After stunning the Pistons on their own floor in game one, the Sixers came out flat in game two and Detroit put their stamp on the series. They were physical, they were aggressive, they executed to perfection. They came out with a clear intent to put the Sixers in their place. How will this year's game two differ from last year's?
There are plenty of parallels you can draw between game ones from each series. Last year, Mo dared the Pistons to run their offense through Sheed in the post, and left Dalembert on an island. It worked and the other four Pistons were left standing around. It killed their team offense and got the Sixers a win. This year, they did the same to Orlando, only this time Stan Van Gundy tried to keep playing his normal offense. Howard dominated, the rest of the team found that it's really much harder to shoot threes with a man in your face.
In game two, the Pistons decided they'd had enough of the upstart Sixers and they flexed their playoff muscles. They fouled hard on every Sixer drive to the hoop. They double and triple teamed Iguodala. They went back to their normal offense and punished the Sixers in the halfcourt. Basically, they called upon all the playoff experience and veteran leadership they had, and blew Philly off the floor. It didn't help that Mo Cheeks raised the white flag with about 11 minutes left in the game, either.
Now don't get me wrong, game two of this series could easily end with the same result as last year's. A twenty-point loss is not out of the question. What I don't believe, however, is that the Sixers will get bullied off the floor. If Orlando is going to regain their mid-season form and blow the Sixers' out, it will probably be because they found a way to hit 15 threes. It's not going to be because the Magic have physically asserted themselves. To be honest with you, I don't think they have the players, or maybe to be more accurate, I don't think their players have the attitude to play tough, physical playoff basketball. Their beast down low, Dwight Howard, doesn't strike me as the type of guy who's going to give a hard foul. Their PF and SF are both "soft" by NBA standards. Courtney Lee is a talented rookie, but as an eforcer, I just don't see it.
No, if anyone is going to send a physical, "No layups allowed in the playoffs," message, it's going to be the Sixers. If anyone is going to exert their physical strength, it's going to be Andre Iguodala and Andre Miller.
One other important difference from '08 to now is Tayshaun Prince. The Pistons had a guy who could do a pretty good job one-on-one with Iguodala, but they didn't even settle for that. Instead, they used Prince and a double to get the ball out of his hands. They dared anyone else on the Sixers to beat them and it was extremely effective. In game one, Orlando tried like hell to double Iguodala and make him a non-factor, all they wound up with for their effort was a near triple-double, 20 points and a game-winning jumper in their eye. Andre Iguodala is a much better offensive player right now than he was this time last year, and Hedo is no Tayshaun when it comes to guarding him.
So I do believe the Sixers will be able to avoid repeating history, and to do so, I think they need to take a page out of Detroit's book. Orlando will probably try some different things on defense, but I have to believe they remain confident in the offense they've run all season long. Tomorrow night, you have to send the message that playoff basketball is a whole different animal from the regular season. Every time Courtney Lee blows by his man, he winds up on his seat before he gets the layup off. If Hedo tries to go to the hole, he gets thrown to the floor. Dwight Howard better hope his free throw shooting in game one wasn't a fluke, because he gets hacked mercilessly whenever he has good position on the inside. The Sixers won game one using desire and superior strategy. I'd like to see them come out and show the Magic exactly how painful the rest of this series is going to be. I'd like them to push Orlando to the limit, to see if Orlando has the spine to push back.
Last year the Sixers played game two like they had the whole thing figured out. This year, they have to come out and change the script right from the opening tip. Show the Magic that they plan to be the aggressors all series long. In game ones you never know what to expect. Both teams spend some time feeling each other out, mistakes are made. The series doesn't have an identity yet. Game two is where things start to shake out for the rest of the series. The Sixers need to set the tone, let Orlando know that they're going to have to be adjusting to what the Sixers want to do the rest of the way, not vice versa. That's what Detroit did last year, no reason the Sixers can't turn the tables tomorrow night.