By John Carroll
Doug Collins has done a masterful job of making the 76ers relevant again. Philadelphia finished the regular season 41-41, improving by 14 from the previous season. Collins is a big picture kind of guy. He knows what his team and his coaches have accomplished this season. He knows how good it is for the Sixers to be in the playoffs, to have the stands full at the Wells Fargo Center and how good it is for his young team to get this experience of playing the Miami Heat in the first round. Collins knows that no matter what happens in this series, Jrue Holiday, Jodie Meeks, Spencer Hawes and Thaddeus Young are learning what playoff basketball is all about.
Collins knows that the Sixers have a monumental task staring themselves in the face in Game 4. He knows how talented the Miami Heat roster is. But what he wants to see is the response of his young roster. He wants them to do everything in their power to fight and claw to get this series back to Miami. He also knows that in each game of this series there has been a specific aspect of the game that has haunted Philadephia. Free throws, field goal shooting and rebounding have all hurt this team at some point. In Game 3, the statistic that buried the Sixers was rebounding. The Heat out-rebounded the Sixers 50-34 and got 20 offensive rebounds. The Heat scored 24 points off second-chance points.
Game 4 Adjustments:
The Heat have been very impressive in the latter stages of the season and early in the playoffs. They have impressed me with their ball movement and their offensive flow. As opposed to their stagnant one-on-one offense in the early parts of the regular season, they all appear on the same page. Eric Spoelstra has had all year to mold them into a more dangerous offensive machine. They look like they know exactly what they are doing and why. They have figured out how to play with a point guard, and without one when needed. They have figured out how to get Dwyane Wade to play without the ball and how to get him the ball off movement and screens. They have figured out how to utilize Chris Bosh. They know where he likes the ball and how to get it to him. And LeBron James has had another monster season scoring, dishing, rebounding and defending. There may not be a more versatile player in the NBA that can do as much as he does and at such a high level. The Heat brought the Big Three together to win in the playoffs. They showed what they can do in Game 3, combining for 18 of Miami’s final 20 points of the quarter.
Expect the Philadelphia 76ers to come out with high energy and activity in Game 4. They must be the aggressor -- like they were in Game 3 -- and create turnovers and use their speed to get out on the fast break to get some easy baskets. They do not have a chance at beating the Heat if the game is played primarily in the half court.
However, before they have a chance to get out on the break they are going to have to clean up their rebounding woes. The Heat got 51 shots in the paint in Game 3, compared to 31 in Game 2, and the Sixers cannot allow this trend to continue in Game 4. When they defend Miami, the Sixers are going to have to be much more physical and disciplined on their box-outs. They must lay a body on Bosh, Ilgauskas and Wade, who all killed them on the glass. The problem for the Sixers is that guarding Wade, James and Bosh puts a lot of pressure on the opponent when it is time to box out. Nonetheless that is the problem at hand, and the Sixers must find a way to solve it.
Another problem for the Sixers is their half-court offense, and this is not going to get solved in time for Game 4. Collins does a wonderful job running sets to help his team take advantage of the Heat defense, but you cannot win playoff games if you do not have go to scorers who can get you shots when all else fails. The defenses are so good and teams play so hard in the playoffs that many times first and second options are taken away. The Sixers lost 17 games this season by five points or fewer and were 2-8 in overtime games. This is primarily because they do not have the scoring punch on the inside or outside to win in the playoffs.
When the Heat ratcheted up their defense in the fourth quarter of Game 3, the Sixers could only score 19 points. Somehow they must find a way in Game 4 to get better dribble penetration. They must move the Heat players, move the ball from side to side, and get the ball into the paint. Then they must step up and shoot the ball with confidence. If they can do this and not get bogged down, they may be able to steal Game 4.
The Sixers also need Andre Iguodala to step up in this series and for the future of this franchise. He has only averaged 6.3 points during the first three games of this series. Iguodala is a very good all-around player. He does a little of everything, which, during the 82-game regular season, is very helpful. However, in the playoffs, when everything becomes a half-court game, Igoudala’s weaknesses as a scorer become accentuated. He is a defender who can guard several positions, but he is a non-shooter who teams can play off of. He cannot go get his own shot and can carry a team offensively in the playoffs. The Sixers need Igoudala to play better in order to win Game 4, but they also need much more production from him in the future for them to win in the playoffs and justify his salary.
Prediction: Sixers win Game 4