Clap Clap ClapClapClap: Iguodala Pulls the Switcheroo on the Lakers
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 19, 2009
It hasn’t been the easiest year to be a Sixers fan. Not to say that the team is doing all that badly–as of writing they’re a mere game and a half out of fifth place in the East, and on pace to certainly at least better their 40-42 record from the season previous. In fact, they’re doing pretty damn well considering that their high-profile signing from the off-season failed to mesh with the team for the first quarter of the season and eventually went out for the whole season, arguably getting the team’s coach fired in the process. Prognosticators may have credited the Sixers as potentially being a third or fourth-seed-worthy team at season’s beginning, but from the way things started, and from how much worse things are going in Toronto and Detroit, we’ll definitely take it.
Rather, the reason this season has been such a trying one is the way this team has lost. They say that poker players remember bad beats far better than their big victories (and by they of course I mean Matt Damon in Rounders), and I think the same is true for most of sports fandom. I can barely remember the key wins this team has experienced this season, but the losses–the so-close, last-second, heartbreaking losses–burn in my mind with the brightest of flames. All teams suffer bad losses, sure–comes with the territory. But I remember watching a montage of the buzzer-beating and near buzzer-beating killers that the Sixers had suffered this year and thinking that if there were enough of these for them to put together a fucking montage of them in the first place, that’s probably not quite normal.
TJ Ford’s midrange jumper with six seconds left. Ray Allen’s three in the corner. The Brook Lopez dunk (after the Sixers missed their last 18 shots). The Dirk Nowitzki fadeaway (after the Sixers battled back from twelve down in the last two and a half minutes, the DAY AFTER the Eagles blew what could’ve been one of the all-time great post-season comebacks against the Cardinals). Oh, and of course, the Devin Harris half-court shot (which I still find completely mind-boggling–Devin used to be one of my favorite players in the league, now I can’t even look at him). Thank God I missed the Tony Parker prayer that sank them just before they went on their huge seven-game winning streak–if I had, I might not have had the heart to stick around long enough to watch the Sixers pull their season out of the gutter.
But then there was last night. Beginning a five-game road trip against the Lakers–arguably the best team in the league, and one which throttled Philly earlier in the year–I was thrilled enough when I saw them keep pace with the Lakers for three quarters after a dismal 11-2 start. When LA started to pull away at the end of the third, I figured it was fun while it lasted, and contented myself with a loss that at least wasn’t demoralizing. Even as the Sixers actually began to creep back in in the fourth quarter–thanks to that Godsend of an octagenarian, Donyell Marshall, who is useless 99% of the time but for some reason becomes utterly unstoppable from three when his team is down double digits in the fourth–I figured the combination of having the home crowd, the better interior rebounders and Kobe Bryant would be more than enough to keep the Sixers at bay. And when Kobe buried a long jumper over the outstretched arm of Andre Iguodala with seven seconds to go, I wasn’t even angry. I’d seen this movie before. Whatever.
I thought it was a three at first, more or less putting the game completely out of range, so my spirit was a little piqued by the fact that Kobe had his foot on the line, making it just a two point game. All right, I figured, this wasn’t completely over yet. I figured they’d have Iguodala drive to the basket and either lay it up and try to draw a foul, step back for a short jumper or kick out to the hot-handed Marshall for three. Seemed like they had decent odds. So here’s my reaction as the whistle blows and Andre Miller inbounds to Iggy with 6.7 seconds to go.
- (0:06) Why is he taking it to half-court? What’s the point of doing that if he’s just going to drive it to the basket? He might not even have time for Donyell to put up his kick-out.
- (0:05) Still dribbling. Guess he definitely plans on taking this to the hole himself.
- (0:04) Um, still dribbling. Is there really time for all of this?
- (0:03) Still dribbling? I guess he’s going to pull up mid-range…all right, I suppose he’s made that before once or twice.
- (0:02) STILL DRIBBLING???? Wait. He’s not thinking about…? He’s not really gonna…Is he?
- (0:01) Oh no.
If you haven’t seen the Sixers play this year–and since they’ve still yet to have a single nationally televised game not on NBA TV, that’s pretty understandable–you have to understand this: The Sixers are the worst three-point shooting team in the history of the NBA. Well, maybe not, but they’re certainly the worst in the league this season. For some perspective, the Cleveland Cavaliers have five regulars in their rotation that average 40% shooting or higher from long-distance, including Mo Williams, who shoots a staggering 44% from downtown. By contrast, the Sixers’ best three-point shooter (besides Marshall, who has played in not even a third of the team’s games, and Marreese Speights, who has shot five 3’s all season) is Thaddeus Young, hitting from downtown at a thudding 35% clip. That’s, uh, not good. Simply put, the Sixers do not have a rotation regular that can be relied upon to hit even a wide open look behind the arc with any regularity. Watching them against the Suns tonight, the Phoenix announcer sounded positively shocked when Willie Green even hit a long two. Willie Green is the starting 2 for the Sixers–you know, the shooting guard. When announcers are stunned about your 2-guard making an outside jumper–and with good reason, as Willie shoots only 42% from the field and a paltry 29% from deep–it probably says something about your team.
Iguodala, naturally, is no exception to this. He’d have to be considered one of the team’s best shooters, and is almost definitely the team’s best playmaker, but he still shoots under 30% from long range, and he’d had a miserable 0-6 start to the game from downtown. If you told the Lakers beforehand that the game was going to come down to Andre Iguodala shooting a top-of-the-arc three with Trevor Ariza, one of the team’s best defenders, guarding him–they’d probably have no problem staking their enitre season on going home happy. The only thing that can really be said to the credit of this playcall is that Iggy has actually shown a pretty big knack for hitting big shots–problem is, they’ve always been followed up by hitting bigger ones. His layup gave the Sixers a one-point lead against the Pacers before TJ Ford knocked his shot down. His tough fadeaway jumper put the Sixers up two before the Ray Allen three. His free throw even should’ve iced the game against the Nets before the Devin Harris miracle. So finally, without an opportunity for anyone to show him up, Iguodala decided he wanted a turn to provide the final dagger.
Indeed, his shot found the bottom of the net, and I couldn’t believe it. As a fan this season, I’d been on the receiving end of killers like this more times than I could stand. What was it supposed to feel like when it was your team doing it to the other guys? To see the other team with the confused “did that really just happen?” look on their face, their fans with the “wait, that’s it? We don’t get another shot at it?” stunned silence, their announcers with the disappointed, “well, whaddya gonna do?” acceptance…it was all so familiar, yet all so strange. I couldn’t even enjoy the moment at first–rather than fist-pumping or cheering or anything, I just shouted “WHAT????” so loud that my roommate heard me down the hall through two closed doors and asked if anything was wrong. “No, it’s just…something improbable just happened,” I explained to her.
No way in hell anything that happens in March Madness will touch this for me.