1. Iggy's Free Style Seals Elimination Of Bulls

By Henry Abbott

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.

Andre Iguodala
AP Photo/Matt Slocum

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.

Things change.

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."

Things change.

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."

Things change.

Statistical support for this story from NBA.com.

ESPN.com's Henry Abbott is the founder and editor of TrueHoop.

Dimes past: 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 28 | 29 | 30 | May 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10

2. Around The Association

Tell us what you think!

Take Survey Now » No Thanks »