Bob Ford: Andre the giant: Iguodala comes up big for the Sixers

Posted: May 11, 2012

It might not have been great basketball as the 76ers and the Bulls rumbled down the stretch Thursday night in what would become the final game of their first-round series, but it was terrific theater.

And how else could it end except with Andre Iguodala at the free-throw line with the Sixers trailing by one point and desperately trying to avoid another late collapse?

Iguodala has been the least dependable free-throw shooter in the fourth quarter on the roster this season, but there he was, and there the Sixers were.

Not that much was riding on those free throws. The Sixers had blown a 12-point third-quarter lead and fallen behind by as many as five points to the Bulls. If the Sixers lost the game, they would have needed to return to Chicago for a Game 7 on Saturday, and their prospects there wouldn't have been very bright.

The Sixers, if you choose to look at it this way, were actually fortunate to even be in that situation with Iguodala at the line. With just seven seconds left, they had fouled Chicago center Omer Asik and he had his moment of truth at the line. If he made two, the Bulls would have a three-point lead. If he made just one, then the Sixers could only tie the game if they went for a two-point basket, as they most certainly would have.

Asik chose Door No. 3 and made none. Iguodala grabbed the rebound and didn't hesitate, didn't look for a teammate, didn't do anything but push the ball straight at the other basket. If he thought about the possible consequences, it didn't slow him down. He drove straight up and into Asik, who had backpedaled as fast as possible for a 7-foot man, and drew the foul on his arm.

Well, who didn't expect Iguodala to swish both? Because that's exactly what he did. One desperation shot later by the Bulls and the game was over, the series was over, and the Sixers had overcome a whole lot of trouble, most of it created by themselves.

"I don't know how you could write a better script than for Andre Iguodala to get the rebound, drive the length of the floor, step up to the foul line, and make two free throws to get us to the second round," coach Doug Collins said. "Dre has gone through a lot here and I told him after the game that no one deserves more than you do to have this moment."

It was a strange series and one that Chicago won't want to remember very long. The Bulls lost their best player, Derrick Rose, at the end of the first game. They lost their second-best player, Joakim Noah, in the third game.

Without those two, the Sixers had a much greater margin of error and they took advantage of every bit of it. They managed to win three games in which they shot less than 40 percent from the field, including Thursday night's clincher. They managed to take the series despite being badly outrebounded and forced to live and die on the perimeter, which is hardly one of their strengths.

"Sometimes, you can't figure it out," Collins said. "Sometimes, you just have to enjoy it."

The last game was a great example. The Sixers started out as if they had solved some of their offensive difficulties. It wasn't as if their 48-point explosion in the first half set any records, but it was a lot prettier than the 26 they scored in the first half of Game 5 in Chicago.

And they kept shooting the ball well . . . until they didn't. That came with the Sixers holding a 59-47 lead with five minutes left in the third quarter. Even though the Bulls were struggling to get good looks, the game got closer and closer because the Sixers' offense completely shut down.

They couldn't get an offensive rebound, either, so each possession was one-and-done. For the game, the Bulls outscored them, 29-5, on second-chance points. It was a box score that shouldn't have added up to a win, but somehow it did.

"We were bogged down and couldn't score. We were dead in the water," Collins said. "Now, we're moving on to the second round. It's been a crazy year."

It has been nine years since the Sixers moved on to the second round, which is fitting since this series set the game of basketball back a few years, too. They get to enjoy the moment and they get to feel good for Iguodala, who would have been roasted had he missed the free throws.

They can't feel too good about how they are playing, but they feel better than the Bulls do, and they are playing longer than the Bulls. Who would have predicted that? Only those who could have predicted how this game would end. That would be nobody.


Contact columnist Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com, read his blog at www.philly.com/postpatterns, and follow on Twitter @bobfordsports

 

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