (<3). Because of his inspiring effort, the rest of the Sixers joined in on the party and finally started to defend. There was a stretch where every tipped rebound and every loose ball lead to a Sixers bucket in transition. After a lengthy absence, the Sixers offense went back to what was working so well before, the short game (golf term because the Masters start tomorrow) of one Mr. Brand. When they ask what they best way to erase a large deficit is, show a video of what Philly did tonight.
Down 1, the Sixers were on the defensive end. Meeks found a tipped ball come his way and he raced up the floor, splitting two New York defenders, and finishing with the smoothest of lay-ups one could ever witness. The Sixers successfully just recorded a 20-point swing and actually lead a game that could have easily been classified as over just a few minutes back. After a defensive stop, the Sixers had the lead and an opportunity to extend the margin. Iguodala got the ball at the wing and made the smart pass over to the widest of open Jodie in the corner. A three that most definitely would have brought the house down barely rimmed out and the game swung right back to the Knicks as Toney Douglas gave Jodie a taste of his own medicine.
Under a minute left, down 1, and 40 seconds left, the Sixers needed a big stop if they had any hopes of winning the game. Considering the Knicks currently employ Anthony, everybody and their house cat knew who was getting the ball. The injured Iguodala got up on Anthony, defended him as well as he could, but was unsuccessful in stopping the Syracuse product. Melo rose up like he's done for years and drilled a three to make it a two possession contest. Ballgame.
If the Sixers would have capitalized on the open shots the Knicks were allowing, gave the rock to Brand every time down the floor, and made smart defensive rotations within the first half, the outcome of this game would have different. Unfortunately for Sixer fans, this style only came out in the fourth quarter.
Yes this game moves the Sixers back in playoff positioning from 6 to 7 but considering the 2/3 seeds still aren't set and will be either the Celtics or Heat, the loss doesn't mean much. More importantly for the fans, however, was the excitement this fourth quarter provided. Tonight provided a nice reminder as to what playoff basketball atmospheres feel like. Get your postseason shoes and bonnets on, we're just a week and a half away.
Player of the Game: Thaddeus Young
Next Up: Friday at home against the Toronto Raptors