Great crowd, great energy, great game plan. The Sixers played about as well as they possibly could have tonight against the Miami Heat, and the result was a 6-point loss in front of packed house. Nothing to be ashamed of as a Sixers player, or a Sixers fan, for that matter.
I'm perfectly aware that there were things the Sixers could've done better. Namely, they could've grabbed a defensive rebound or two, but there's a reason they weren't able to. They don't have a legitimate center on their roster. This isn't a new issue, it's just magnified against a team like the Heat. When you have to focus all of your energy on stopping two elite wings from penetrating, your own wings can't crash the glass and your bigs can't keep a body on the other team's bigs. To make up for their lack of a shotblocker, the Sixers have to play small, have to rotate, have to leave their men early to try to cut them off further from the hoop. That leaves guys like Ilgauskus with a clear shot at the offensive glass. What we saw tonight wasn't an effort thing, the Sixers were working their asses off on the defensive end. What we saw tonight was the ultimate result of Ed Stefanski's failure to build a legitimately competitive roster.
For a little perspective on the defense, Miami had 19 possessions in the fourth quarter. On those possessions, they scored 27 points, which is obviously horrible. When you take a closer look, though, Miami scored 10 second-chance points in the fourth on six offensive boards. The perimeter guys were doing an unbelievable job. They were forcing tough shots, they were swarming LeBron and Wade on the perimeter. Jrue was honestly unbelievable tonight, on both ends of the floor. He spent almost the entire game checking Wade, and he was even on LeBron for a stretch when Iguodala was benched in the fourth. He never blinked. The only knock you can make on Jrue's game tonight was the offensive boards Wade grabbed.
Offense wasn't the problem tonight, believe it or not. They weren't spectacular, and they had predictable dry spells, but they scratched, clawed and leaned heavily on Jrue and Brand to put points on the board. In the fourth, they scored 19 on 19 possessions, which isn't great, but it would've been enough had they been able to clean the defensive glass.
Seeing Collins yank Iguodala in the middle of the fourth quarter was surprising, but not undeserved. Iguodala was out of sorts all night on the offensive end, and he played particularly poorly in the stretch leading up to his trip to the bench. It seemed like Iguodala had no confidence in his shot, he was turning down open looks and making questionable passes that didn't do anything to set his teammates up for most of the night, then he started taking questionable shots. Maybe it was LeBron's defense, maybe it was the knee injury, but whatever the reason, he's been a non-factor on the offensive end this entire series when the team desperately needed him to produce something, anything. He did have 10 assists to only 1 turnover, but again, I think his lack of production allowed LeBron to dominate the glass. Actually, for most of the fourth quarter, Miami took LeBron off of Iguodala and put him on Jrue. Another challenge Jrue handled really well while Iguodala continued to struggle with James Jones guarding him.
I know I'm going to spend the entire summer reading "trade Iguodala" comments (I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to that), and after his performance in the first three games, there's plenty of ammunition to work with, but I don't think "Iguodala sucks," is really the takeaway from this series. I think it's more important that fans take a look at how Jrue has risen to the occasion in this series and realize that what needs to happen is a passing of the torch from Iguodala to Jrue. Whenever basketball resumes in the NBA, this needs to be Jrue Holiday's team. He's got work to do, no doubt, but he's gone toe-to-toe with the best in the game over these three games and he's come out looking very good. He's played the three biggest games of his life and he hasn't shied away from the moment one bit. We spent a year watching Jrue being marginalized, or shielded from the pressure of big moments, depending on how you view it. When next season starts, Doug Collins needs to be telling everyone that this is Jrue's team. When reporters ask him about late-game execution, Doug needs to say, "The ball's going to be in Jrue's hands. Period." That simple statement won't solve all the team's problems, not even close, but it will put the spotlight on the team's future. It will allow Iguodala to completely shift into a complimentary role and it will hopefully allow Jrue to take over as the team's unquestioned leader and best player, which is something that's going to have to happen sooner or later.
Jrue was great, but Elton Brand is your player of the game. Brand really showed up tonight. His baby jumper was falling, he came up with a ton of huge hoops and he was really the only big who was working on the defensive glass consistently. Thad, well, let's just say I'm glad Joel Anthony isn't on every team the Sixers face. He's Thad's kryptonite. I would've liked to have seen Collins come up with a wrinkle that would've allowed the Sixers to open up something else when he saw how Miami was taking away Thad's left, but it was pretty much only one-on-one coverage, so it's not like isolating him was going to open up anything for anyone else.
It was disappointing to see Turner play so little after his strong showing in game two, but getting stops was the priority tonight, and Turner wasn't exactly slowing LeBron down. He did get a couple of steals by fronting LBJ in the post, but overall he was having problems on that end. I was a baffled when Collins didn't go back to Tony Battie in the second half, I thought Battie played well and he gave a couple of hard fouls in his brief time on the floor.
Player of The Game: Brand. 21/11 on 15 shots.
Team Record: 0-2
Up Next: vs. MIA, Sunday afternoon.
I'll put together the charts tomorrow. For tonight, I'm going to sleep well. The Sixers left everything they had on the floor out there tonight, they're just fighting a nearly-impossible uphill battle with one hand tied behind their backs.