The Moral Victory to End All Moral Victories: Thoughts on Sixers' Game 4 Win

The Moral Victory to End All Moral Victories: Thoughts on Sixers' Game 4 Win
April 26, 2011, 8:02 am
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While leaving the Wells Fargo Center
yesterday after the Sixers' stunning 86-82 victory over the Heat, my
parents and I came to the realization that we had no idea when game five
of this series was going to be played. Probably it would be Tuesday or
Wednesday, but none of us had thought to check. After all, it seemed
irrelevant information—the Sixers were going to lose, and when or where
game five would have theoretically been played was going to be a moot
point. There didn't seem like a point in entertaining any notions to the
contrary—a win yesterday would be the most surprising W in recent
franchise history.

Looking at the first three games of the series, it might have seemed
like an overreaction to deem game four's result a foregone conclusion.
In two out of the three games, the Sixers were within striking distance
at game's end, it certainly shouldn't have been impossible to envision
Philly coming away with one of those games. But it wasn't the amount the
Heat won by that was so discouraging, it was the way that they appeared
to laze in the games, almost handicapping the Sixers to multi-digit
leads, before deciding at some point in the second quarter that eh, OK,
we'll actually win this game now. The Sixers seemed a team not in
control of their own fate, but rather one at the mercy of an opponent
that was absolutely unbeatable when they decided to give a damn.

Game four followed the predictable formula. The Sixers owned the
first quarter, up by 12 at the end, and outplayed the Heat for much of
the second quarter until all of a sudden, Miami decided that fun time
was over. The term "flip the switch" is one of the most overused in the
NBA, but there's really no other way to properly describe the
transformation the Heat underwent in that second quarter—all of a
sudden, the defense was trapping and causing turnovers, Wade couldn't
miss from anywhere on the field, and the shooters who had been bricking
open threes all half finally started to hit. The double-digit lead that
the Sixers spent 20 minutes building and maintaining disappeared in two,
and the Heat seemed to seize control of the game.

Even when the Sixers hung tough for the third and fourth, trailing
for most but never letting the score get out of hand, it was mostly
impressive that the boys looked like they were going to die on their
feet, rather than conceding the inevitable victory ahead of time. So
when Wade threw down the putback on LeBron's miss to put the Heat up six
with 90 seconds to go, I wasn't mad or upset, and I certainly wasn't
disappointed. The boys tried their absolute damnedest, they stood up to a
team that was obviously better than they were, and they were going to
lose with pride in front of a crowd that understood the task in front of
them was just a little bit beyond their grasp. LeBron and Wade—what are
you gonna do, really?

But for one day, the Sixers weren't following the script. I was
surprised enough to see Evan Turner connect on a baseline runner to cut
it to four—figured the Wade putback was spirit-crushing enough that that
would be the end of the Sixers' scoring for the night, and besides,
ET's last couple jumpers had gotten swatted away like badminton
shuttlecocks. But then a Miami miss, and Jrue Holiday dancing around the
three-point arc before squaring up for a three—swish. What the hell? Another
Miami stop, and then Lou Williams, at the top of the arc in single
coverage, pulling up for a three—the kind of three you never want anyone
to have to take, but that if someone has to take, it should probably be
a guy like Sweet Lou—which somehow, someway found twine. A missed
LeBron runner, and a couple Turner free throws, and all of a sudden the
Sixers were heading to game five in Miami, a trip that no one—not at the beginning of the day, and certainly not with 90 seconds to go—expected them to make.

"How did the Sixers win that game?" my dad would ask in
bewilderment afterwards. I had no answer. Sometimes you get lucky. The
Sixers were in many ways lucky, with the Heat missing many of the
putbacks and close-range shots that they'd killed Philly with in the
first three games, and their knockown shooters weren't exactly knocking
down many shots, with designated gunners Mike Bibby, Mario Chalmers and
James Jones going a combined 4-16 from deep, mostly on damn good looks.
And while neither could hardly be considered a desperation heave,
neither of the final shots from Jrue or Lou coud rightly be considered
good shots—just ones that were necessary due to time and circumstance,
and ones that happened to go in.

Then again, sometimes your guys just make plays. Despite the
fourth-quarter rejections, Evan had already put together another fine
game (ending with 17 points on 7-13 shooting), again playing a stellar
two-guard off the bench, catching and shooting, creating off the
dribble, penetrating unafraid. While Jrue had struggled some, shooting
just 4-11 with four TOs, he'd already proven his clutch-shooting
bonafides earlier in the series with some big threes in Game One, and
you felt good about him being the one taking such a pivotal shot. And
while Lou Will had some epic struggles in the game's first three
quarters, he came alive in the fourth (as he frequently seems to, though
still not as frequently as we'd like), the final basket just three of
his 11 final-quarter points. Even Elton Brand, who'd played solid
defense on Chris Bosh all game and abused him on the other end for 15
points on 6-11 shooting, made a huge play in tipping LeBron's final shot
so it went high off the backboard and fell off the rim. As surprising
as all the big plays were collectively, individually they were arguably
all fairly overdue.

As Kate Fagan astutely pointed out,
though, the main reason this win feels so good isn't just the
unpredictability of the whole thing—it's that it feels like the Sixers'
future is validated somewhat (and we should probably stress, only sliightly
somewhat) by the result. The way Jrue and Evan, the guys who are
supposed to give this team life for the next decade, have stepped up in
this series is immensely encouraging, and perhaps Exhibit A for the "try
for post-season" side in the perennial "try for post-season" vs. "tank
for draft picks" mediocre-team debate. It doesn't mean that Turner has
necessarily turned the corner in this league, or that Holiday will show
up next year as an all-star out of training camp, but it'd be hard to
argue that this won't be huge for either player in terms of building
confidence and gaining valuable experience for the years moving forward.
How could it not be?

Now as much as we'd like to make like this is now a series, the fact
remains that as unlikely as it was that the Sixers would win yesterday
at home, it's twice as unlikely that they'll grind out a W at game five
in Miami. The Heat will very probably close out the series on Wednesday,
making this little more than a moral victory. But as far as moral
victories go, it's hard to top this—a surprise come-from-behind win
against a bitterly detested opponent, one with contributions from nearly
everyone you'd hope for, one which prevents an embarrassing sweep and
proves that as superior as the Heat may be to the Sixers in nearly every
way, the Sixers have heart, character, and yes, even talent enough to
steal a win from them on occasion. Who's getting excited for game five?

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