The Philadelphia 76ers overcame a 13-point fourth quarter deficit on Friday, to win the third game of their first round Playoff match-up with the Chicago Bulls, and now lead the best-of-seven series, two games to one.
Despite the NBA's best team missing their franchise player and reigning MVP, Derrick Rose, back-to-back Playoff victories over the Bulls have Sixers fans all kinds of fired up. The excitement goes beyond wins and losses – it's how they're winning and, more importantly, who they're winning with.
Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner – the 21 and 23 year-old backcourt mates – were supposed to be the foundation of the Sixers franchise for years to come – a core to build around. But for a multitude of reasons – inconsistent playing time, undefined roles, questionable coaching – both players failed to evolve as overall players during the 2011-12 season, which had many questioning the future of both guards.
How quickly things can change.
For the second consecutive post-season both players have taken their games to another level, and they're beginning to show what they're capable of doing as this team's starting backcourt.
On Friday, they followed up their game two performance – where they combined for 45 points on 30 shots, 9 rebounds and 12 assists – with another stellar performance, to the tune of 33 points on 22 shots, 15 rebounds and 7 assists. It wasn't always pretty, but the two impacted the game beyond the box score. Outside of the typical Louis Williams get-hot-make-difficult-shots run in the first half and the most inexplicable offensive explosion you'll ever see, from Spencer Hawes in the fourth quarter, Jrue and Evan were the only Sixers who appeared to have a pulse, offensively. The best part: not only did they play huge roles in the comeback, they ultimately iced the game – something that's been difficult for the Sixers all year long. In the final five minutes Jrue Holiday had 5 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists; Evan Turner had 4 points and 3 rebounds – including the play of the game.
John Lucas III made a three-pointer to cut the Sixers lead to one point with 43 seconds remaining. The regular season Sixers – the team who lost 16 of 21 games decided by five points or less – would have crumbled and found a way to lose this game. Evan Turner wasn't going to let that happen tonight. The Villain took the ball to the basket, was blocked by Luol Deng on his first attempt, only to fight off a crowd of Bulls for the loose ball, corral it, draw a foul on Omer Asik and calmly sink both free throws. The lead was expanded to three and the entire building breathed a collective sigh of a relief. Turner's play regained the momentum Lucas's three temporarily gave the Bulls, and all but ended the game.
A point that I made on Twitter, and still believe to be true: for the first time ever, the Sixers feel like Jrue Holiday AND Evan Turner's team. There's been time throughout Jrue's career where it seemed like the reigns were "his". There was a stretch in March this season where Evan Turner had a week-long coming out party and I thought the team was "his". But never has there been a game, or games, where both players played well in expanded roles. This wasn't Andre Iguodala leading the Sixers to a victory, nor Elton Brand, Lou Williams, or the rest of the Night Shift. This was clearly Jrue AND Evan's team, which has me excited to no end.
Now for the bad.
The Sixers have won two games this series, in exciting fashion, but in all reality, they've only played two or three good quarters. The first 40 minutes of action tonight was down-right awful. From the non-existent, hobbled Andre Iguodala, to the extremely old-looking Elton Brand, to possibly the weakest-finishing center in the League, Spencer Hawes, the Sixers' play was vomit-inducing. The same goes for game two; they were down eight to the Rose-less Bulls at halftime, prior to the third quarter explosion.
Because of Andre Iguodala's bum Achillies Tendon, the Sixers have a built-in excuse for tonight's 40 minute poopsicle. Despite the emergence of Jrue and Evan, Andre is still the best player on this team, and he played a huge role in the Sixers' magnificent third quarter in game two. Tonight, he was basically running around on one leg.
Last but not least, Spencer Hawes. How the heck does the team's leading scorer hardly get mentioned until the 800th word of the recap? Well, despite the huge stretch Hawes played in the fourth – when he looked like the January version of Hawes, aka Wight Howard, Spence's play was atrocious and detrimental to the team. He was consistently pushed around on both ends of the floor by Chicago's bigs and couldn't finish a lay-up to save his life. Almost 12 hours later, I'm still not sure how Hawes finished with 21 and 9, but he didn't play nearly as well as his stat-line suggests. Nonetheless, the Sixers don't win this game without Hawes' scoring in the fourth. So, thanks?
I'll go bullet points for the rest since this is getting a bit wordy.
- Thaddeus Young deserves a huge pat on the back for his play. He finished with 11 boards, including four on the offensive glass. He did usual 'Thaddeus Young things' – non-stop hustle and hard work, and chipped in a few impactful plays on the glass.
- Joakim Noah was on crutches after the game after suffering a nasty-looking ankle sprain. I'd be shocked if he suited up in game four. That means the Sixers will be playing the Bulls minus Rose and Noah. There's no reason they shouldn't win the game, and probably the series. I think they have to be considered the favorites now.
- The Sixers still aren't a good basketball team; they've been fortunate enough to string together a good stretch here and there, but haven't played a great series, by any means. They've also been unbelievably lucky with the Bulls injuries.
- A few good games/quarters from Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner doesn't make up for an entire season of disappointment, but it's a step in the right direction. I feel better about them going forward, than I did two weeks ago.
Game four is scheduled for Sunday, on ABC. Check out Blog a Bull for some depressed and angry Bulls fans. I'll let Evan Turner have the final word here: