Eugoogly: The ’07-’08 Philadelphia 76ers
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on May 2, 2008
“Level XVI: The Princeton Principle. Definition: When a Cinderella team hangs tough against a heavy favorite, but the favorite somehow prevails in the end (like Princeton almost toppling Georgetown in the ’89 NCAAs). … This one stings because you had low expectations, but those gritty underdogs raised your hopes. …”
If you had told me two weeks ago that the Sixers were going to end their season tonight, after getting two games away from Detroit (including one at the Palace of Auburn Hills), I might not have been thrilled, exactly, but I would’ve certainly been content. Nobody expected the Sixers to win more than one game, and a large percentage of the experts didn’t even expect that–they were, after all, a sub-.500 team that was supposed to be out of the playoff picture by February. To swipe two from Detroit, a 59-23 team roundly considered one of the NBA’s elite, including a come from behind away victory in the season opener…hey, not too bad, right?
Sure doesn’t feel that way, though. Bill Simmons seems to think there are 15 levels of losing worse than this one, but at the moment I’m finding that kind of hard to believe. Maybe because the Sixers didn’t just “hang tough” against the Pistons, they were 24 minutes away from delivering a near death-blow. If the Sixers had managed to maintain their ten-point halftime lead in Game Four, they go back to Detroit 3-1 leaders, and the Pistons might not have regained their rhythm in time. But they started stepping in unison (or, to use a tired pun, firing on all cylinders) in that third quarter, and they never lost their stride again. In one quarter, the series went from “hey, why shouldn’t we be able to beat those guys?” to “oh yeah, that’s why.”
Honestly, Games 1 and 3 (and the first half of Game 4, for that matter) feel like they were from an entirely different series. The Sixers I saw in the last two and a half games were the Sixers of before the All-Star break, where they clumsily ground out games against mediocre teams and layed down for better teams, shooting abysmally, displaying little team chemistry and playing shamefully porous defense. Andre Miller had maybe four assists for the entire second-half of the series, Willie Green and Thaddeus Young were about a combined 7 – 63, and Andre Iguodala shot approximately 15% from the line. It was a thorough reality check for a team that had been playing above themselves for half a season, and it sucked to watch.
Making it worse, of course, was the fact that the Pistons were the team beating them. I had nothing in particular against the Pistons going into the series aside from a minor begrudging of their near-communistic level of ball-sharing (how does a supposed “elite” team not have a single player above 18 a game?), but now they’re unquestioned for me as Public Enemy No. 2 (The Spurs, for dispatching the Suns for the fourth time in six seasons, are still #1 for the forseeable future). I’d heard about Piston arrogance before–how they get bored in the regular season, how they just “show up” and go through the motions in games they think are beneath them, and how they believe they can turn their elite play on and off at will–but I had never witnessed it beforehand, and never dreamed I’d witness it quite so much in this series.
Well, congratulations, you fucking assholes, because yes, you proved that you have the ability to dump games to lesser teams just because why not, while still having enough fire in their reserves to jump out and steal a series’ momentum whenever necessary. It really was like they turned on a switch at halftime in G4, which not only made those last three defeats so frustrating to watch, it cheapens the moral victory of having won two of the first three, since Chauncy and ‘Sheed can always pull the “Oh yeah, were those even playoff games?” card whenever they want. I don’t much care for the Orlando Magic–beyond D-12, what is there to root for besides the second-goofiest Eurostar in the NBA and the most ridiculous max contract in all pro sports?–but I’ll be pulling for them pretty hardcore in the upcoming weeks, because I just want someone, anyone, to put these dudes in their place.
And in the meantime, if you want to look at things objectively, The Sixers really aren’t in a bad position for the future. The trades of Allen Iverson and Kyle Korver have freed up cap space beyond GM Ed Stefanski’s wildest dreams, and they’ll pretty much have their pick of the free agent litter in the off-season. I don’t know if this’ll mean a couple small signings, the signing of a legitimate all-star like Elton Brand or Antawn Jamison (and the thought of having a 4 who can shoot is indeed tantalizing), or if it might mean holding off and waiting for the supposedly far richer ’09 off-season to really bring the goods. Any way, the Sixers really have nothing to lose and everything to gain, considering nearly all their core players are still young and constantly improving, hopefully to the point in the next year or two, Louis Williams learns to be a legitimate playmaker, Rodney Carney develops into the outside threat the team so badly needs, and Thaddeus Young becomes the Sixers’ own Shawn Marion. If Iguodala sticks around, which I think he will, the team might not even need Andre Miller, who had maybe the largest part in leading the team to the postseason year, but who has often acted like he feels like a babysitter to all these green young’uns and might feel more at home elsewhere.
Yes, the future is bright for the Sixers, and hopefully by next year, a mere two first-round wins won’t be perceived as anything but a disappointment. But right now, it’s hard to focus on anything but mourning the present.
R.I.P. The Philadelphia 76ers, 2007-2008