The Philadelphia 76ers defeated the Chicago Bulls 79-78 in a dramatic ending to finish off the reeling Bulls and win the first round series 4-2. In doing so, they advanced and will play the Boston Celtics in a series that will likely prove to be as much of a bloodbath as this one.
The closing moments of the game will be remembered for a long time. The Sixers trailed by three with 24 seconds left or so and had possession. I’m not exactly sure what the plan was, but the result was a Thaddeus Young layup. The Bulls inbound with about 12 seconds left to C.J. Watson, who then avoids a foul from Jrue Holiday. He proceeds down the court and, with a defender awaiting him, passes the ball to Omer Asik, who was clotheslined by Spencer Hawes.
(Seriously, during a regular season game the foul is a borderline fragrant.)
Asik had made 4-5 free throws during the game at that point. However, the small sample doesn’t do him justice: he shot <50% from the line during the regular season and was 6-15 for the series. The decision to pass him the ball was horrendous on Watson’s part, just for that reason. He goes to the line and misses both, and Andre Iguodala grabs the rebound. The Sixers, without timeouts, immediately run down the court, led by Iguodala, who immediately goes to the rim and gets fouled by Asik. Two free throws were coming up.
Yes, two clutch free throws from Andre Iguodala. Obviously, fans were nervous. And rightfully so.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com’s statistician extraordinaire, tweeted the numbers for Iguodala in clutch situations. 7-18. That’s bad. It’s much lower than his abysmal percentage from the regular season. Making one of the two was a necessity – it was also the most likely scenario, but even then fans not unlike myself were just hoping for him to make one. Two was almost a pipe dream.
So he steps to the line, the fans eagerly and nervously cheering. Like the scene from before the game, and oftentimes during, there was a lot of nervous energy in the air.
He swishes it in.
The crowd went wild as he tied the game with just one shot to go. Overtime meant five more minutes, but at least we’d get at least that to try and win. And the second was on the way…
It also went in!
Save a miracle, the Sixers would be moving on. Jrue Holiday nearly committed the dumbest foul ever, and C.J. Watson’s 55 footer nearly went in. The miracle fell short. The Sixers would move on. The Bulls would endure one of the most miserable season-ending stretches in history, all because of bad fortune.
I can’t avoid talking about Andre Iguodala. He, the not-quite superstar with the contract of one, who was ridiculed in this town for that very reason. He’s been booed at home during player intros in playoff games. His jersey is rarely seen in the crowd. But he’s always played hard, always been a dominant defensive player, always giving 100%. Even now, he’s battling an Achilles injury, and yet taking the opposing team’s best perimeter player to task.
As mentioned earlier, Andre struggled during clutch situations. You could see it as shying away from the moment. But you could also see it as 18 shots, a small sample that was bound to regress to the mean. And when he got to the line, he got the job done.
The best part about all this, besides the win, was the post game interview with NBA TV. While I didn’t see it myself live, because I watched the local CSN broadcast, I did see what he told Cheryl Miller after the game. Here’s video, via SB Nation. Here’s the quote, on how he attacked the Bulls defense and the pressure of taking free throws:
As soon as I got (the ball), I knew I had a mismatch, and really I had to just go to the hole. And on the free throws, Tony Battie gave me some advice. He said ‘think of something that you love when you’re shooting free throws.’ Because, I had been struggling all year. I thought of my son, and it was easy after that.
How can you not feel good for the guy now?
I’ll have a breakdown of the rest of the game tomorrow. It wasn’t rosy. But for now, it doesn’t matter. We won, and it’s off to Boston for the Eastern Conference Semifinals.