All signs point to Thad Young returning to action tonight against the Celtics in the Sixers penultimate game of the regular season. Thad thinks he'll be good for 15-20 minutes tonight, and will also play tomorrow night in Cleveland in the finale. After the jump we'll talk about how important for the team it is that he'll be back on the floor for these two games.
Let me preface this by saying I have to believe Thad's ankle is very, very close to 100%. I don't think there's any chance the trainers and coaches would've let him back on the floor if the ankle was gimpy in those workouts yesterday.
Now, why is it important for the Sixers? Well, first we have to get one thing out of the way. If you're going to hang your head and wait for the Sixers to be swept out of the first round, you should probably stop reading right now. If that's your attitude heading in, and I'm not saying that attitude isn't warranted, then nothing I have to say from here on out is going to matter to you. If you want to talk about mismatches and possibilities, then continue on.
The Sixers will face either Boston or Orlando in the first round. Most likely, it'll be Boston, but in either case, a healthy Thad Young will be a huge advantage for the Sixers. In case you've been hiding in a cave for the past couple of months, Boston has been without their best player, Kevin Garnett, basically since the All Star break. They tried to bring him back, but his balky knee didn't cooperate. Then they said he'd back for tonight's game, then they said he'd be back for the final game of the season. Finally, they changed their timeline to having him return for the first round of the playoffs. I'd like to point you to something Kate Fagan wrote about Thad's return earlier today:
Without his full quickness and explosiveness, not to mention his limited cardiovascular capacity after a 2-week layoff, it's anyone's guess how effective Young would be tonight against the Celtics and tomorrow in the finale at Cleveland.This is a very good point. It does take a toll on your wind to sit out for a couple of weeks. Now imagine sitting out for a couple of months. Oh, and instead of being a 20 year-old kid with fresh legs, imagine you're a 32 year-old veteran and you have 42,624 NBA minutes on your odometer. Oh, and also imagine that if/when you do finally get back on the court, you're going to be tasked with guarding that 20-year old kid as he sprints up and down the court.
Now, let's say they wind up facing Orlando in the first round. Well, the Magic have injury concerns of their own, and those injuries have depleted their forward positions as well. Hedo Turkoglu sprained his ankle the other night and his status for the first round is up in the air. Their other forward, Rashard Lewis, has been slowed by knee tendinitis.
When you're an underdog heading into a series, you have to find something to latch onto, something to exploit. If Hedo is out, Orlando doesn't have a three who can even come close to Iguodala. If Lewis is gimpy, there's no way he can guard a full-speed Thad. Boston's achilles heel all season long has been turnovers, they have the third-worst turnover rate in the league. That means running opportunties, that means Thad beating Garnett down the floor with regularity, if he's healthy.
That's why it's so important that he's back on the floor the tonight (if in fact he is). These two games will be about Thad getting his legs back under him so he's full speed come playoff time. If he is, then maybe there's something we can hang our hats on in the first round. Something the team can consistently go to. Think of it this way, if Thad was out until the first round, then we'd either be seeing him for 15-20 minutes in game 1 while he built his wind back up and knocked off the rust, or we'd be seeing a winded Thad trying to play 30 minutes. This way, we get that stuff out of the way before the games really start to matter.
As for the next two games, and the lifeless collection of bodies we've called the Sixers over the past five games. Well, something Jordan said today struck a nerve. "I have a problem with people questioning this team's heart or effort. I'm not going to sit here are say that every NBA player or every NBA team wants to win, but I'm 99 percent sure the Sixers do."
You know what, Jordan's right. It's not fair to say the Sixers don't want to win. They do. But have they wanted to win more than the other team over the past five games? I don't think so. They haven't had that hunger that makes you push yourself further than the other guy. That makes you the first guy on the floor for a loose ball. That makes you want to push the ball, and force the action. That hunger has been missing for some reason and I'm hoping that Thad's return can re-light that fire in his teammates. Honestly, I think Thad hates losing more than anyone else on the team. That might be the biggest thing they've been missing.