Playoffs a learning experience for young Sixers

Jrue Holiday: playoff lessons
Jrue Holiday: playoff lessons
Posted: April 21, 2011

THAD YOUNG knew something different had to be tried.

In the first quarter of Game 2 of their Eastern Conference playoff series, the Miami Heat had cut off the Sixers from the paint and reduced them to a jump-shooting team.

Young, who, despite being in his fourth season, is the third-youngest Sixer at age 22, decided to attack the basket.

He got pushed. He got bodied up. He had some shots blocked. But he kept going to the hole, because it was the only chance the Sixers had.

Jrue Holiday couldn't be a playoff rookie.

Against the Heat, the Sixers had one possible matchup advantage - Holiday against aging point guard Mike Bibby. That would be negated if Holiday played with the jitters of a 20-year-old, second-year guard.

In 73 minutes through the first two games, Holiday has averaged 15.5 points, 3.5 assists, 4.0 rebounds, with only two turnovers.

Rookie Evan Turner came off the bench for 15 points and six rebounds in Game 2. Lou Williams is gutting things out with a sore hamstring.

You might look at these instances and say, "So what? The Sixers are still down 0-2."

I can't argue with that. Considering the way the Heat is cranking things into gear, there is a good chance the Sixers could be down 0-3 after tonight's Game 3 at the Wells Fargo Center. But if you're looking at the bigger picture, you understand these playoffs are not about the Sixers beating the Miami Heat.

A miraculous upset could still happen, but it would be just that - miraculous.

These playoffs are about growth for the Sixers, just as the fact that this regular season, which resulted in a surprise playoff berth, was about growth.

"Do I want to win these games? Absolutely," Sixers coach Doug Collins said yesterday as his squad worked on implementing adjustments for Game 3. "Nobody wants that more than I do.

"But the growth of these young guys for the franchise - that's what we are looking at. Right now, standing here, I know that seeds have been laid and the culture has been laid for this to become an elite franchise.

"We've got to grow up, and this is helping us. I hope we grow up more by winning a game [tonight]."

It's hard to tell fans who are paying their hard-earned money to look at the big picture, especially when the Sixers have been locked in mediocrity since reaching the 2001 NBA Finals.

But the reality is that you can't skip steps in the process.

Can the Sixers win a game against a star-studded Miami team that highlights LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh? Possibly.

Success, however, more likely will be measured in how the Sixers respond to each lesson these playoffs - no matter how short or long - present to them.

So what have the Sixers learned about playoff basketball in two losses?

"First, the atmosphere is completely different," Holiday said. "The intensity is different, and a lot more is at stake.

"In an 82-game season, you can make mistakes at first. We were 3-13 and came back strong.

"Now, it's about attention to detail. Little things matter more now. Things we got away with in the regular season, we can't get away with now."

Theoretically, when a young player experiences the playoffs for the first time, he gets a building block of knowledge to draw from the next time.

Young might be the best example of that on the Sixers. These playoffs are his third in four seasons.

"It is a whole different ballgame," he said of the postseason. "You have to prepare yourself physically and mentally for the pressure and the things that come with it."

You cannot understand the complexities of a best-of-seven series until you go through it. Playing the same team for at least four games - with days off for the opposing players to focus and refocus exclusively on exploiting your weaknesses and limiting your strengths - does not happen in the regular season.

Understanding how to respond to that in kind is something you can get only from experiencing the playoffs.

"I definitely knew what to expect [this year], but for the guys who haven't been here, it is different," Young said. "It's not the same. It's the same look, but it's not the same team that you played during the regular season."

If you think the Sixers are going nowhere, then this series with the Miami Heat likely will just reinforce your belief.

If you think this franchise has at least set up a young foundation that can be developed, added to and improved, this series is not a waste of time, no matter the outcome. *

Send email to smallwj@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to www.philly.com/Smallwood.

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