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Lucky Number Seven

It was a trap game. They got trapped. It didn't matter, they still won by 10 points, on the road. That says something about this team, possibly even more than a home win over the Spurs by 20+ points.

This was the typical script for a trap game. The Sixers let an inferior team hang around for the first half. The score was 52-50 at the break. They didn't play poorly in the first two quarters, let's just say it was uninspired. They only had 2 fast break points heading into the locker room, which is completely unacceptable.

Then, they came out in the third and exerted themselves a little bit. The lead was 10 heading into the fourth, and all seemed right in the world. It looked to me, like they relaxed. Obviously, this was when the defense got lax and the Knicks made their run. Over the opening 5:21 of the fourth quarter, the Knicks out-scored the Sixers 19-10 and pulled to within 86-85. Let's just pretend this was the Sixers team we saw for the first 30 games of the season for a second, how do you think they would've responded? Easy question, right? They would've folded. Maybe they would've kept it close, but in the end, this would've been a loss.

Now, back to the present. How did this Sixers' team respond? Over the final 6:39 of the game they:
  • Shot 9/13 from the floor (69.2%)
  • Shot 5/6 from the line ( 83.3%)
  • Held the knicks to 4/13 from the floor (30.8%)
  • Grabbed 9 rebounds (4 by Speights)
  • Outscored the Knicks 21-12
When the game was on the line, the Sixers executed, defended and, most importantly, hustled for the win. That, more than anything, is what has changed with this team over the past 8 games or so. They know how to close.

The notion of being able to close out games may seem a bit heady, and holistic, but it's actually quite simple. It's 100% about knowing your game, and having faith in that style. Teams who are in between styles, or don't have a go-to offensive set (or offensive player, in most cases), will struggle when it comes to make that one hoop you need to stop the other team's run. The Sixers have found their identity, and they know who and what to go to when they absolutely must have a hoop. The execution comes from familiarity, trust and confidence.

For this Sixers team, it isn't "who's going to take the big shot." Not anymore. It's become, "Which one of us can get the best shot." In this game, Andre Iguodala recognized a mismatch for Thad, so he fed him the ball in the post on consecutive trips down the court. Thad converted both on pretty post moves. Those plays put the game out of reach once and for all. Tomorrow, it may be Lou Will off the dribble, or Andre Miller in the post, or Iggy on an iso at the top of the floor.

That's the beauty of this team right now, and it's really why they finished 22-12 last season. Anyone on the floor can beat you, and if you try to take the ball out of someone's hands in crucial moments, they have the skill, knowledge and trust to find either the open man, or the guy with the mismatch, and that guy will get it done.

Unfortunately for all Eagles' fans everywhere, Kurt Warner brought their season to a screeching halt today. I still can't talk about it, but if you're a fan of this blog, I suppose there is a silver lining. I'm going to have more time to devote to the Sixers.

Player of The Game: Andre Iguodala (How did I go the whole recap without mentioning a 10/17 FG, 3/5 3PT, 10 rebound, 7 assist, 3 steal, 1 turnover performance?)
Team Record: 20-20
Up Next: The Mavs, 1 p.m. Monday.