The 76ers have only delayed the inevitable, but on this Sunday afternoon, it's important to note exactly how impressive today's 86-82 victory over the Miami Heat actually was. Never mind that the Sixers were down 6 points with about 1 minute, 30 seconds remaining. Never mind that this game had all of the makings of Game 1 and Game 3: the Sixers failed to score a field goal beginning from about 6:35 remaining until about 1:22 remaining.
The most impressive part of this win was that it came on the shoulders of three young guys: Evan Turner, Jrue Holiday, and Lou Williams. Just think how depressing this off season would have started if it began by getting swept out of the playoffs by Miami and with Turner looking like an iffy prospect. If this game had never happened, we'd have no clue as to some of the things Turner can do in crunch time. For example, taking the ball to the basket (even if he did get blocked, he wanted the ball and tried to make a play), hitting a crucial baseline runner, and knocking down both free throws at game's end.
We're not going to sit here and tell you that this is a renewed series now. We all know it's not. The Sixers will go out on Wednesday night inside Miami's AmericanAirlines Arena and give it their best shot, but the Heat are too talented to lose four consecutive games to the Sixers. So let's mine today's win for all its worth.
1.) Jrue Holiday is legitimate. He didn't even play all that well today. He was having a tough time finishing inside and hitting from the outside, but he made two of the most important baskets of the game. First, his baseline drive in the fourth quarter was unbelievable. He took off from the right baseline and then in midair swooped under the backboard and finished on the left side of the basket, spinning the ball smartly off the glass. With about 45 seconds left, he hit a step-back three pointer that set up Williams' game winner from the top of the key. When Holiday released that shot, I actually expected it to go in, which is a weird feeling when considering how you'd usually feel when a Sixer releases an outside shot. But Holiday has proven an ability to make some outside shots when it matters. Even if it hasn't led to previous victories, Holiday knocked down those two three pointers in Game 1 and a few more important baskets that kept the Sixers involved in Game 3.
2.) Turner has a number of things he must work on this off season (keeping his weight down, getting stronger, improving his outside shot, focusing on what Doug Collins needs from him), but it's going to be much nicer for him going to the drawing board knowing he can produce this kind of game at the professional level. Turner was not scared. Also of note, Thaddeus Young jumped to his defense in the first half when Miami's James Jones shoved Turner. Young clearly had the rookie's back and that makes you understand exactly what kind of team Collins has built this season.
3.) It wasn't a terrible thing that Andre Iguodala was saddled with foul trouble for much of the second half. He did a great job in the first half, but you got the sense his jumper had disappeared and he wasn't going to accept that fact until he'd missed some crucial shots for the Sixers. But the Sixers weren't even forced to navigate that reality. Instead, Collins was free to play Turner/Williams/Meeks/Holiday for much of the fourth quarter.
Today's game was as challenging mentally as it was physically, but the Sixers maintained their belief that they wanted to return this series to Miami. Even when down 82-76 with 1:22 left in the game, they kept fighting hard.
The Sixers made it clear the last two days that they wouldn't roll over for this Game 4. I think it's important to acknowledge that this win, while not signifying that the Sixers will contend for the NBA Championship next season, validates that everything Collins has been saying is true: his guys believe in what he says and they believe in each other.
Sixers are practicing tomorrow at 1 p.m. at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. They'll practice in Philly on Monday and Tuesday, then fly to Miami on Tuesday afternoon. If you want to follow on Twitter, getting instant updates, please click here: Deep Sixer.
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