John Smallwood is making a strong case for biggest a-hole in Philadelphia (Don't worry Jasner, you're still number 1). If you recall, before a game was played, Smallwood penned a column basically saying the Sixers had no chance in this series and we shouldn't get down on the team for playing so poorly in the playoffs. Well, today he has a mea culpa column
up in which he first justifies his lack of faith in the team, then goes on to say that he really should've seen this coming all along. He's gone from "The Sixers have no chance," to "I don't know if the Sixers can win." Way to go out on a limb there you flip-flopping piece of...
Anyway, enough about the local media. Let's talk some basketball. There were so many things the Sixers did right in game 3 that it's hard to keep my thoughts together. Let's break it down into bullets. Needless to say, they're going to have to try to replicate a lot of these, but more importantly, they're going to have to be a step ahead of the counters Flip Saunders comes up with. If he's really able to come up with counters, that is. Check after the jump for the meat and potatoes of game 4.
- Willie Green - Number one on this list, and number one in our hearts after his game 3 performance. Mo used Willie to bring the ball up the floor early on in game 1 and it completely confused the Pistons (and yours truly). Detroit's plan to double Andre Miller just past half court went right out the window when they saw Willie bringing it up. The most amazing stat of the night was Willie's 6 assists to only 5 shots. The second-most amazing stat was Willie's 5 shots in 23 minutes. Honestly, this was the best game I've ever seen Willie play. He was an integral part of the offense and he wasn't jacking up shots.
- Taking What They Give You - Flip Saunders hasn't changed his defense one iota in the three games so far. His theory: Shut down Iguodala at all costs. What he, and the Pistons, don't seem to realize is that the Sixers offense doesn't really need a big game from Iguodala to win. They never have. Since early February, this team has been all about point distribution. On any given night anywhere from 5 to 7 players can score in double figures. Taking one player away only means someone else is going to hurt you. The funny thing is, Tayshaun Prince is good enough to hinder Iguodala all by himself, bringing someone else to double when Prince has Iguodala is redundant, but the Pistons keep on doing it. The Sixers have either used Iguodala to draw the double, then moved the ball, or just gone to the other side of the floor, away from the extra attention. Iguodala's field goal attempts are way down, but the team is still scoring.
- A Defensive Adjustment - In games 1 and 2, the Sixers left Samuel Dalembert on an island against Rasheed Wallace, with mixed results. In game 3 they completely flipped the script. They doubled Wallace hard every time he touched the ball and they relied on their team defense to rotate to the open shooter. While they were rotating they were jumping passing lanes and getting their long arms on more balls than I could count. Detroit was slow and sloppy with their exterior passing. After the first half, the rotations were so quick the wide-open looks they were knocking down early became contested looks and misses. Put simply, the Sixers lived with Sheed scoring from the post in games 1 and 2, they lived with Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince hitting jumpers in the first half of game 3. If the ball actually reversed they were open, but most of the time the ball never got there. In the second half, the rotations were faster than the ball movement, probably because every other pass was getting tipped so they had to be more careful with their passes. This was the Sixers playing to their strengths, speed, energy and youth.
- Nice Zone - For the second game, the Pistons resorted to a zone defense for a short period of time. In game 2 it lasted one possession. The Sixers missed a jumper, Reggie Evans grabbed an offensive rebound and it turned into 2 points. In game three, it lasted two possessions, on the first Rodney Carney drained a wide-open three. On the second he had another wide-open three go halfway down before it rattled out. That was all for the zone. The positive for the Sixers here, beyond the easy points, was the fact that they weren't rattled. They saw the zone, immediately recognized it, adjusted and punished it. That's great preparation by Mo.
- Attitude - In game three, the Sixers were the ones sending Detroit players to the foul line, the floor, and the operating table, as it turned out. Hard play and hard fouls are not only expected in the playoffs, they're essential. The Sixers were the aggressors in the paint, and they played a very physical game. The shoe was on the other foot in game two. They need to keep up the intensity and they no layups defensive mindset in game 4.
- Sammy D - I don't know what got into him. I don't know what Mo, or maybe Moses Malone, said to him. I don't really care. All I know is that Sammy played inspired basketball on both ends of the floor for his entire 40 minutes in game 3. He was all over the glass, he was challenging shots left and right, and he was aggressive with the ball on offense. On one possession he backed Maxiell into the paint and finished at the tin. I've watched just about every game of Sammy's career and I've never seen him go to work like that with his back to the basket in the low post. Not once.
- Andre Miller - It didn't matter who was on him, he was playing his game. He took Chauncey Billups, one of the best defensive points in the league, right down to the box and converted on several occasions. Rip Hamilton spent the entire night being abused by whoever he was covering. Rodney Stuckey never stood a chance. Honestly, if the Pistons really want to cause the Sixers trouble, they should put Tayshaun Prince on Miller, not Iguodala. I doubt they'll realize it, though.
I'm leaving a couple of guys off this list, because they've been so consistent throughout. First of all, Reggie has just been amazing in this series in every way. He continues to elevate his offensive game, his defensive work has been extraordinary, he's owned the boards and above all, when he's on the floor he gives the Sixers a toughness and an F-YOU attitude that Detroit cannot match.
If Reggie has been the king of the intangibles, Thad Young has stepped up as Mr. Tangible. His impact in the early minutes of every game has been huge. The Sixers seem to pencil him in for 6-10 points in the first quarter every night, calling plays for him and sometimes running the offense through him for stretches. He's delivered every time. I often wonder why they go away from him later in the game, and I think if they hit a lull at any point in game 4 they should go right back to riding Thad. It's funny to say, but in the half-court offense I think I'm most comfortable with Andre Miller creating and taking shots, number two on that list is Thad Young. The 19 year-old has shown this stage doesn't bother him at all.
I will be in Philly for game 4 tonight, so no live blog here. I will, however, put a post up before I leave, please stop by and leave your comments. I'm also going to e-mail a couple of pictures from the game to a friend who will post them here.
Game one was a punch in the jaw, game two was a counter-punch, game three was a haymaker that staggered the champ. Now in game four it's time to take out their legs. It's time to work the body and leave Detroit a beaten, battered shell of it's 59-win self. 3-1 heading back to Detroit, that would be one hell of a way to start the workweek.
If you're going to the game, I'll be in section 216 row 11 with my brother, stop by.