After tonight's game, a difficult 102-101 loss to the Boston Celtics, it's safe to say the 76ers weren't just beating up on bad teams this last week. They're actually an improved team.
Check out the video embedded below -- it's the first minute of Doug Collins' post-game availability and he looks almost exactly like he said he felt: like they'd been kicked in the gut. There were two crucial defensive plays in this game. The first was overlooking Ray Allen with 1 minute, 4 seconds left in the game. It looked like swingman Jodie Meeks left Allen to slide over onto Rajon Rondo. Meeks turned his back on Allen, who slid down that right wing and found the open area. Allen's three gave his team a one-point lead and changed the complexion of the game, forcing the Sixers to play with more pressure and play from behind.
The second defensive play was the final play of the game, which was an unfortunate pick-and-roll switch that saw Jrue Holiday switched onto Kevin Garnett. Rondo waited for Holiday to lose position on Garnett and then tossed a lob pass over Holiday and towards the rim. Garnett caught and laid it off the board before landing. You can say what you want about the final seconds, about Holiday getting stuck on Garnett, about switching all picks, but there'd be the same frustration if Rondo busted off the screen and sliced to the hoop. Or if someone had rotated over onto Garnett and instead Rondo had swung the ball to the open weak-side shooter.
So let's not dwell anymore on those final 6.6 seconds, because the Boston Celtics are great and they made a championship-level play. If you're a Sixers' fan, here's what matters about tonight:
Meeks is looking not just like a reserve guard who lucked his way into the starting lineup on a bad team, but he looks like a legitimate shooting guard in this league. His three pointer with 2:37 left in the game was a big-time NBA play. It wasn't a wide-open look. He was moving, stepping back, with a defender coming at him. Since he moved into the starting lineup, he's given this team everything it needs.
Collins seems to have a pretty solid rotation set. If you look at the stat sheet after tonight's game, Collins basically used reserves Thaddues Young and Lou Williams, and gave a couple of minutes to Andres Nocioni and Evan Turner. Realistically, Nocioni and Turner weren't in the rotation. Collins has a set rotation of seven players, which is something last year's team never really achieved. The more consistently Collins sticks to this seven-man rotation, the more consistently those seven players will perform.
Andre Iguodala made two big-time shots. And both of them came by attacking the rim. Nobody is claiming that now Iguodala shoud have the ball everytime the game is on the line, but it's good to see him making the plays he was making during the 2008-09 season. Whether he continues to get the ball at the end of games, or whether it gets spread around to Williams, Holiday, Brand, or Meeks, Sixers' fans shouldn't overlook the importance of tonight's game for Iguodala. During the first quarter of this season, he -- by his own admission -- hasn't had the type of games he'd like. Tonight's game, in front of such a great home crowd, could propel him to continue getting to the basket offensively and to stay focused on the Sixers.
Should be an interesting next few games, seeing if the Sixers can continue this level of play.
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