The first half of tonight's game played out like many others over the last half of the season, minus Jrue Holiday's offensive explosion. The Sixers scored enough points to stay in the game, but their defense was extremely porous and not being able to get stops led to an eight-point halftime deficit. The second half, though, was reminiscent of the ball these guys played during their 20-9 start. Add it up, and you get a blowout win on the road in the playoffs. (game capsule).
Here's your rotation chart. Note how they closed the first half, then how they opened the third quarter. Night and day:
Don't get too high, don't get too low. That has to be your approach to the playoffs or you'll go crazy. Tonight, it's kind of hard to stay on that even keel, mostly because of how the Sixers won. The formula from earlier in the season was back, with a twist. The Sixers used a crushing third quarter run to make whatever the Bulls were trying to do completely irrelevant, much like they did over the first 29 games. The difference, tonight, was how they operated on the offensive end of the floor.
Jrue was magnificent tonight. He had a really nice pace to his game, he was using his dribble to free himself and set up his teammates. His jumper was deadly, and his defense was superb. Possibly his best game as a pro. If he can come close to approaching that level, well, let's not jinx it. He was great and his offense in the first half kept them within reach so the big run in the third wasn't just a comeback, it was a burial.
Beyond Jrue, though, we saw something from Doug Collins that has really been a rarity. He allowed the Sixers to attack mismatches, and he kept attacking them. I heard a lot about how Turner was playing the point tonight, but that's not accurate at all. He was the shooting guard, Jrue was the point, on the offensive end. But on the defensive end, Turner was checking CJ Watson. That cross-match gave the Sixers an advantage on the offensive end if they could push the ball, which they tried to do as much as possible. When Watson was stuck on Turner on the other end, the Sixers got the ball to ET and let him go to work, either getting his own shot, or using his size to get in the lane and find someone else. Later in the game, Turner took Rip Hamilton into the post, and drove on Korver. ET finished with 19 points on 15 shots, 7 boards and 6 dimes in 42 minutes. The Jrue, Turner, Iguodala trio allowed the Sixers to make this game about the perimeter players instead of the Bulls tremendous advantage on the inside, and their size on the perimeter created mismatches with regularity throughout the game. That should be sustainable.
Speaking of the Sixer bigs, is not abundantly clear to everyone that they're a much better team with Lavoy on the floor than Hawes? Tonight, I don't think the Sixers ran that maddening handoff play with Hawes 20 feet away from the hoop more than twice, and it wasn't missed at all. Lavoy battled for boards, battled for position, blocked and challenged some shots and even chipped in some scoring off plays made by the perimeter guys. Boxing guys out and finishing easy looks created by the guards doesn't sound like rocket science, but it's something Spencer Hawes refuses to do. Lavoy needs to get the bulk of the minutes at the five, especially against the Bulls.
Something happened late in the game tonight, and it's really going to be a key going forward. With the Sixers swarming everything on both ends of the floor, Thibodeau went with a small lineup. He inserted Ronnie Brewer at the four in the hopes that he could give them enough athleticism to stick with the Sixers. Think about that for a second, with their energy and hustle, the Sixers forced the Bulls to go away from their unbelievable advantage in the front court. They forced Thibs to go to a lineup that actually gave the Sixers a size advantage. The battle should be won when he's forced to do that.
One final thing I want to mention. The Sixers really made great adjustments on the defensive end, both from game 1 to game 2, as well as within this game. First, they absolutely smothered the play the Bulls killed them on in game 1 with Rip Hamilton and Kyle Korver coming over a series of screens. They trapped the hell out of them on the catch and Jrue especially did an excellent job of fighting through those screens and keeping contact with the cutter. The other adjustment was to the pick-and-roll with Lucas in the game. Lucas was killing the Sixers in the first half, when he came back in the third, the Sixers had an answer: Thad Young. One particular play stick in my mind. Lucas first called for a screen from Taj Gibson. Gibson set the screen and Thad bounced out with a trap that chased Lucas almost back to half court. Lucas kept his dribble, then motioned for Gibson to cycle through to the weak side and the other big to come up and set the screen so he could work on Lavoy Allen. That called out a switch among the bigs on the fly so he'd remain the defensive big in the play, then he blew it up with a hard trap again. There was no corner for Lucas to turn, no lane for him to penetrate. It was the polar opposite of their defense on him in the first half. Great, great adjustment.
Player of The Game: Jrue Holiday. 26 points on 15 shots. 6 assists, 0 turnovers. Turner was a candidate, as was Lavoy. Lou was instrumental in putting the game out of reach with an offensive explosion in the fourth quarter.
Up Next: vs. CHI, Friday night.