Saturday, April 30, 2005

How Much Honor?

Well, I suppose it is a total no-brainer to put last night Sixers’ win under the category of “Extremely Satisfying”- particularly in light of the press’ love affair with the amazing Detroit Pistons. The nation’s entire imprudent sports intelligentsia had written Philadelphia off after two crushing defeats in Detroit. The sole exception being the loyal fans of Philly- who could only shrug their shoulders and remind folks that as long as #3 wears a shirt with “Sixers” on it and the team plays home games, the Sixers will never go quietly.

Since it was obvious that AI was going show up, so did the home court advantage: demanding defense, rewarding effort. Only Philadelphia would have the pure audacity to mock the Pistons in the 4th quarter.

Now, I have seen enough pro-sports to know that this home win is one that the underdog can get. Particularly since, frankly, the Sixers are simply not that bad. They are actually pretty darn good on offense- and have been for about eight weeks. There is no need to apologize for hanging 115 on the Pistons. This team is without doubt as good as anyone in the secondary collective in the East: Boston, Chicago, Indiana and Washington. Sure, this game is not an effort the Sixers are likely to repeat again and again- shooting 55% from both the floor and arc, turning the ball over only seven times, Iguodala getting five steals & Dalembert never in foul trouble, holding the Piston’s bench to two points, only giving the Pistons’ front line a six board advantage.

Iverson’s amazing 37-point (on 15-26 shooting) and 15-assist performance is probably not repeatable either- since only one person in the NBA play-offs has gone for 37 and 15 since 1970. Think about that for a second- all the great players who have played in the NBA play-offs since 1970: Kobe Bryant. Larry Bird. Magic Johnson. Michael Jordan. And to think some people have the nerve to mention AI and say, Gilbert Arenas, in the same breath.

So it is still hard to imagine the Sixers winning this series, let alone getting another game. But for the first time in a long while, it is the Pistons who have to react. The Sixers have gotten Iverson untracked. Obviously, I cannot see Iverson continuing to shoot 58% from the floor- but he now seems to be a threat to go for near thirty each night. If the Pistons cannot get more than 33 minutes and 2 points from their bench, they are frankly in some trouble. The Sixers have put a game plan and players on the floor that played good enough basketball to handle and convincingly defeat the Pistons. Now the Pistons, for the first time since probably last year, must counter- rather than merely breeze to the conference semi-final.

I would be pretty surprised if the Sixers force this back to Philly for a sixth game. However, this one showing, coupled with their very solid push over the last twenty regular season games, does indicate Philadelphia heads into this off-season closer to forty-eight wins than forty. AI is not yet 30- coming off his best year as a pro. Webber is not a great player anymore- but he is an effective front court asset. And there is candidly young talent here: Iguodala, Dalembert, and Korver are a nice trio of developing resources. For the first time in awhile, I am bullish on this team for next season.