This series could be over. The Sixers could have swept. At the same time, Orlando could've swept. Instead, we're tied 2-2 and even though the Magic have stolen home court advantage back, this series is far from decided.
I'm not sure how it looked at home, but in the stadium, the first half was clearly about the refs swallowing their whistles and letting Dwight Howard do whatever he wanted. Rules be damned. By my count, Howard committed 5 serious fouls in the first 24 minutes, at least. Only one of them was called. Of course, the Sixers bigs who were defending him were whistled for five. Three things kept the Sixers tied with Orlando through the first half: amazing three-point shooting, incredible defensive rebounding and Stan Van Gundy's refusal to go Howard even though the Sixers couldn't stop him and the refs were blowing the whistle whenever he was breathed on. They were lucky to get into the locker room tied 36-36.
The third quarter was the third quarter. Yet again, Orlando came out and stepped on the Sixers. Do they have huge third quarters because Van Gundy makes great adjustments and the Sixers make none? Do they have big third quarters because Dwight Howard is actually involved in the offense? Do they have huge third quarters because Willie Green is on the floor? I have no idea. None. I don't think DiLeo does either. Down 9 heading into the fourth, things weren't looking good.
And then the fourth quarter happened. It was a see-saw for the first 7 minutes. The Sixers would make inroads, the Magic would push the lead back up to double digits. Up to the five-minute mark, the lead would never grow larger than ten, the Sixers would never come closer than 5. Then, at the 5:13 mark with the Sixers trailing 77-67, with all hope seemingly lost, Thad Young came back into the game and the team went on a 14-4 run. With 22 seconds remaining, Philly came up with its fourth consecutive stop and called a timeout. They drew up a play, believe it or not. Andre Iguodala had the ball in the typical iso, 1-4 set, with Hedo on him. Only this time, instead of going at Hedo one-on-one, Sam Dalembert came up to set a screen. Orlando reacted the same way they'd reacted to this play all game long, Dwight Howard showed on the screen and went out to double Iguodala hard. This time, however, the Sixers were ready for it. Dalembert dove right to the front of the rim where Iggy found him for the dunk and the tie. Beautiful play and beautiful execution.
I've seen the post game comments from the Magic, and I think people are reading way too much into them. Basically, Orlando was saying they wanted whoever Thad was on to take the final shot. I'm not taking that as a knock on Thad, I'm taking it as a completely rational fear of Iguodala. Thad was the lesser of two evils, and they obviously wanted one of their forwards taking the shot, you know, instead of the best player on the floor. Thad gave Hedo too much room to work with, especially with the clock down to the point where he didn't really have the option of driving. Hedo hit the shot. End of game.
Those last five minutes were completely insane at the Wach. 16,400 and change were as loud as I've ever heard them. When Orlando pushed the lead back to ten, I thought it was over. Just about everyone in the stadium thought it was over. The only people who didn't were Thad Young, Andre Iguodala, Andre Miller, Lou Williams and Sam Dalembert. Those guys really showed me something tonight. More than anything, they showed me how much they've grown since this time last year. Virtually the same thing happened in game four against Detroit, except when they fell behind, they turtled up. They caved, they gave in. Tonight, they fought back, they fought all the way back. I don't know who's going to win this series, but I do know that the final three games are nowhere near a foregone conclusion. The Sixers are here to stay and I firmly believe they can take another game in Orlando.
I want to touch on two more things. The first is something that I'm sure certain people are going to misconstrue tomorrow morning. Andre Iguodala played an excellent game tonight. Excellent. People will look at his shooting line, see 4/13 and say he blew the game. What they won't see is that three of those shots came at the end of quarters, desperation threes. They won't see that on a couple of other attempts he was hammered, the whistles were silent. Say he gets one of those calls, then we're looking at 4/9 from the floor for Iggy. 9 shots is probably too few for Iguodala to take under normal circumstances, but these were far from normal circumstances. Iguodala was doubled pretty much every time he touched the ball. Instead of forcing shots against a super-aggressive double, he was keeping his dribble and picking the defense apart with his passing. There's a reason the Sixers put 6 guys in double figures, it's because Iguodala was making them pay when they doubled him. A better shooting night from Andre Miller (6/18) or Thad (6/17) and this game is probably a blowout win. Anyone who tries to pin this loss on Iguodala because he only scored 13 points is out of his or her mind.
The second point relates to an argument I saw in the game thread. I understand the argument that the Sixers should've held the ball for the final shot on the possession when they tied it up. I understand it, but I vehemently disagree. Down by two, 22 seconds left on the clock, you have to get the highest-percentage shot possible, as quickly as you can. Under no circumstances do you want to make it a hit the shot or lose situation, because you don't have to. If you take the shot and miss with 15 seconds left, you can foul to extend the game. If you take the shot with 10 seconds left, you give yourself the chance to grab an offensive rebound. There are so many different ways you can either tie the game up or win it. If you wait for the buzzer, you're not only looking at a lower-percentage shot, most-likely, but you're putting all your eggs in one basket. They called a brilliant play, they executed it perfectly. You absolutely cannot ask for better than a wide-open dunk in that situation. Hedo hit a big shot, we lost. It happens. We're talking about a guy who was 6 for his last 30 from three going back to the end of March, 20%, shooting from a couple of feet behind the line, with a man on him. Sometimes people defy the odds, I don't think you can make a valid argument against anything DiLeo did in the final 5:13 of the game, nor the game his players played on the floor (with the exception of Iggy's missed free throw, obviously.)
The one play that really infuriated me came earlier in the fourth. Rashard Lewis picked off a lazy Lou Williams pass, Lou raced down the floor and got in front of him just as he passed the foul line. He had a chance to wrap him up, take a foul, and prevent a shot from even being taken. Instead, he let Lewis go all the way to the hoop, hit the layup, and gave him a soft, touch foul for the and-one. Stupid, stupid play. This is the playoffs, when you foul someone, make sure they stay fouled, especially in a situation like that.
Finally, I think we have to take notice of Dalembert's play down the stretch, and the team's unbelievable effort on the defensive glass. Sammy came in with just over 7 minutes left in the game when Ratliff picked up his fifth foul. In the final 7 minutes, Sammy owned the defensive glass, grabbing 4 boards, and scoring 4 points, including the dunk to tie it. This is the second game in a row that his presence on the floor down the stretch paid huge dividends, I can only hope that it doesn't take foul trouble for Theo to get him off the bench in the fourth in game 5. And now the stat of the night. Orlando had 3 offensive rebounds on the game, the Sixers grabbed 33 defensive boards, that's a 91.7% defensive rebounding percentage, which is unheard of. Like I said earlier, better shooting nights from Thad and Miller and this game is a blowout.
Player of The Game: Iguodala
Series Record: 2-2
Up Next: Tuesday @ Orlando (7:30pm on NBATV boo.)
Bonus Reading: Hey, that Iguodala guy is pretty good.
If I had told you the Sixers would own the defensive glass and shoot better from three than Orlando, would you have given Orlando even a slim chance to win the game?