Sixers Handle Spurs – ‘Tough Stretch’ Becomes Win Streak

Philadelphia 76ers beat the San Antonio Spurs

I am writing this post after getting home from another superb performance and win by our 76ers over the San Antonio Spurs.  That means my head has not exploded – yet.  In my opinion this was the perfect basketball game to attend when you are a die-hard fan of the home team has 3 main characteristics.

  1. Some exciting plays and moments. That can be dunks, crossovers or draining a few big three point shots.
  2. A comfortable lead that is not too large that you lose interest because the game is a rout.
  3. A victory. Obviously this is the most important trait.

This game, at least for me, was perfect.  It had all the aspects, and the win is even sweeter coming against the defending NBA champions.

Observations from the game

  • Another packed house – 19,942.  Compared to the Boston game the crowd was almost entirely Philly dominated.  The fans were electric from the opening tap, and this was easily the loudest the Wachovia Center has been in all the games I’ve attended.   
  • Andre Miller’s post game was dominating against Tony Parker.  Parker’s weak defense was completely exposed all game by Miller.  What I found interesting was Miller’s pre-game and halftime routine.  Almost every single shot he practiced was from the corners in that 15-17 foot range.  It served as foreshadowing for what was to come during the game.
  • The Spurs looked tired coming off a tough lost in Detroit the night before.  With that said, it takes nothing from the Sixers even a little bit who had their own hard fought game last night.  From the jump they controlled the game on offense working in the half-court through Miller’s post game, at times almost exclusively.  Our guys clearly had much more energy evidenced by the 12 offensive rebounds, many of which were floor boards.  The Sixers won the hustle points aspect of the game getting to most of the lose balls.
  • What won’t show up in the box score was Samuel Dalembert’s individual defense on Tim Duncan.  Timmy shot 5-14, scoring just 16 points and pulling down only 6 boards in 33 minutes.  When the Spurs were trying to make their run cutting the lead to 6, Dalembert did what everyone said he couldn’t.  Stop Duncan with no help.  He blocked two Duncan shot attempts straight up, which for me sealed the win.
  • The final game note is a very promising one.  I saw a clear sign of Andre Iguodala’s emerging leadership.  When San Antonio was pressing at the end of the game, in two possessions Lou Williams turned the ball over, then almost did it again but was bailed out with a foul call.  As Williams headed to the line Iguodala who was visibly pissed off after the previous turnover put his arm around Lou’s head “tight.” What came next can only be assumed as a stern “get your act together” judging from his face followed by some words of encouragement.  I was very pleased to see this type of behavior from the Sixers best player.

Going into the Boston game all the talk was about this “tough stretch” coming up and rightfully so.  The next 11 games for the 76ers are against the likes of Boston (twice), Detroit, Chicago (twice), San Antonio, Denver, Orlando, New Jersey, Phoenix, and Cleveland.

But I think the mentality of the fans when saying “tough stretch” was still coming from a losing team perspective.  Meaning the expectation over the next 11 games was vastly lowered.  If I would have said the Sixers would be 3-1 in these first four games I would have been laughed at and called “retarted.” 

But times are changing and our expectations for the Sixers should be changing as well.  Are they a title contender? Of course not.  In fact they aren’t even over .500 yet.  But what they are is a team that has finally figured out how to win – consistently.  Like Pete pointed out, the team is 17-6 since the end of January ranking second the in the Eastern Conference.  And I believe this level of performance will continue through the last 15 games of the regular season and into the playoffs.

Come on Philadelphia 76ers fans, it’s time to expect more from this team.  They deserve it.

Coin Flip to Lottery: Did the Rockets Tank to Get Olajuwon?

The 1984 NBA Draft Series“They were losing on purpose.  It was a business decision” Frank Layden, the former Utah coach, reporting what an anonymous Houston Rockets’ executive told him first hand.  And why wouldn’t they, well besides integrity and respect for the game, when at worst they would get Jordan or Olajuwon.  In those days the two teams with the worst record would literally flip a coin to decide the 1 & 2 draft positions.  With that system, tanking games was an effective and almost guaranteed option to land a franchise-changing player in the draft.

That business decision was carried out to perfection for the Rockets.  They dropped 14 of their last 17 games, 9 of their last 10, and their final 5. 

One of the more suspicious actions was Coach Bill Fitch somewhat resurrecting 38-year old Elvin Hayes’ career for one last season – for no real reason.   Hayes played all 53 minutes in Houston’s 81st game of the season and the first 35 minutes in the last game, ending his career with exactly 50,000 minutes-played, the first player to do so.  This insignificant milestone was the reason Fitch claimed he played Hayes all those minutes.  Besides the fact this record meant nothing, the goodwill towards Hayes made less sense considering Fitch didn’t like him much.  Evidence of that is best described by this advice to his rookie center Ralph Sampson, “You stay away from that no-good, fucking prick,” Fitch said at the beginning of training camp in 1983.

The rest is pretty much history.  That history would not have been if the Rockets played to their potential in the beginning of the ’83-’84 season.  They had a group of talented young players led by Rookie of the Year Ralph Sampson’s 21ppg, 11rpg and 2.4bpg.  Management’s decision to go after Olajuwon or Jordan came only after they started 18-26 and getting man-handled by the Lakers to the tune of a 29-point blowout going into the All-Star break.  After that embarrassing game the top brass concluded it wasn’t working that season and made a conscious decision to play for the draft.  Houston positioned itself back in the coin flip for the 2nd year in a row.  They selected The Dream and went on to win back-to-back championship after reuniting Olajuwon with Phi Slama Jama running mate Clyde Drexler.Hakeem Olajuwon at the 1984 NBA Draft

From Coin Flip to Draft Lottery

This betrayal in morality may not be the first instance of tanking games, but it was without a doubt the most visible.  With the potential for greatness in the ’84 draft class and obvious losing tactics employed by the Rockets, new Commissioner David Stern had to take action.  The NBA had taken a hit after the ’83 season in the media and by the fans.  Immediately following the 1984 NBA draft Stern did away with the prehistoric coin flip for his draft lottery system starting in 1985.   At the time each of the 7 non-playoff teams would get an even chance for the #1 pick.  This made sense because now, no matter how many games a team dumped, they would have no advantage in the draft.  That resulted in Patrick Ewing to the Knicks in the famed “frozen-envelope” scandal in which the NBA allegedly rigged the lottery to send Patrick Ewing to a big market team the New York Knicks.  After much controversy over the new system (among the bad teams really) that teams with the worst records weren’t landing the top picks therefore being stuck in mediocrity, the lottery system was changed three more times before we got to the current version. 

  • 1987 – Only the first 3 picks were decided by the lottery the rest would be decided by record.
  • 1990 – The worst team would receive the best chance to get the #1 pick by getting 11 chances in the lottery (11 non-playoff teams). 2nd worst team 10 chances and so on.
  • 1994 – The teams would be weighted based on record with the worst record getting a 25% chance at the number 1 pick and decreased down the line to a 0.5% chance for the best non-playoff team.

This weighting system essentially revived the tanking strategy as now there was some incentive to dump games again.  Basically if at best a team would be the 28th seed why not try for 30 and get a higher percentage chance at the top pick?

Tanking games is unquestionably unethical and a disgrace to the game, but it did pay off for Houston.  By winning back-to-back championships in ’94 & ’95 when MJ decided to give the league a break for two seasons, the Rockets essentially paved the “tanking” way for the other teams as well. 

The Most Recent Example of Dumping Games

In 1996, seven teams were vying for the #1 pick in the upcoming draft.  The prize: Tim Duncan, a franchise-changing big man with a boring, yet undeniably effective game.  By losing excessively down the stretch those 7 teams went a combined 13-57 in the last ten games of the season.  The Spurs conveniently lost their last 6 (the only team to do so) and secured the 3rd worst record in the league at 20-62 or more accurately stated: 3rd best in the Tim Duncan sweepstakes.  The record itself may not be enough to assume tanking but consider the following:

  • Questions were raised about whether David Robinson’s foot fracture had healed to the point where he could and should be playing.
  • Similar to the Houston debacle this team was suspiciously led by another well-past-his-prime superstar in Dominique Wilkins (age 37). At the same time other healthy, younger players were being sidelined and rested for no apparent reason. Here’s Barkley’s first hand account after a game vs. the Spurs in 1997:

That was significant in that the Nuggets, Sixers and Mavericks finished just 1, 2 & 4 games better than the Spurs, so winning even one of those last 6 games could have been the difference between getting #2 pick Keith Van Horn rather than Duncan.   That was one of the biggest turnarounds considering the Spurs were 59-23 the previous season. 

Two years later (a much faster turnaround than Houston) had San Antonio winning the 1st of 4 championships in 9 years – led by Duncan.  With this much success from allegedly losing games on purpose, can we really believe it won’t happen again in the near future?

Inspiration, quotes, excerpts & main source: TIP-OFF: How the 1984 NBA Draft Changed Basketball Forever by Filip Bondy