The Sixers will face their first actual elimination game tonight at 8pm. They've had a couple of must-wins (game 6 vs. Chicago, game 4 vs. Boston) but tonight is the first time their season will end if they don't win. To this point, they haven't lost consecutive games in the playoffs, 4-0 after losses. Boston wants to end this, the Sixers want the run to continue. Who wants it more?
This series, like most reasonably evenly-matched series, has been about moves and counter-moves by the coaches. Each game has had a theme, with mismatches exploited, monster runs and subtle adjustments made by the coaches and carried out by the players (or not carried out, as the case may be). In game five, the Celtics went big. They spent no time, to the best of my recollection, with Paul Pierce at the four. This was a direct response to Doug Collins' adjustment to use Lavoy Allen and Thad Young at PF and C when Boston went small in game four. Part of me thinks that adjustment by Rivers might've been a trump card. Right now, the Sixers don't have two viable bigs. When you cut through the minutia of boxing out, and going under screens and just get down to the naked facts, the Sixers are at a disadvantage up front against pretty much every team in the league, even with Lavoy Allen playing out of his mind. They've spent the season using their superior perimeter defense to cover for their glaring weakness, but it's always been there, waiting to be exploited.
Another part of me looks at game five and sees so many fixable problems. Doc Rivers dodged Lavoy Allen, completely. Whenever he checked in, Kevin Garnett checked out. Meaning Garnett was free to abuse Spencer Hawes for nearly the entirety of his night. Solution: Start Lavoy. Don't let Garnett get off to a quick start. Mirror Garnett's minutes with Lavoy. Turnovers. What was an incredible strength for this team throughout the season completely abandoned them in game five. Not only did they turn it over too much, they coughed it up on the simplest plays and gave Boston a ton of free points. Pacifism. When the whistled didn't go their way, they stopped attacking and started worrying more about not fouling the Celtics than playing tough defense.
The Sixers aren't outclassed in this series, not even if Rivers pulls every string to perfection. Not even if Brandon Bass and Stiemsma play out of their minds. Not even if Rondo has 20 assists. They can beat this team, and it's not like they have to play their best game ever to do it. Cut down the mistakes, remain aggressive, and push the issue. It sounds simple because it is, if you consider 48 minutes of hustle and execution simple.
Tonight more than ever, tomorrow doesn't matter. For some of these players, this might be the last time they set foot on the court in a Sixers' uniform. For some it might be the last time they go to battle with the other guys in the locker room. For all of them, there's no reason to leave anything in the tank. There's no reason to hold back. There's no such thing as discretion, only valor...or failure. You can go out there, kick some ass and head up to Boston for one more battle, or you can pack your bags, head home and wait for the front office to decide your fate over the long, cold summer. Win or lose tonight, just make sure you can hold your head high when you walk out of the WFC. While you're at it, not leaving the fans with a bad taste in their mouthes for the next five months would be a positive as well.
This is it, folks. Doug Collins needs to pull out all the stops. He can't just let things ride if they aren't working. He can't steal minutes with one of his helpless lineups. Iguodala and Jrue can and should go 40+ tonight if need be. If Lavoy picks up a couple of fouls in the first quarter, get him back in there in the second. This isn't a time the time to be conservative, this is the time to go for broke.
I'm expecting solid contributions from the bench guys tonight, and that includes Jodie Meeks. He's overdue for a game with four or five threes to break the Celtics' back. It doesn't matter how they get it done, though, just get it done. Win tonight, fight another day.
The tip is at 8pm on ESPN. Game thread will land around 6.