What a heartbreaker. You think you’ve got a team on the ropes, especially after Andre Iguodala drops a huge bucket with only six seconds left. Clutch. You figure the Sixers will pay extra attention to Ray Allen and try to keep Paul Pierce within the three point line. Obvious. And so Allen takes the ball, and quickly dishes it to Pierce, and you’re thinking, Alright, fine, I can live with Pierce going iso, as long as he’s not shooting the three. If he makes the deuce, we’ll take our chances in OT. And then, Pierce passes the ball to the corner, where Allen, after slipping behind a double-screen, was waiting to launch a three. Crap, crap, crap…
And just like that, the Celtics stole the game – a win the Sixers desperately needed after their latest collapse against the Nets – and did so without KG.
To me, the game came down to one vital contrast between these two teams – the contrast between energy and execution.
The Sixers have energy. Save the first quarter, where they lacked any discernible pulse, the Sixers hustled all over the court, forcing the Celtics into a number of sloppy turnovers. They’re a pretty easy animal to understand: they thrive in a fast-paced, high-energy contest. That energy feeds from their defensive effort – if they’re forcing turnovers and bad shots, and can run after the rebound, they seem to stay in the game. It’s almost as though they lose focus as the game slows down, as if they need the exhilaration of a blinding pace to keep their eyes on the road. Slow down to much, and they start to phase out, a glassy-eyed, daydream stare infiltrating the roster.
Alright, so maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But you can’t deny that this team becomes much less effective when they’re forced to play a slow-paced, half-court game. They are better on the move, plain and simple.
The Celtics play with energy as well, especially on the defensive end. But they have something even more important – execution. When they need a play, they get it. The final play of last night’s game was the perfect example. They anticipated the Sixers’ desire to keep the ball out of Ray Allen’s hands beyond the arc; it ain’t rocket science, after all. So, they threw the ball into him and had him find Paul Pierce, for what seemed to be an isolation play for Boston’s Mr. Clutch. And so, while the Sixers reacted to Pierce, Allen deftly slid behind the double-screen, caught Pierce’s pass in stride, and calmly nailed another three.
This Sixers unit is scrappy. Their youthful, and energetic, and temperamental. You can’t ever count them out of a contest, not quite, because they have the ability to get streaky.
They just kind of come out swinging, the hope being that you’ll drop your own technique and just wildly swing back.
The Celtics are poised. They play excellent defense, know their roles offensively, and have a whole lot of talent. Not only can they take your best shot, but they’re always setting you up for something, always waiting for you to break down so they can take that knockout swing.
They’re the champs, after all.
This Sixers team isn’t there. Truthfully, I don’t think this Sixers team can get there. Not with this lineup. For God’s sake, Elton Brand didn’t even play the second half. You know, that huge free agent signing from the offseason? The one we paid all that moolah to get? Yeah, that’s the one, that guy right over there, the one riding the pine for the entire second half! I know he’s coming back from injury, I know they’re still trying to find a rhythm as a unit with him in the lineup, blah blah blah. That says something to me.
What it says is still to be determined, though I’ve gotta think this roster is going to be seriously scrutinized right up to the trading deadline on the 19th. But the message from this game was loud and clear – energy can keep you in a game, and thankfully, the Sixers play with plenty of it.
But execution wins games. It’s yet to be seen whether or not this team can apply that lesson, one they learned the hard way last night.