It was a battle of which weird trend from this series would prevail—the
trend of every team that wins the first quarter losing the game, or
every team that won the game before losing the game. The Sixers won the
first quarter but lost the night before, and it was the latter that
ended up being the more relevant random signifier as they held on for
another strange, low-scoring victory in this game to force a Game Seven.
Yes, this Sixers team—the one that many of us hoped would fall out of
the playoffs entirely to earn a couple-spots-higher draft pick—is now
one victory short of the Eastern Conference Finals. WHATTA PLAYOFFS.
The Sixers played a lot better in this one, and we'll talk about some of
the good Sixer performances, but really, Philly was able to win this
game because of three things, all Boston-related: Brandon Bass couldn't
make a shot, Ray Allen is off his game, and Rajon Rondo is a weird dude.
The first two are easily explained—Bass had probably the best game he's
ever going to have in the playoffs in Game Five, scoring 18 points in
the third quarter, and was probably due for a clunker like this.
Meanwhile, Allen has been dealing with injury the entire playoffs, and
while his 4-11 line isn't awful, he missed a couple key good looks
(including a three with a minute to go) that you feel like Ray Allen at
100% hits at least 90% of the time.
Rondo, though...man. You get why rooting for this guy can be so
frustrating an experience, because his talent is so blinding that like
few players short of LeBron James, when he's on his game, you wonder how
you can ever beat him. But when he's not engaged, which seems to happen
every now and then for no particular reason, you get games like
tonight, where he refuses to attack the basket, misses jumpers and free
throws, and makes careless turnovers (like the one in the final minutes
where he lost an easy rebound out of bounds), without even seeming to
care all that much. Dude's an enigma for sure, but he generally has way
more games like Game Five than like the one he had tonight, and you'd
expect him to bounce back for Game Seven on Saturday. This was certainly
an opportune time for him to have a stinker, though, and we'll take
what we can get.
The Sixers' own point guard was easily the superior of the two
tonight. Jrue Holiday's distributing numbers were solid, six assists to
two turnovers, but it was scoring the ball where he really excelled,
taking the ball to the basket seemingly whenever the Sixers needed a
basket, and hitting more often than not, finishing with 20 points on
7-15 shooting—a Herculean offensive performance by Sixers post-season
standards. Evan Turner had a pretty good game himself, with 12 points
and nine boards on 5-11 shooting (though geez, Evan, hit some damn free
throws), and Sour Patch Lou again balanced his frustrating shot
selection (11 points on 5-13 shooting) with surprisingly good passing,
matching Holiday's six dimes and two assists.
If not for Holiday, the MVP tonight would surely be Elton Brand. "Rough"
barely begins to describe the post-season that Brand's had so far,
where he's been so vulnerable on both ends that he hasn't even been able
to stay on the court for more than 20 minutes in most games this
series, but he's come through the last two games, not only scoring 13
points (including a huge jumper with less than two minutes to go)
and grabbing ten boards but playing that hard-nosed, body-up defense on
Kevin Garnett that's been lacking for Philly all series. (KG still got
his 20, but needed that many shots to get there, a definite positive
development for the Sixers.)
Ultimately, the Sixers won this game because they were the steadier,
more solid team, which is certainly a different look for the team that
absolutely fell apart in the second halves of Games Three and Five. They
got out-rebounded 48-37, and they missed a staggering 11 (!!) free
throws as a team, but they only turned the ball over 12 teams, they only
had their shots blocked twice, they shared the ball well (22 assists to
Boston's 14), and their big men actually hit way more of their jumpers
than Boston. Simply put, watching this game, you'd never guess that
Boston had four likely future Hall of Famers on their squad–they just
looked like a bunch of dudes, like the Sixers.
Does that mean the Sixers now have a chance in Game Seven on Saturday?
Well, they still have a chance, but the Big Three-era Celtics have
played historically bad in road close-out games, while they're much
better on their home floor in Game Sevens. You wouldn't expect Rondo
have two straight games like this, and for the Sixers, shooting 46%
again is a resounding accomplishment we wouldn't expect to see repeated.
But with this series, who even knows? It's remarkable the Sixers have
gotten this far, and I wouldn't put winning one more weird game in
Boston past them. They might want to let Boston get the first-quarter
lead, though, just to be on the safe side.