Mike Missanelli: Improbable playoff run earning Sixers some love

Jrue Holiday gets a hug from Andre Iguodala near the end of Friday's 92-83 win over the Celtics.
Jrue Holiday gets a hug from Andre Iguodala near the end of Friday's 92-83 win over the Celtics. (   RON CORTES / Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 21, 2012

The graphic came up on the big video scoreboard, and suddenly tension gripped the rambunctious sellout crowd at the Wells Fargo Center.

Celtics vs. Sixers, Game Six, Wednesday. Tickets available for purchase behind Section 122.

 At the time, the score in Celtics vs. Sixers, Game Four was 88-83, and there were 33 seconds left in regulation as Jodie Meeks stepped to the free throw line. In 33 seconds in the NBA, you can consume a full-course meal.

Kiss of death? In Philadelphia, where so many twists and turns have prevented the home team from winning something, this was like a sledgehammer of death. It was like putting the bats back in the bag before the final out. Like walking toward your putt before it drops.

Sports gods live for those kinds of moments to tweak human beings.

And yet, a strange thing happened. Meeks made both free throws and the Sixers easily won another improbable game with this improbable team in a most improbable NBA playoff run.

What the heck, the way the Sixers are going, they are impervious to any kind of curse. The Sixers right now are spitting into gale force winds and they get hit with nary a splash.

I see a team that can't shoot, can't rebound, can't defend the post - and certainly can't make free throws - playing armadillo-ugly basketball night in and night out. And yet they have won six games already in the playoffs, and with a win tomorrow night in Boston would inch closer to the Eastern Conference finals.

Have I used the word improbable yet?

Kevin Garnett killed the Sixers in Game 3 by getting deep enough in the post that the back of his head nearly hit the rim. So naturally, in Game 4, he was shackled by a wet-behind-the-ears rookie from Temple named Lavoy Allen. Allen bottled up Garnett so tightly that by the end of the game, it looked as though KG wanted to take his ball and go home.

Allen is the most peculiar player I've seen in a Sixers uniform since Big Shot. He slogs around with those big feet that make him appear as if he's going in slow motion. His lack of an outboard motor (he obviously has an inboard) has frustrated every coach he's ever had - most specifically Fran Dunphy at Temple, and the well-respected high school coach Frank Sciolla, who had Allen at Pennsbury in Lower Bucks County. And yet Allen is always there, always in the right position, always around the basketball, always playing within himself.

If anybody who watched Allen at Temple could have predicted he would play 33 minutes in a playoff game and be the key player in a series win over Kevin Garnett and the Boston Celtics, stand up and be counted as the biggest fibber in the Philadelphia area.

Garnett might be the most vicious trash talker in the NBA. KG tried all game to work Allen, and the kid never paid any attention. He just walked to his position on the floor looking at his shoelaces. You could almost hear Garnett saying to himself, "I can't play against no robot."

"Nothing bothers Lavoy," Sixers coach Doug Collins after the game. "I just wish God would give me just one Lavoy Allen day in my life - one day where I just don't give a - about anything."

How is this team doing this?

All right, the series win over Chicago wasn't that spectacular. After Game 1, the Bulls were without Derrick Rose, and then center Joakim Noah missed three.

But the Celtics have stars who are playoff-tested. They scored the first 14 points of the game, led by 15 at halftime while holding the Sixers to just 31 points, and stretched that lead to 18 in the third quarter. A Celtics team hadn't lost an 18-point lead in a playoff series in eons. And the Sixers wound up beating them by nine.

I love the Sixers, but I'm going to be brutally honest here. There's only one player on this whole roster who's entertaining to watch - Evan Turner. The rest of the Sixers are Average Joes, guys who belong in the NBA but are not true difference-makers.

Andre Iguodala can defend, run the break for a dunk, and occasionally, like Friday night, will make a three-point shot out of nowhere. But he can't get to the basket on the bounce. Lou Williams has his moments, but he's a totally expendable player. Thad Young hustles. Jrue Holiday? Eh. Spencer Hawes is 7 feet tall and 265 pounds and is unable to be physical in the post. Elton Brand is pretty much finished.

The fact that the Sixers are tied at two games in a conference semifinal series is a testament to the grit brought out of this team by Collins.

The Sixers might win this series. They might even get a break and face the Indiana Pacers for the right to play for an NBA title. Whatever happens, it still raises the question: What does the future hold for this franchise?

The roster next year will have to be altered. Maybe they can work a trade of Iguodala. If Brand wants to do the right thing, he'll retire. If not, the Sixers will have no choice but to amnesty his contract - as per the new NBA collective bargaining agreement that allows a team to release a player and free up his salary from the salary cap (while still paying him).

Brand is slated to make $18.16 million next season. The Sixers also will be able to subtract the salary of Andres Nocioni ($6.7 million), released earlier this season. They can also chop off Hawes (who makes $4 million). If Williams elects to take his early termination option, that's another $6.3 million off the books. The Sixers are about $10 million over their cap. But with those subtractions, they would have $25.16 million to spend on free agents.

As far as the coach is concerned, Collins can have the job for as long as he wants, for my money. But I hear whispers that Rod Thorn may have had enough and that Collins then would be interested in being the GM, with his protege, Michael Curry, taking over as coach. Whether new owner Josh Harris would be down with that remains to be seen.

In the meantime, Friday night's game produced one of the loudest crowds that I can ever recall in a Philadelphia arena, which means that people are having fun with this Sixers team.

Remember, just a short time ago a lot of us were hoping the Sixers would not make the playoffs in order to get a better lottery pick. How stupid we all were.


Mike Missanelli hosts a show from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 97.5-FM The Fanatic.

Contact him at mikemiss@975thefanatic.com.

 

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