This wasn’t supposed to happen. The non beloved basketball franchise that resides in the city of brotherly love was expected to bow out to the Chicago Bulls in the first round. Sure there was a chance that a game or two could be stolen by the 76ers, but no one in their right mind thought that a freefalling team who opened their parachutes just in time to make the playoffs could make any sort of run.
Looks like the Mayans might have been right about 2012.
Fate did intervene in a dirty way for Philadelphia. Injuries were bound to happen in the postseason because of the condensed schedule, but not of this magnitude. Derrick Rose’s knee appeared to be a freak occurrence at the time, but it was actually the most logical ending to his injury plagued season. Joakim Noah’s ankle injury, which made 18,000 people in the Wells Fargo Center turn away from the jumbotron, was the classic bad luck injury. Even without the ’10-’11 MVP and their best interior player the Bulls were two Andre Iguodala missed free throws away from forcing a game seven back at the United Center.
The Sixers became only the fifth team in NBA history to win as an eight seed, but an asterisk was immediately marked in ink because after all they did defeat a decimated Bulls team. Waiting for the Sixers in the second round was the farewell tour of the big three in Boston. I picked Boston to upset the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals before the postseason began for that reason. Garnett, Pierce, and Allen know that this is the end of an era, this is the last chance that they will have to win a title together, and quite possibly the last chance for any of them to win one period. (Please scroll down and read the footnote at the end of the column, it’s okay I’ll wait for you.)
(Okay welcome back.)
It’s because of that collective understanding, plus Rondo, that made it seem as though Philadelphia didn’t stand a chance in hell of winning the series. Sure they could hang with Boston for maybe six games, but this second round matchup was bound to play out like the Sixers-Heat series last year. In that series Philadelphia hung with Miami in four out of five games (they were blown out in game 2) and even won game 4 in dramatic fashion at home.
Instead of just bowing down to their superior, the Sixers have matched the Celtics blow for blow and now find themselves with amazingly a puncher’s chance to not only knock out Boston’s championship dreams, but to bring an unfulfilling end to the big three era.
It’s amazing that the unlikeliest cast of players to make a run like this either believe that they belong on the court with three first ballot hall of famers, a top ten current player in Rondo, who has only had single digit assists twice in his last 35 games (in game 6 Rondo had six dimes), or they are just totally oblivious to what they have already done and what they might do.
It’s hard to not get excited if you’re one of few diehard Sixers fans that survived the free fall that was the second half of the season. For you thinking about this type of postseason run during that awful stretch in late February to mid April was nothing more than a hallucination. On April 8th the Sixers played the Celtics for the 3rd and final time in the regular season. Philly was on an icy cold 9-17 streak and had just been blown out by the Toronto Raptors at home two days before traveling to Boston. Not surprisingly the C’s destroyed Doug Collins’ team 103-79. That loss not only put the Atlantic Division title out of the picture, but even brought making the postseason into question for Philly. This team was playing the type of disoriented basketball that reeked of dead Bobcats.
If you just jumped on the bandwagon congratulations because you missed sitting through the type of basketball that makes you wonder why you root for a team. You missed turning the television to a Kings-Bucks game just because it was close in the fourth quarter, while (insert a Sixer) melted the rims away with hot bricks again and again.
I suspect that you probably jumped on after game 3 against the Bulls when the Wells Fargo Center actually came to life for a basketball game. I was there; I couldn’t believe how the crowd sprung to life in the fourth quarter, but again it was against a team ravaged by injuries, there’s no way that they could do that against Boston.
The C’s are too experienced, they have the second best point guard in the league, they have one of the top five coaches in the league, they don’t lose at home, and they’re “supposed” to play Miami in this form one last time.
Doug Collins hasn’t bought into any of that talk. He might have been the only one on the planet who truly believed that the Sixers could come back and win a game 2 dogfight in the TD Garden after blowing a ten point fourth quarter lead in game 1. He damn sure was the only person believed that Lavoy Allen could make a difference in this series, I take that back even he was surprised at that development. He might have been the only person on the planet who believed that his team could come back from an 18 point deficit in the second half of game 4 after shooting 26.1% in the second quarter. Doug’s confidence spreads to his players during time outs, so much so that you can see players walking out the huddles thinking “Hey, we’re still in this. Let’s try to put the pressure back on them and see how they respond”. (Wired and Inside Trax might be the best addition to a sport broadcast in the last decade, it’s right up there with the first down line in football). Hell he makes me believe that I can come in after a timeout and bang a three and I haven’t played organized basketball in over a decade.
If you’re a diehard fan think back to the stretch during the free fall, when Kate Fagan wrote that the younger players were tuning out Collins. There was at least a chance that Collins could have been shown the door if his team started out 20-9 and then missed the postseason, but thankfully that scenario didn’t play out because Doug is the perfect fit for the job. He communicates to his players as not only a coach, but as a mentor. He is a man that might nitpick at small little details, but demands respect just as much as he gives it out. You can hear just how much he loves this team as he sits with his grandchildren and talks to the media after games. The combination of his passion and knowledge of the game from not only an analytical, but playing stand point is exactly what this franchise needs. Every promotional commercial for the franchise should end with a picture of Doug Collins with the Sixers “Intense.Passionate.Proud” slogan on the screen because that’s exactly what he is.
And that’s exactly what this team is. Even if the Sixers lose game seven on Saturday night, they have made their way further down the path of relevance. Something that hasn’t been done since Allen Iverson was traded to the Nuggets in 2006. Hopefully higher end free agents want to hop on the bus and join the ride (I love you Elton Brand, but Josh Smith should have been a Sixer).
The only way to win a championship in this league is with a superstar and a solid nucleus around him that features a couple very good players, except for the years in which all hell breaks loose (Pistons in ’04). Let’s take a look at the roster: Andre Iguodala (good), Lou Williams (has the chance to be very good, the front office can’t let him go), Evan Turner (if he had an even mediocre jump shot he would be in the same category as Lou Williams), Thaddeus Young (a ton of potential), Jrue Holiday (one of the best young point guards in the league). There can be a solid young nucleus in place depending on what takes place this offseason.
Surely there are veterans around the league watching this series and thinking to themselves, “I really like what I see in Philadelphia. They have good young group and a coach that I want to play for. I think that I could put some asses in the seats!” That’s what playing in the national spotlight will do for a franchise.
If the Sixers shock the world and eliminate the Celtics, please feel free to delete the word surely from the last paragraph.
Follow me on twitter @scottdargis.
1.) If they do indeed split up to three different teams next season I would put their title chances in this order: Allen, Garnett, Pierce. Ray is that perfect three point shooting threat that adds depth to a contender and he seems to be realizing that his time in the starting lineup is coming to an end. Garnett still deserves to start somewhere, but he might not come cheap enough to build around. Pierce should stay a Celtic for life, so he would still have Rondo by his side, but Danny Ainge would have to work his ass off in free agency and hit the lottery in the draft.