Friday, May 18, 2012

Time to Toughen Up

For the Sixers the time to toughen up is now. It’s not just that they lost game three that’s so disappointing, but it’s the way they lost it. They didn’t just lose, Boston beat them down. They were outplayed and outhustled for the bulk of the game; somewhat surprising from a scrappy Sixer team that has maximized their talent all season. No the 7-6 aren’t the NBA’s toughest team, but they can’t allow themselves to be bullied, especially in front of the Philadelphia faithful.

Boston is going to talk, and Boston is going to bang. That is what they do. It is no secret that they are an emotional team, spearheaded by superstar hotheads Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, who yap almost as much as they produce on court, and this attitude sets the tone for the rest of the squad. The Sixers have to not only accept this, but to overcome it. Sure for a team full of young kids it can be quite intimidating to see future first-balloter Kevin Garnett slapping himself in the head with that crazed look in his eye after a couple successful shots, but such is life in the NBA’s second season. If this Sixer squad is to take next step from low playoff seed to true contender, they must develop some of this tough skin on their own, and there is no better way to do so than not bowing down to Boston.

Philly looked overmatched in game three. They allowed too many open layups and uncontested shots, and all too often didn’t have an answer to the tenacity of KG and Pierce. The Sixers’ timidness surfaced offensively as well, as they settled for long jump shot after long jump shot. This team is at its best when players are slashing, attacking the basket, drawing fouls, and kicking out to open shooters; almost all of which was absent in the second half of game three. Instead the Sixers allowed themselves to be pushed out of the paint and consistently forced contested shots. If Philadelphia wants a shot of winning the series they must man up and alter this approach immediately. It starts with Iguadala, the team’s lone all-star and de-facto leader. He needs to push the pace early and attack the rim. Regardless of his struggles from the line, the strong play will radiate a message throughout the rest of the team.

The fact that the 76ers have won five playoff games this postseason serves as a surprise to many, but having seen what they are capable of, along with the state of the rest of the field, they should be far from satisfied. However, in order to advance the team needs to toughen up, starting tonight and given Boston a taste of their own medicine.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Sixers/Celtics Game 3 Preview

The Sixers want this series. After the disappointment that was game one, where the Sixers outperformed the much more experienced Celtic squad for the bulk of the game in Boston but ultimately still came up short, many expected the young team to come out shattered and shaken in game two, and all but give the series to the guys in green. Instead they did the exact opposite and battled Boston to the wire in a hotly contested game, overcoming a slow start, and answering Coach Collins’ plea for poise while knotting the series up at one and bringing home court advantage back to the city of Brotherly Love.

Game 3 will serve as a swing game, as whoever comes out on top will certainly snatch the momentum of the series. The first two games demonstrated that the Sixers can not only hang with Boston and its barrage of big names, but that they can beat them as well.

In order for the Sixers to be successful in game three there are a couple keys, starting with limiting the impact of the Celts’ do-it-all point guard Rajon Rondo. Rondo is a stat-stuffer, and the Celtics are at their best when Rondo is pushing the pace, penetrating, and getting everyone else on the court involved. While the Sixers won’t be able to completely stifle the all-star’s attack, getting back on defense after a made basket and limiting the amount of open looks other Celtics receive as a recipient of a Rondo pass will work to cripple the Celtics attack. Too often in the first two games Rondo would push the ball into the frontcourt before the Sixers defense was set, allowing for too many open likes for players like Avery Bradley, Brandon Bass, and of course Ray Allen. The Celtics build momentum off of such shots, as a couple in a row could completely alter the course of the game. Sixer defenders need to stay at home on shooters as much as possible, while Jrue and E.T. need to limit Rondo’s penetration and force him to take shots himself, the one glaring weakness in his game.

The next key is for Sixers’ all-star Andre Iguodala to continue to limit Paul Pierce’s point production. Pierce, the Celtics offensive anchor for the past decade plus, was held to a total of 21 points in the first two games, and Iguadala limiting his impact has been invaluable to the Sixers. Pierce, one of the League’s best wing scorers can singlehandedly keep the Celtics in a game, as a couple straight Pierce pull-ups often spell disaster for the opposition. Iggy has done an outstanding job of keeping Pierce in check, and thus not allowing the Celtics to rally around his scoring as they often do. Although an extremely difficult task, if Iguadala can continue to keep Pierce in check, the Sixers have a great shot at winning game 3, and the series itself.

Lastly, it will be up to the backup bigs, Thad Young and Levoy Allen to neutralize Kevin Garnett. KG has turned the clocks back this postseason and is playing at a level reminiscent of a younger, hungrier Garnett. His production was pivotal for the Celtics success in game 1, as it became evident that Elton Brand struggles with Garnett’s length. Game 2 saw much more of Young and Allen sticking KG, and it seemed that their combined youth and size caused him to struggle more than he did in the first game. If the duo can continue to limit his impact on the offensive end than it could certainly be a long night for the Celtics.

Offensively, the Sixers need to continue to drive and dish, as both Holiday and Turner need to assert themselves early. If they can limit the amount of contested jumpers they take, which was too high in the first two games, and continue to move the ball around, the Sixers should have a successful offensive strategy.

The importance of game three can’t be understated for this series, and since the Sixers know that they could be up 2-0 right now, expect them to come out hungry in front of their home crowd. The Sixers were undefeated at home in the Chicago series, and despite the Celtics experience, expect another win in the Wells Fargo Center tonight.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Sixers Need Game 6

Game 6 is for the series. The Sixers have the opportunity to wrap it at home in the comfort of the Wells Fargo Center, and they must make the most of it, as they certainly don’t want to have to travel back to Chicago riding a two game losing streak. Coach Collins is certainly aware of how difficult it would be do dethrone the East’s number one seed in a decisive game 7 on the road, and hopefully he expresses this urgency well to his players. A quick start is key and the Sixers need to come out of the gate swinging, as slow starts have hurt them in both games 1 and 5. The Sixers just can’t allow the Bulls to build any confidence.

The play of the starting backcourt will be extremely important for the Sixers, as they should go to Evan and Jrue early and often, allowing them to attack the paint, draw fouls on the Bulls bigs and open things up for other players. The four spot will also be critical, as Philly needs Brand and backup Levoy Allen to consistently hit the open jump shots created by guards’ penetration, as well as keeping the Bulls off of the offensive boards.

If the team is ever going to take that next step now is the time, and they know it. Expect them to come out motivated and determined and send the injury-riddled Bulls home earlier than expected, because they certainly don’t want to have to see a game 7 in Chicago.


Monday, May 7, 2012

No Brotherly Love for Iggy

For a team that is one win away from upsetting the number one seed in the Eastern Conference in the 2012 NBA playoffs, the Philadelphia 76ers have flown very far under the radar for the bulk of the season. Aside from a hot start and a stint at the top of ESPN’s power rankings, which had some people buzzing about the budding team, conversation about the Sixers on a national scale has been stifled to say the least. The lack of national attention surrounding the squad isn’t completely surprising as the team’s current lineup, void of any superstars, lacks the sexy storylines found with star-studded teams such as Miami of Los Angeles. The Sixers as a team however seem to be fine without having the spotlight shining squarely on the Wells Fargo Center, and Philadelphia loves the underdog approach.

The lack of overall attention paid to the team throughout the year is one thing, but the lack of respect paid to Andre Iguodala in this year’s Defensive Player of the Year voting is almost tragic. Iguodala finished seventh behind an aged Kevin Garnett and Tony Allen, who is very one-dimensional defensively. A case could be made for Iguodala to win the award, as he served as the defensive anchor for a top three defense, while not having the benefit of a premier post player behind him. Iguadala has the ability to defend multiple positions, and is arguably the most versatile defensive player in the League behind LeBron James, who finished above Iguadala on the list. Iggy’s ability to defend virtually anyone on the perimeter makes him invaluable to the Sixers on the defensive side of the ball. Andre held opposing small forwards to a PER of 8.7, slightly above half of the League average, while often switching to guard an opponents’ best player at another position. Although not quite as effective in those other spots, Iguodala would routinely switch onto opponent’s points, shooting guards, and even power forwards at times, meaning that he can virtually cover all four positions; an extremely rare feat in today’s athletic Association.

Not only didn’t Andre have the benefit of a menacing big looming behind him he was also flanked by two mediocre defenders on either side of him in the starting lineup in Holiday and Meeks, often leaving him alone to pick up the slack.

Tyson Chandler altered the entire landscape of the Knicks previously offensive-minded approach to the game, allowing them to compete amongst the East’s elite, and is definitely deserving of the hardware, as everyone on the list is worthy of the recognition. Unfortunately the overall lack of attention the Sixers received this season may have hurt Andre in this regard, because based on his defensive ability and overall import to his team on that end of the ball he could have easily been this year’s DPOY. While any recognition is nice, the League’s most talented perimeter defender sitting at seventh on the list isn’t justified, as Iggy’s defensive assets deserve more attention.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Turner Time

Maybe Coach Collins finally gets it. A few days ago this site ran a piece urging coach to curtail Jodie Meeks’ minutes in favor of the more talented Evan Turner; a move that seemed mandatory if the team hoped to advance further into the month of May. Despite the wishes of this site’s writers, Jodie still started in game one and saw double digit minutes (although the total was down substantially from his regular season average). Not surprisingly, Chicago steamrolled the Sixers for a game one win, and it became exceedingly clear to Philly faithful that a shakeup was necessary. So, our wish was granted, and in last night’s game two Evan Turner started his first career playoff game, and what a start it was.

Not a complete newcomer to the NBA’s postseason, Turner, currently a sophomore in the League, had a strong playoff performance last year, serving as one of the Sixers’ only bright spots in an otherwise disappointing series with Miami. He elevated his overall play, and showed a tough confidence that the team rallied around. Thus, it was no surprise to see Collins reaching for Turner when it became clear that he needed to tweak the lineup to compete in this series. The move represented the second time in as many seasons that the coaching staff has expanded Evan’s role at the most important point of the season; illustrating that they clearly have the confidence in him and believe that he gives them the best chance to win.

The coaching staff’s confidence clearly paid off, and in a game two where Jodie Meeks saw one minute of play to Turner’s forty-two, the Sixers surprised Chicago on the road with a strong second half to tie the series 1-1 and bring the momentum with them on the flight back to Philly. The Sixers second half run was largely spearheaded by Turner, who hit several big buckets down the stretch and brought some much needed toughness and tenacity to a team that can all too often be timid.

Turner’s consistently strong playoff play should serve as a signal to Coach Collins, as well as the rest of the league that he’s ready. He has done his time, two years of standing around while the starters are called has to be tough for someone who had become used to being a star throughout their career. Let us not forget, this kid was the number two pick in the NBA draft. He was the 2010 National Player of the Year, and led the Big Ten in scoring two straight seasons; kid can play. Just because he has accepted his reserved role and hasn’t gone all Demarcus Cousins on the Sixers and demanded a trade doesn’t mean he isn’t dying to prove how good he truly is, and get some of the League-wide recognition that often comes with being a top two pick.

It is largely possible that his secondary role with the Sixers and the resulting lack of exposure has created a chip on his shoulder that often comes out in his game, such as we have seen with his amped up play in the postseason. He is ready for his time to shine, and the Sixers are too. He is the team’s most well-rounded player, as he can defend multiple positions, rebound, and run the break. He is an extremely talented offensive player as well, as he is a good one-on-one player, can take guys off the dribble, and is a strong finisher. All the kid needs is a starting spot and a clearly defined role, and we could be seeing the birth of the Sixers next star, he has all of the pieces. Hopefully Collins addition of Evan into the starting lineup this postseason is representative of him being ready to embrace Turner as the future of the franchise.