Apr 20, 2011, 2:32 PM EDT
29 points. That’s what LeBron James managed in the Heat’s victory last night over the Sixers, a much better performance than his Game One effort on Saturday. But much more concerningly, that’s also what the Sixers’ entire starting lineup for the Sixers managed combined, with Jrue Holiday being the only of the five to reach double digits. They also shot 11-35 and had as many turnovers as assists (10 each). Now, one of the Sixers’ strengths all year has been our bench, but if our starting lineup is that awful, it doesn’t matter if we have Julius Erving and Charles Barkley coming off the pine. Meanwhile, the Heat’s big three went for 64 points—nearly pacing the Sixers’ entire team—as the Heat cruised to an easy 94-73 victory.
After the Sixers missed so many shots at the rim and from close range on Saturday, I thought for sure things would be different this time around. It was different, all right—it was a whole lot worse, actually, as just about everyone on the team took turn missing layups and open jumpers in the first few quarters. (The team somehow went 0-11 for the game on shots from between three and nine feet, which is just….wow.) Thaddeus Young, so deadly in Game One, was the worst culprit this time around, leaving nearly everything that left his hands just a half-inch short. His performance in the box score looks all right—8-20 for 18, with six boards—but most of that 18 came in garbage time, and before that, he was missing hooks, finger-rolls and jumpers left and right, killing the Sixers’ momentum (whatever momentum they had) and neutralizing the one legitimate threat that the team had against the Heat.
Defensively, the Sixers’ performance was actually not terrible. Dwyane Wade, already suffering from a migraine, was more or less taken out of the game, shooting just 4-11 for 14 points and turning the ball over five times, and the Sixers did a good job of making the supporting cast take shots, where they only went 11-29 (and 2-12 from three). But LeBron was making crazy shots, and Bosh remained dangerously close to unstoppable, draining or banking nearly ever jumper he took, going 9-13 for 21 points. The parade to the free throw line the Heat took in game one was slowed this time out, but they still took 29 free throws, nine more than the Sixers, and converted relatively consistently, making 23 of them.
The one positive to take from this game (and believe me, there’s only the one) is that for maybe the first time all year, Evan Turner looked like a legitimate threat at shooting guard. Not to say that this was his best game of the year—he’s had better, certainly—but in terms of just playing the two-guard position, I can’t remember a game where Evan looked better-suited to the role. It was simple, really—he caught, he shot, he made. Evan was 6-10 from the field, and all six makes were from 16 feet out or further, including three from behind the three-point line. Each time he had an open shot, he made it—a feat which would hardly land him in the MVP discussion, since that’s sort of what two-guards are supposed to do, but it’s something that Turner has struggled with doing consistently all season, as everyone claimed he was still learning to play without the ball. For him to convert like that, in a big game where absolutely no one else on the team was hitting anything—it’s a good sign, no doubt.
So what now? Well, it’s hard to point out obvious adjustments that the Sixers should make to counter this Heat team, since as no less an authority than Coach Collins himself pointed out, if they’re not screwing themselves up, they’re just way better than we are. “If they’re playing great, they’re a better team,” Dougie admitted. “OK? If they’re playing on top of their game, they’re a better team. I mean, they won 58, we won 41. That doesn’t mean that we aren’t going to play and compete and fight. But when they come out tonight and defend the way they did … it’s going to be very difficult for us to beat them.” Honest, but not terribly encouraging. The one adjustment I would maybe like to see the Sixers make for next game is to get more PT for Jodie Meeks, whose minutes were justifiably purloined by Evan Turner last night, but who could have done more good things for this team than Lou Williams, who has now shot a combined 4-18 in the series to date. What about a lineup of Evan, Jodie and ‘Dre, with Evan playing the point? It’s worth a shot, I think.
Of course, the Sixers might not have any choice but to get a little experimental for the two games in Philadelphia, as it’s now fairly clear that this team is going to have a lot of trouble beating the Heat straight up. I’d appreciate it if there weren’t any more games as embarrassing as this, but it’s hard to act too surprised by last night’s result—when the Heat are playing to the maximum of their potential, really, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t win every game against non-elite competition by at least 20 points. As Collins says, that doesn’t mean we’re supposed to close up shop games in advance, but it does continue to demonstrate just how far away the Sixers are from being on the Heat’s level—and how, in all likelihood, they’ll continue to be this far away, as long as management believes that building around expensive, miscast supporting players like Elton Brand and Andre Iguodala is the surest recipe for team success.
Game three from Philadelphia at 8:00 on Thursday. Hopefully we can still salvage a little dignity out of this mess, even if an actual W is looking like a little bit of a stretch at this point.
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