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Anything is Possible: Sixers Win Game Two On Super-Interesting Final Minute

May 14, 2012, 10:50 PM EDT

The Philadelphia 76ers stole game two in Boston thanks to an exceptionally weird final minute of game action.
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First it looked like Game Two of the Bulls series. Then it looked like
Game One of this series. Then it looked like few things I’ve ever seen
before in a Sixers game—though you could say the eventual outcome was
roughly as weird and wonderful as Thad, ‘Dre and Omer’s Round One grand
finale. In the end, the Sixers ended up winning this game in a
controversial final minute by an 82-81 margin that wasn’t as close as it
seems (except that it sort of was.) I’ll explain in a minute.

No surprise, but this Game Two was ugly—and we’re talking for-real,
alabi-less UGLY. The Sixers missed five shots in a row on two separate
occasions in the first quarter, the Celtics came a couple Paul Pierce
FTs with two seconds to go away from posting a single-digit third
quarter, and the two teams combined for just 28 points in the second.
Neither team shot above 42% in the game, the two teams combined for 33
turnovers and 35 fouls. It was a little less depressing than some of the
Bulls games, but that’s probably just because at least neither team had
the excuse/handicap of injury—minus a stretch in the third when C’s
guard Avery Bradley went out with shoulder issues, before returning in
time to hit (at the time at least) a huge fourth-quarter three.

The Sixers manage to briefly cut through the scoreless tedium at the end
of the third quarter, where they went on an 11-0 run that made it look
like they might be able to run the Celtics out of the gym, as they did
the Bulls in their only United Center victory of Round One. The Celtics
were able to answer in the fourth, though, thanks to a couple straight
threes by Mickael Pietrus and two straight KG jumpers to make it a tie
game at 69-69 with 4:33 to go in the game. It looked like the C’s would
grind out another home victory, especially during the sequence where
Avery Bradley hit a three to put the C’s up one, Jrue Holiday answered
on the other end with a three of his own, and Ray Allen answered right
back with another three, with Holiday being smothered on a subsequent
possession.

But the Sixers showed impressive intestinal fortitude in this one, and
managed to get a stop on defense (love you taking those 16-footers,
Rajon Rondo), allowing Evan Turner—who’d had an absolutely miserable
game up until that point, scoring just six points with nearly as many
turnovers—to give the Sixers the lead on a gorgeous twisting layup down
the lane, a shot that was about 100x tougher than a couple gimmes he had
somehow missed just minutes before. The Sixers managed to get a stop at
the other end, forcing Ray Allen into a tough shot, and brought up the
ball with about 28 seconds to go.

Then, things got weird.

Rajon Rondo took a foul on Jrue Holiday with 14 seconds to go,
presumably because they had a foul to give and Jrue was starting his
drive to the basket. But what appeared unconsidered in the situation was
that with the foul, the shotclock reset to 14 seconds, meaning the
Sixers could basically dribble out the clock, forcing the Celtics to
foul again. Whether this was a lapse in judgment on the part of Rondo or
Celtics coach Doc Rivers, or strategy on Doc’s part because he didn’t
believe the Celtics could score with four seconds to go (the Sixers also
having a foul to give), was unclear. But the result was that the C’s
had to foul when Philly inbounded again, and Evan Turner went to the
line with the chance to put the game in the Sixers’ control.

Now, my love for Turner here is well-documented, but when it comes to
free-throw shooting…well, the idea of him going to the line needing to
make two is only slightly less terrifying to me than the idea of Andre
Iguodala (who crashed back down to Poor Free-Throw Shooting Earth
tonight, by the way, going an unconscionable 2-7 from the line) doing
so. He shot just 68% for the regular season, and his prior shooting in
Game Two wasn’t exactly helping my confidence. But just as he did late
in the Sixers’ huge Game Four victory against Miami last year, he sank
both, putting the team up three and, with 12 seconds remaining, just one
stop away from icing the game.

Then, things got really weird.

No team in the NBA is more terrifying to face when you’re up three with
seconds to go than the Boston Celtics. They have two of the game’s best
late-game clutch shooters—both with great three-point range—in Ray Allen
and Paul Pierce, other guys who can certainly hit a clutch three in
Avery Bradley and Mickael Pietrus, and even a couple odd Hit a Big
Three-Pointer When You Least Suspect It shooters in Rondo and Kevin
Garnett. So I was prepared for just about anything as the C’s
in-bounded—except for what actually happened. A whistle blew as Paul
Pierce got open for a three. The whistle was clearly before the shot, so
I figured the Sixers were using their foul to give, and it’d be side
out, Boston again. But everyone stayed frozen for a couple added
seconds, and some of the Sixers started walking to the other end. It
dawned on me, the fans and the announcers at the same time—

Offensive foul.

Yes, offensive foul—a moving screen on Kevin Garnett. I didn’t even
notice it during the play, largely because Garnett is legendary for his
subtle hook screens, which the Sixers had been begging to get called the
entire game, and finally got it at the most crucial time in the game.
Garnett looked more stunned than angry at the whistle—probably because
he knew that he was guilty, but couldn’t believe he had actually gotten
called on it. Lou Williams hit a couple free throws at the other end,
and though the C’s insisted on making things interesting until the
buzzer—Allen hit a three with two seconds left to cut it to two, and a
couple Jodie Meeks free throws later, and KG actually hit a long
buzzer-beating three to cut the lead to one at game’s end—the Sixers’
win was secure.

Now, there’s gonna be a lot of crying about the KG moving screen call,
and indeed, the refereeing was a little hinky all game, with calls and
no-calls on both sides leading to some serious head-scratching. But make
no mistake about it—that was a moving screen on Garnett, and his
elbow hook on Andre Iguodala was the very reason why Paul Pierce had
gotten so open at the top of the arc for that three. Whether or not it
usually gets called doesn’t really matter—it’s the right call, and when
you look at it on replay, it’s actually a pretty obvious call, so
there’s no complaints to be had. (That Evan Turner short jumper with
about three minutes where he pretty clearly traveled beforehand…that’s
another story. But this one’s clean.)

Anyway, it was a great collective showing from the Sixers in the final
minutes tonight. Nearly all of Turner’s sins—and this was arguably his
worst game of the playoffs for the first 47 minutes—were absolved by his
final four points, probably his most important ever in his professional
career. Jrue Holiday ended as the team’s leading scorer, hitting four
big threes, including that big answer three in the final minutes, a
gorgeous pull-up after he was given space behind the arc. Free-throw
shooting aside, Iguodala was also huge tonight, hitting some big jumpers
when the Sixers O went stagnant, and filling the box score in his usual
manner, adding six rebounds and a team-high seven assists, as well as
playing lockdown D on Paul Pierce—who, amazingly, has now shot a
combined 5-20 for the series, a big reason the Sixers have been in both
games in Boston.

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But if there’s a game ball to be had tonight, it probably goes to rookie
Lavoy Allen. In a series where the Sixers’ frontcourt has been getting
positively dominated—Elton had a nice stretch in the third where he hit
some shots, but he, Thaddeus Young and Spencer Hawes still combined for a
miserable 19 points—Lavoy has been incredibly big, scoring ten points
and grabbing eight rebounds off the bench, but more importantly, being
the only Sixer seemingly up for scrapping with Garnett, as well as other
C’s bigs Brandon Bass and Greg Stiemsma, fighting on the glass at both
ends and not letting KG get in his head. It’s a toughness the Sixers
desperately need in this series, and while I didn’t really expect Mr.
500 to be the guy to provide it…hey, we’ll take it where we can get
it.

You can’t really say enough about the guys for getting this one. It was
another weird one, sure, but this is now the fourth close game that the
Sixers have won in the post-season, and probably their toughest yet. At
some point, you have to give these Liberty Ballers credit for doing what
we get on them all regular season for failing to do—close out big games
against good (or hell, even not-good) teams. A moral victory alone
would have meant we were at least alive in this series, an actual
victory means we might really have a chance to make things interesting
later this week in Philadelphia. It’s got me feeling good enough that
I’m going to abstain from saying anything mean about Lou Williams, even.

Game three coming up in Philadelphia on Wednesday night. The Sixers are
still definitely the underdog, but this is now officially a winnable
series. No one could have imagined we’d even get this far two weeks ago,
and I still have a lot of mixed feelings about how we got to this
point, but damn if we shouldn’t enjoy the hell out of this now that
we’re here.