Marcus Hayes: Holiday pumped for postseason

Posted: April 24, 2012

NEWARK, N.J. - Like the famous stamp, Jrue Holiday embodied the Spirit of the 76ers. As Holiday dribbled upcourt, all he needed was a fifer and a drummer.

The bridge of Holiday's nose had been lacerated by an elbow at the end of the first half, a cut now covered by a butterfly bandage. Rolled gauze stuffed up his nostrils slowed the torrent of blood to a steady seep.

He was a wounded warrior . . . but he wouldn't have missed this for the world.

He would not have missed the final moments of the Sixers' clinching win over the Nets. He would not put the fate of his team in the hands of anyone else.

Holiday played the second half decorated with the badges of courage. He was not the game's best player.

Andre Iguodala spurred the team in the first half, collecting most of his 14 points and nine assists. Thaddeus Young put the Nets away with six straight buckets in just about 5 minutes at the end of the third and the beginning of the fourth quarter to secure the win after the Nets cut it to 1. Evan Turner went 6-for-8 in support.

Holiday finished with 15 points, four assists, with two steals, two blocked shots and just one turnover. It was a workmanlike performance - the sort that delights new owner Josh Harris.

"I'm feeling great. What could be better?" Harris said, beaming, afterward. "Very proud of the team. Very proud of the coach and the coaching staff. Team beats individuals, and we've got a team."

They've got a team . . . with a chance.

Two little words contained the magic formula that transformed the Sixers from a dysfunctional flock of overachieving youth to a dangerous playoff foe over the past week or so.

The type of tough team full of grown men that won 20 of its first 29 . . . not the pouty, sensitive post-adolescents who lost 21 of the next 32 before these last three wins.

Holiday, the third-year point guard with the future very much in his 21-year-old hands, distilled the matter into those two words: "Offensive execution."

It is how the Sixers beat the balanced Pacers at Indiana on Sunday.

It is how the Sixers needed to play Monday night in New Jersey to clinch their second straight playoff berth.

Monday night should not have been as hard, really. The Nets lacked their best player, point guard Deron Williams, out with an acute case of indifference; he missed the festive New Jersey finale, before the team moves to Brooklyn, with an allegedly sore calf. Even with Williams the Nets managed 42 losses, tied for third most in the NBA.

Indiana is a top-10 defensive team and was riding a seven-game winning streak; New Jersey, a bottom-10 club on a four-game skid.

Any team expecting to do anything in the playoffs had to show up Monday night.

Had to.

And did.

The Sixers shot 53.8 percent and scored 105 points. They assisted on 25 of their 43 field goals. They held a shorthanded team playing in front of its assembled semi-illustrious alumni to 43.1 percent shooting and 87 points.

Significantly, they rendered Wednesday night's game in Milwaukee, a possible showdown matchup, meaningless. Milwaukee beat Toronto, 92-86 Monday night, but by then, the Sixers had secured the No. 8 seed. They can move to No. 7 with two more wins and a Knicks' loss, but that likely means playing the LeBrons, and that didn't work out so well last year.

Better they face the Bulls, whom they beat this season.

Most significantly, they responded.

They progressed.

They laid another brick in the wall of competence.

That might pay dividends when the playoffs begin this weekend.

It surely will pay off as the core progresses.

The Nets cut it to 1 in the third, but Young scored 12 points in the 5 minutes that followed the timeout. He finished with 14 on 7-for-8 shooting.

After the timeout with 3:35 left in the third, every player recommitted to offensive execution, and they even played better defense, including Lou Williams. He almost blocked a shot, and grabbed a tough rebound.

No. Really.

It was that important.

They played that hard.

"It was a gut-check for us," said veteran Elton Brand. "We had our destiny in our hands. We handled our business."

"There's a lot of pressure off us, now that we're locked in," Holiday said afterward, sitting in front of his locker.

Now comes a different sort of pressure.

A better sort, after winning just one game in their first-round demolition at the hands of Miami last season.

"There's more pressure now, advancing from the first round," Holiday said. "This year, we feel a little bit better about playing Chicago."

Especially since the team is playing the way it should be: Completely.

"I feel a lot better than I did a week ago. I feel like we're moving in the right direction," Holiday said. "We beat a good team in Indiana, and this team tonight had nothing to lose. These are good wins going into the playoffs."

Good memories for the new boss, too:

"Josh has been with us this whole roller-coaster ride. We're happy we could get this win for him, his first time with the team. He's a big part of what's going on here."

So, of course, Holiday can take time off tomorrow. Right?

"What? I'm playing," Holiday insisted. "I'm not trying to lose that game."

He said it with the bandage still in place, the gauze still stuffed up his nostrils, the blood still seeping.


Contact Marcus Hayes at hayesm@phillynews.com.

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