Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, not LeBron James. Superstars close games, or so the saying goes. Coaches can count on (most) of those guys to put teams away late in games. It seems like Doug Collins has finally found his closer, only it's not a player, it's a lineup.
For the past two games, Doug Collins has called upon Elton Brand, Thaddeus Young, Andre Iguodala, Evan Turner and Jrue Holiday for the most important stretch of the fourth quarter. Two games in a row, they've delivered. For years, the past couple of seasons, the fourth quarter has been Lou Williams' time to shine. He's done a great job, don't get me wrong. Lou's capable of getting hot and carrying a team's offense when the game is on the line, but it appears as though Collins has evolved along with this team's identity. Lou's circus shots and regular trips to the foul line come at a price on the other end of the floor. This team wins with defense, and that's what this lineup is all about.
You've got on-the-ball pressure at the point, great size and instincts at the two, a blanket at the three, the quickest four in the league, and the long-armed anchor at the five. This unit flies all over the floor, pressuring the ball, living in the passing lanes, switching, doubling, making it impossible for their opponents to even get into their offensive sets, let alone get a good look. That defensive pressure and unreal athleticism turns into free points in transition. That's the formula. That's the unit that's going to bring games home.
It's going to take a lot of patience and planning for Collins to be able to use this unit at the end. He needs to make sure Brand has enough gas left in the tank every night to play the final 8 minutes with a frantic energy, he's going to need to make sure Jrue and Iguodala get a little more rest early, but it's all manageable. It's imperative. Stops equal points, stops equal wins. This is the unit that gets stops. This is the unit that creates havoc. This is the unit teams can't keep up with.
Watch out for it tonight. If the game is close heading into the fourth, watch how Collins bides his time until he can unleash this unit on the Heat. If any team is capable of handling it, it's probably the Heat. This is the test. I'm envisioning the Sixers being a team that just needs the game to be close by the time they get to the 8 minute mark in the fourth. Just within reach and then they can pounce. Just like how OKC knows they've got the edge if it's close coming down the stretch because they've got Kevin Durant, Collins knows he has JTIYB in his back pocket, just waiting to unleash them.
Tonight's game tips at 7:30, the game thread will be up in the late afternoon.