Win over Heat was like adding fertilizer to growing young franchise

Posted: April 25, 2011

THE FRUITS OF this win could be massive.

Yes, it is the afterglow of a last-minute upset over the most celebrated non-champion in NBA history. Still, it cannot be overstated how much the Sixers' young backcourt will benefit from the experience of yesterday's 86-82 aberration.

Beating the Heat? Down, 3-0, in the series? Beating the Heat by scoring 10 points in the final 2 minutes, all from the future of the franchise?

That's like adding Miracle-Gro.

"For the skeptics out there who thought we shouldn't be in the playoffs, to get a lottery pick . . . what the hell's the difference between a pick at 16 and 14? You can't pay for this kind of experience," Sixers coach Doug Collins said. "We're not some old team just trying to put a Band-Aid on and stay respectable. We're a young team that's trying to grow. To do that, you have to play against these kind of people, in these kinds of environments."

Actually, to reap the reward of this situation, you have to play against these players in these environments and win.

"You look eye to eye with LeBron and Wade and Bosh in a series like this . . . it's terrific," Collins finished.

Any suggestion for any team to lose games on purpose, or even play to a lesser level during a season to improve draft position, is patently ridiculous. Really, what's more valuable: Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner and Lou Williams hitting clutch shots against the Heatles or watching another Shawn Bradley fail?

Greg Oden, anyone?

You play for now. You teach a team to win. You win at all costs, every game, all the time.

It was over the wings of Chris Bosh, who had just blocked two shots, that Turner, a rookie, hit the runner that started the comeback with 1 minute, 22 seconds left in the season.

It was in the face of Dwyane Wade, the game's best player, that Holiday, a second-year point guard, hit his step-back, 25-foot three-pointer that cut the Heat lead to one.

"He froze me," Wade admitted. "Not really one many people expect him to shoot."

It was in Wade's face, again, that Williams, initially guarded by LeBron James, dropped a 27-footer with 8 seconds on the shot clock and 8.1 left on the game clock. It was a broken play, the ball swung back to Williams, and Wade was playing well off him when Williams pulled up. Wade made a game effort, but he was coming from too far away.

Wade expected that one.

Riiight.

"I got a great contest on that shot," Wade said. "That shot right there didn't beat us."

Yes, it did.

That shot, that moment, and the two that preceded it beat the Heat.

Of course, it came from Williams.

Without his 13.7 points per game, all off the bench, the Sixers are in the lottery right now. Without his moderate experience - six seasons, but only 38 starts, and now 16 playoff games - Holiday and Turner have no leader. He sits next to them in the locker room.

Without Williams' wit, the Sixers have no playoff slogan: "Show ya Luv" is his.

"He's our personality. He's our juice. He's our voice," Collins said. "He's the guy everybody on our team rallies around."

Williams' shot, and the two that preceded it, gave the Big Three their first playoff loss - the first Heat loss in its last eight games; the first Heat loss to the Sixers since 2009, a span of 11 contests.

The Sixers had the Heat by 16 in the second quarter in this game. They had the Heat by 14 in Game 1 in Miami, and lost. They had Miami by 10 in Game 3 in Philadelphia and lost.

Maybe they learned something about codependence, about accountability, about sharing the weight of the franchise with team MVP Andre Iguodala.

"It's good for them to be in a situation where the team needed the baskets that they made for us," Iguodala said. "In the future, they'll have the confidence to take that shot, to knock down that shot, knowing that no matter how much time is on the clock the game is never over."

Iguodala's foul trouble helped Turner win Collins' confidence, since Turner needed to play 27 minutes, his most in this series. He played less than 10 minutes in Game 1 and Game 3.

"There's been a lot of [speed] bumps," Turner said.

None more jarring than the two free throws Turner missed in Washington earlier this season, a pair that would have cemented a win, Instead, the Sixers lost in overtime. Collins relived that moment yesterday. Turner did not.

"I felt like Washington was a fluke," Turner said.

It could be that yesterday was the fluke. Even if it was, living though it was priceless.

"Growthwise, hitting big shots, playing great defense, and not getting swept," veteran forward Elton Brand said. "This team was the No. 2 seed. A lot of top billing. A lot of so-called superstars and all that. We're a team."

They're getting closer, anyway.

Send email to hayesm@phillynews.com

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