Two very convincing cases were made tonight at the Wells Fargo Center. They were as follows:
1. The Sixers deserve to be taken seriously as a threat in the Eastern Conference.
2. Andre Iguodala deserves to be selected for the 2011-12 NBA All-Star Game.
We'll get to #2 in a bit, but obviously, let's concentrate first and
foremost on the more important #1. Simply put, the Sixers were awesome
tonight in their 98-82 win over the Bulls. They did everything you'd
want your basketball team to do, minus another fourth-quarter stretch
where things got a little tighter than need be. They hustled. They
executed. They took care of the ball. They shared the ball beautifully.
They hit from the outside. They scored easy baskets in the paint. They
got out on the break. They finished on the break. They got to the free-throw line. They converted at the free-throw line. No one player dominated, but they got contributions from everyone.
And they defended. Oh, lord, how they defended. Watching the game with
my roommate, we wondered why the Bulls weren't just dumping the ball
into the post, where front line Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah should've
been able to manhandle the undersized Sixers until we realized that
maybe the Sixers defense on the perimeter was just so stifling that they
were never even able to get the ball that far in. It took a world-class
penetrator (chortle) like Derrick Rose to break through, and though
Rose did do that on occasion—oh me oh my, is he a marvelous basketball
player—he didn't take over (18 points on 8-17 FG), he didn't get to the
line (1-3 FT, though he and the rest of the Bulls got jobbed on a couple
calls), and he didn't get any help from his teammates (no other starter
scored in the double digits). The Sixers racked up ten steals, and
seemed to spend the entire third quarter on the fast break.
Heroes for the Sixers were everywhere. Credit must first be given to
Lavoy Allen, turning into perhaps the most pleasantly surprising of all
the Sixers' many pleasant surprises this season. Not only did Lavoy
Allen rack up a career-high 15 points on 7-10 shooting, finishing plays
in the paint for the Sixers where there's been a seven-foot-sized
absence for the Sixers since Spencer went down, even scoring on a couple
Basketball Moves of his own, and not only did grab six boards and swipe
two steals to go with it, but he also distributed an impressive three
assists—tying a career high set Monday against Orlando. Needless to say,
big man got skills.
Jrue Holiday was another leading light for the Ballers tonight, bouncing
back from his rough game against the Magic with 17 points (8-15
shooting), five assists and just one turnover, converting some huge
layups and a game-breaking three to put the Sixers up 20 in the third
quarter. Lou Williams took some terrible shots (duh) but got himself to
the line, scoring 14 and keeping the Sixers afloat in that rocky fourth.
Thaddeus Young added 19 points and eight rebounds in what didn't even
feel like a particularly impressive game for the super-sub. And Evan
Turner, despite a rough 1-6 night shooting, still put up six rebounds,
four assists and two steals, and shut down sharpshooter (and ex-Sixer)
Kyle Korver on the perimeter after it looked like KK might have been on
the way to an Andre Miller/Willie Green-style Revenge Night game against
his old team.
But you guys know who this game was really about. The All-Star candidacy of Andre Iguodala has been a debate
among Sixers fans (and a discussion topic in the Sixers locker room)
for a few weeks now, and after tonight, I believe he's finally gonna get
there. In the Sixers' biggest game of the season, it was Andre Iguodala
and not Derrick Rose who was the most dominant player on the court—'Dre
was absolutely everywhere tonight, keying the Sixers' defensive effort
on the wings, getting two steals, grabbing nine boards, handing out four
assists and pouring in 19 points on 8-13 shooting, including 2-3 from
deep. In one stretch in the third quarter, 'Dre slammed home a
fast-break dunk, hit a step-back three and then slammed home another,
much louder fast-break dunk, whipping the WFC into a frenzy we haven't
seen since Game Four of the playoffs last year.
Look, it wasn't a perfect game from 'Dre—it never is, never has been,
never will be. He still coughed up the ball three times, split his only
two free throws, took a handful of ridiculously ill-advised shots
(though at least he hit a couple of them tonight). But if you ever
needed a demonstration of his value to the 76ers, of what he can and
does do for this team, you saw it on the floor against Chicago. There
aren't five players in the whole league that could've done all of what
'Dre did tonight, and on a team with one of the best records in the East
but no immediately obvious All-Star candidate, it will almost certainly
fall to 'Dre to get his first nomination in his eight seasons of being
one of the league's most underappreciated players. (By the way, look
back on that 2004 draft sometime. Besides Dwight Howard and maybe Josh Smith–another likely first-time AllStar this year—is there anyone you'd rather have on your team than Andre Iguodala?)
So, a hell of a win for the Sixers—"The best, if not the best, win of
the year," Zumoff adroitly put it as the Sixers pulled away in the
third. Sure, you could say that it's not a 100% on-the-level win—the
Bulls were, after all, missing two starters in Luol Deng and Rip
Hamilton—but eventually, you have to ask yourself: Who are the really
good, totally healthy teams in the East this year? Not the Bulls. Not
the Hawks. Not the Pacers. Not the Heat, until very recently. Nobody,
including the Sixers, have had all their key parts available for all (or
even most) of this season, yet it's the Sixers who are now 5-1 against
playoff-bound East teams. In the words of Mike McDermott from Rounders, if you look at your schedule and can't spot the real Eastern Conference contenders, then you are one of those Eastern Conference contenders.
Next up, then: The Miami Heat, dispensers of the only decisive Sixers
loss this season, on Friday at the Wells Fargo Center. Despite the good
feeling from this win, I still can't feel too great about facing
Miami—mostly because with the players on their team, I'm not really sure
why they should ever lose to anyone, ever—but they've already made
their point in the first two games of this tough seven-game swing. We've
still got a long way to go, but the 16-6 Sixers—just one game behind
the pace of their finals-bound 2001 season—are for real. Time to get
with this, people.