1. Iggy's Free Style Seals Elimination Of Bulls
PHILADELPHIA -- On the sidelines, Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau was loving it, playing defense right along with his team, holding his arms high and wide, showing his players what he wanted.
Behind him, a wall of nervous fans watched one Philadelphia 76er after another try and fail to find a good look.
The fourth quarter of Philadelphia's Game 6 79-78 series-clinching win was half gone, and the Bulls were doing what the Bulls do. Even without the injured Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, they still played the best defense in the NBA, and it was stifling. Allowing a mere four buckets over the preceding 12 minutes, the Bulls had built a three-point edge out of what was a 12-point deficit a quarter earlier.
Fans who could taste the end of the Bulls' season were now trying on the idea that this could also be the last NBA game of the season in Philadelphia. The Bulls were the top overall seed and suddenly were playing like it. If they won this one, they'd be heavy favorites at home in Game 7.
But with 5:50 left in the game, Philadelphia's Andre Iguodala nailed a 3 in front of Thibodeau. Tie game.
The arms of the Philadelphia faithful rose in unison. In the same instant, Thibodeau's arms fell to his sides. Despondent, the coach of last year slumped back to his seat through the chorus of jubilant screams. The Sixer fans were feeling good again.
Iguodala had a problem at the line. A so-so free throw shooter on the best of nights, he averaged only 62 percent for the season. In close games, though -- an atrocity. NBA.com tells us that in the final three minutes of games within five points, this season Iguodala had hit two free throws. Total. All season. Out of nine tries. That's 22 percent.
Both teams knew about that.
And yet, with seven seconds left in the game and the Sixers down one, as Spencer Hawesmanhandled Taj Gibson out of the play, Iguodala snagged Omer Asik' second missed free throw and wheeled toward the promised land at the far end of the court.
Seeing a wide-open lane nearly the length of the floor, Iguodala abandoned the team's designed play for Lou Williams, and instantly decided to attack the hoop and try to finish "over the top" of Asik, the only Bull in his path. Either he'd score or he'd get to the line. Of course Asik fouled, and to the line Iguodala went.
Once there, the Sixers' much-maligned best player was studied by everyone in the building, including his coach. "I watched him," said Sixers coach Doug Collins. "There was no extraneous stuff with him. He just took his time."
In Iguodala's head, the experience of stepping to the line has become all new. It came from something his teammate Tony Battie recommended a couple of weeks ago: Think about your kids.
Iguodala has been imagining talking to his son, 5-year-old Andre II. It relaxes him, makes the whole thing feel rote, just like in practice. And that works.
"It's like I'm teaching him how to shoot free throws," explains Iguodala. "And when you're teaching your son to shoot free throws you can't miss. You look kind of crazy."
"I don't even think he hit the rim," Collins said. The Sixers, a team written off in disarray two months ago, are in the second round of the playoffs.
"Sometimes you just can't figure this out," Collins said. "Sometimes you've just got to enjoy it."
Collins is perhaps the most famously overbearing coach in NBA history. It's nothing close to a secret. And it has a history of both helping him achieve good short-term success, while causing longer-term friction with players. Chicago, Detroit, Washington, Philadelphia … it always comes to a head. This time it came in March, first with media reports, and then an explosion of blame for a team that cooled mightily as the season progressed.
"Fire Doug Collins," says the coach. "I heard it."
But the familiar story of players tuning Collins out takes a strange turn now. Asked in the joyous postgame to talk about how Collins changed the team, Iguodala turned the tables.
"I can talk," he said, "about how we changed him. … The knock on him has always been that he's too emotional, that he can be too hard on guys. … I think that our young guys have really helped him mellow out. Jrue and Lou and Evan, Evan being so crazy, those two going at it …
"We've helped him learn how to relate to a new, younger generation."
"We hit a rough patch," explains veteran Elton Brand. "There were some things the media were saying, you know, coach is too tough on us and whatever. He backed all the way up. We didn't even hear from him for a while. We were like, coach we need your energy. We need to hear from you. We kind of laid it out there. So, he found a great mix."
Statistical support for this story from NBA.com.
ESPN.com's Henry Abbott is the founder and editor of TrueHoop.
2. Around The Association
Recap | Box score
MVP: Ty Lawson set the tone early, making his first four shots (including three 3-pointers) to put the Nuggets in command from the outset. He finished with 32 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds, simply punishing the Lakers all night with a relentless, attacking style. The Lakers had no answer for him and he took full advantage.
LVP: In 29 minutes of game action, Pau Gasol scored 3 points on 1-for-10 shooting while only grabbing 3 rebounds. He was flat-footed on defense and was continuously beaten to loose balls by Kenneth Faried. He earned his team-worst minus-29 on the night.
X factor: Corey Brewer was fantastic for the Nuggets, scoring 18 points on 8-for-12 shooting. He hit 2 of his 3 3-pointers, got out on the break to finish in transition, and also played his typical strong defense. When the rest of the Nuggets bench was only so-so, Brewer played his best game of the series to help his team blow out the Lakers.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Kevin Garnett scored 28 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, but his importance to the Celtics might have been most obvious during Atlanta's 10-2 fourth-quarter run to cut Boston's lead from 74-65 to 76-75, a run that started with Garnett on the bench and finished with him at the scorer's table waiting to check back in. That go-ahead, turnaround basket he hit to put the Celtics ahead for good wasn't bad, either.
X factor: Atlanta's reliance on jump shots. The Hawks made 14 jump shots (including seven 3-pointers) in the first three quarters to keep the game tight. They made just two jumpers in the fourth quarter, but got the lead back through on a 12-2 run wherein they scored 10 points in the paint. The Celtics forced the Hawks back into low-percentage, 2-point jumpers, both missed, on two of their last three possessions and closed the game on a 7-1 run.
Defining moment: Paul Pierce blocking Joe Johnson's layup with 3.2 seconds left and the Hawks down two. It was Johnson's 17th field goal attempt of the game but only his second from inside of seven feet. His surprise attack gained him no reward.
Recap | Box score
Defining moment: With Andre Iguodala on the line with 2.2 seconds left and the Sixers in a 78-77 hole, the Philadelphia fans roared before remembering the past and quieting themselves. The arena was heavy with tension and shared history. Iguodala cut through it. He hit the first to tie it, then the second to secure the lead and send the Sixers to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in almost a decade, and, just maybe, amend his legacy.
MVP: Luol Deng, for the second straight elimination game, was tremendous. Charged with the Sisyphean task of filling the void left by not one but two stars, he succeeded. With Iguodala at his hip, the forward scored 19 points on 50 percent shooting and pulled down 17 rebounds.
That was ... all she wrote: Though some will complain the Sixers hardly "earned" their way into the second round of the playoffs, let's not sell them too short. Philadelphia held Chicago to 37 percent shooting in the clincher and the team with the NBA's fifth-best regular season scoring differential will be a tough out for anyone. Except the Heat, if they were to meet in the conference finals.
3. Thursday's Best
4. Thursday's Worst
Pau Gasol, Lakers: Goes 1-for-10 from the field en route to a three-point, three-rebound night in the loss to the Nuggets. If Gasol doesn't bounce back, then the Lakers might have to rely even more on ... Metta World Peace.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote Of The Night
"I was like, 'Son, this is how you shoot free throws."
-- Andre Iguodala, who shot 45 percent (23 of 51) from the line in the fourth quarter this season, explaining how he changed his mental approach to sink nine of 10 free throws in the fourth quarter against the Bulls.
8. And It's Good
9. Stats Check
Ty Lawson scored 32 points and handed out six assists in the Nuggets' win against the Lakers, his third game with 25 or more points and at least five assists in the series. The only other player since the 2004 playoffs who had three 25/5 (points/assists) games versus the Lakers in one postseason series was Deron Williams in the 2008 Western Conference semifinals.
10. Dunk Of The Night