I don’t know about the rest of the basketball community, but every time I see the NBA 2008 playoff bracket updates my eyes take a second look at the Detroit-Philadelphia series. No matter how many times I saw the 76ers leading the Pistons 1-0, tied 1-1, and now the 76ers leading the Pistons 2-1, it feels like my mind is playing tricks on me. During the 2007 playoffs when the Golden State Warriors knocked off the top seed Dallas Mavericks everyone was in a state of shock, however in comparison that would feel like a mere tremor compared to the massive earthquake that would rock the basketball media if the 76ers took down the veteran, blue-collar, championship-caliber Detroit Pistons.
Although many NBA fans when watching this series have their eyes on the high flying, and athletic Andre Iguodala, I’m most surprised to see how well veteran leader Andre Miller is guiding this young team. Don’t get me wrong, I watched Miller have another stellar year throughout the regular season, however he has raised his decision-making ability to another level for these playoffs. Miller was often criticized in Denver for his poor decision making in crucial moments of games where the opposing team was making a run. So far throughout this series he has had an answer to every Pistons run, by knocking down jumpers when his team is struggling to put points on the board, or throwing seemingly perfect lobs to his young rim rockers in Iggy, Dalembert, and Thaddeus Young.
Speaking of Samuel Dalembert, he has also raised his game to another level so far in the post-season. It’s now to the point where I have been subconsciously calling him “Dalembeast” in every conversation I’ve had with my boyz about this series. Heading into the playoffs I thought the key to this series for the Sixers was somehow addressing their outmatched frontline against the likes of Sheed, McDyess, and Prince. Much to my surprise and most likely the Pistons as well, has been the domination of the Sixers Dalembert, Reggie Evans, Thaddeus Young, and Iguodala on both the offensive and defensive glass. In the two Philadelphia wins the Sixers out rebounded the Pistons a combined 88 to 77, whereas in the Philly loss Detroit out rebounded them 42-34.
Steals, rebounds, blocks, second-chance points: these types of blue-collar, veteran box score stuffers have for years been the trademark of the Detroit Pistons. However in this series the advantage is to Philly. A good example of a young star showing this type of veteran savvy was Iguodala in Game 3. Although the young stud shot a mere 2-9 from the floor, on a night when he was struggling with his shot he opted to use his athleticism to more than make up for his shooting woes with 6 assists, 4 boards, 4 steals, and 6 free throws. The latter the result of putting it on the floor and takin’ it hard to the goal.
With all that said there is one trap the Philadelphia 76ers need to avoid, and that is celebrating too early. If there is one team you can’t give an inch to, it’s the Detroit Pistons. Like any team loaded with NBA veterans, my guess is their pride has been dented which will result in a Pistons team coming out in Game 4 with a focus and determination the Sixers have yet to face in this series. Look for guys like Rasheed Wallace, Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton to come out poised with a chip on their shoulder. The key for the Sixers livelihood will be taking the Pistons best punch, and countering with hustle and athleticism on defense and on the glass.
Philadelphia Head Coach Maurice Cheeks in his Game 3 post-game news conference talked about explaining to his playoff inexperienced team the “3 facets to this series. The first one getting our feet wet in the playoffs, the second one tryin’ to withstand a team we know had been in the playoffs many times, and the third one was tonight where we had to learn how to play with a crowd behind us.” Well if the Philadelphia 76ers want to have a real legitimate shot at winning this series Mo Cheeks better explain to his young team the 4th and most crucial ‘facet’ of an NBA Playoff series, “closing out a team”. One of the most valuable assets of an experienced veteran playoff team is that they usually have learned and possess the killer instinct. It’s still early in this series, but from watching their body language and play of late it seems like the 76ers players are starting to have the belief necessary to keep this ball rolling.
Do you believe in magic?