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Sixers 1, Orlando 0

Charles Barkley during halftime of tonight's game: "The Sixers won't win a game in this series." Any wonder how Charles has lost millions gambling in Vegas?

After the jump we'll look at the rotations and talk about the perfect defensive game plan, the Sixers' secret weapon and the epic comeback that put our Sixers in the driver's seat of this first-round series.

I did something a little different with the rotations chart tonight, I added in some notes on how each unit performed while on the floor. Click the image to get the full view:

Click to enlarge
Two notable substitutions by DiLeo in this game. I'm not sure why he yanked Lou for the final three minutes of the first half in favor of Willie, but that wasn't such a huge thing. The biggest sub was obviously Donyell Marshall to start the fourth. It's mind-boggling that it takes desperation for this guy to get some burn 83 games into the season, but let's be thankful that it happened tonight. You know Donyell will be seeing the floor for the remainder of the playoffs, and that's a very good thing for this team.

DiLeo also stood fast with his "2 fouls per half" philosophy with Sam Dalembert. I thought Theo played much better in the second half than the first, but that could've had something to do with Dwight Howard spending some time in the lockerroom.

Now, let's talk about DiLeo's game plan, because it was a thing of beauty. Basically, the entire night, either Sam or Theo was on an island against Dwight Howard. Neither one did a particularly good job of stopping him, in fact, neither one could even slow him down. It didn't matter. Orlando is not designed to beat you with Dwight Howard, they're designed to beat you when you gamble to shut Howard down. 36 points, 15 rebounds and a loss. The reason they lost? How about 5/18 from three, and very, very few open looks.

The Sixers executed the defensive game plan very well. The only thing I saw as a glaring weakness tonight was how they let Courtney Lee walk into the lane about 6 times for easy layups. They need to find a better way to contain that without sucking down off the shooters. My preference would be for Lou and Miller to be able to keep a dribbler in front of them, but short of that, it has to be weak side help coming from either Sam or Theo. That will leave Howard wide-open for lobs and/or offensive rebounds, though, so if Lou and Andre could step it up a little, that would be ideal.

The second defensive key was defensive rebounding, and the Sixers did not disappoint in that area. They grabbed 30 of a potential 37 defensive boards (81.8%), a phenomenal percentage. It was truly a team effort, led by Sammy and Theo. Dalembert grabbed 7 boards in only 17 minutes of work, Theo grabbed 3 more, but more importantly, they both worked extra hard to keep a body on Howard and push him out from under the hoop whenever a shot went up. That opened up the lane for Iguodala (8 boards) and Miller (7 boards) to come back and clean up the defensive glass.

Offensively, I thought DiLeo did a much better job of attacking mismatches than usual. The Sixers didn't run a ton of pick and roll, or really many set plays, but they did make a concerted effort to get the ball to Iggy, Miller and Thad in the post. They went to Thad on consecutive plays out of timeouts to get a good look and he did very well with the possessions he got. When the Sixers got in trouble, it was because they were settling for jumpers instead of attacking these mismatches. In the second quarter, it was the bench who got complacent. In the third, it was the starters.

Andre Iguodala's game-winner was amazing, and his overall game was outstanding as well, 20 points, 8 boards, 8 assists. Two things I didn't like about his game, only two free throw attempts (missed both) and the five turnovers. Iggy hit the big shot, but he wasn't the story of the fourth quarter. That role belonged to none other than Donyell Marshall.

Coach DiLeo called on Marshall when he found his team down by 14 to start the fourth. In his 11 minutes of work, he shot 4/5 from the floor, 3/4 from three, dropped 11 points, grabbed 2 boards and played very good defense on Rashard Lewis, holding him to 1/5 from the field. It wasn't just the scoring, it wasn't just the defense, it wasn't just the way he spread the floor and opened up driving lanes, he did all of those things, but the most important part of his contribution was when he hit his shots.

  • With 9:14 to go, the Magic hit a three to push their lead back to 14 points, erasing a solid start to the quarter for the Sixers. Marshall came right back down to drain a three of his own.
  • With 4:31 to go, Rashard Lewis hit a three to put the Magic back up by 5 points. On the very next possession, Marshall hit his second three to pull the Sixers back to within 2.
  • With 2:33 to go, Hedo hit a jumper out of a timeout to put the Magic back up by 4 points. On the next possession, Marshall drove past Courtney Lee and banked in a runner to pull the Sixers back to within 2.
  • With 49 seconds to go, Dwight Howard threw one down to push Orlando's lead back to 3 points. On the ensuing possession, Marshall hit his final three of the game to tie it at 98-98.
Four times the Magic hit big shots that really could have, or should have swung the game back in their favor. Each time, Donyell answered immediately with a huge shot of his own. That was about as clutch of a quarter as I've seen from a Sixer since AI in 2001.

Two more quick notes, then I'm going to enjoy this feeling until the morning. First, Willie (17 minutes), Reggie (9 minutes), and Speights (6 minutes) all saw their roles cut significantly, so it did appear that DiLeo trimmed his rotations, somewhat. Second, as great as the fourth-quarter comeback was, I hope we don't see Thad sitting on the bench for the fourth in favor of Marshall the rest of the series. DiLeo has to go with a big lineup including Thad, they're a much better team with him on the floor.

Sleep well, Sixers fans. Tomorrow we start talking about game 2.

Player of The Game: Donyell Marshall
Team Record: 1-0
Up Next: Superman and the King of Panic, Wednesday at 7pm.