By Spike Eskin
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – I don’t think any of us saw this coming. Yes, the Bulls are missing their best player in Derrick Rose, and another key player in Joakim Noah. Yes, the Sixers already match-up far better with the Bulls than the Heat. That said, I’m not too sure any of us would have guessed on a 3-1 lead after four games (I know, I know, you predicted it. Whatever. Aren’t you sick of hearing what people predicted? I am.).
More so than the 3-1 lead, is how the Sixers have gotten there. Though Spencer Hawes has gotten a lot of press in the last week, the young Sixers backcourt of Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner have played in a way we haven’t seen very much this season; well together. They’ve also gotten the opportunity to do something we haven’t seen them get the chance to do very much this season; close games.
Both things are happening, and the team is winning. It begs a question that we’ll hopefully have the opportunity to debate for years to come, “why didn’t this happen earlier?”
It took until past mid-season for Evan Turner to start, and even when he did, the results were mixed. Neither Turner nor Holiday seemed to really know their roles, and their successful games were most times mutually exclusive. Jrue Holiday, though listed as the team’s point guard this season, didn’t really get to play a lot of point guard. I wrote about the development of this backcourt being the main goal of this season, and the failure to do so, more than once this season (see related story, and see other related story).
We all sat and argued about it as the team failed in the second half of the season. From “Evan Turner is a point guard,” to “Jrue Holiday is a point guard,” to “Doug Collins is ruining Evan Turner,” to “Evan Turner can’t play,” and finally to “the team is quitting on the coach.” It was exhausting for us, I can only imagine how tiring it was for players and coaches.
And then out of nowhere, the Sixers win three straight games behind closing, clutch efforts from both Holiday and Turner. Big-free throws, big shots, great defense and heart. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to see it. Elated and excited to see it. I nearly lost my voice at both games three and four, because I was screaming about how I glad I was. As a fan, it’s saved the season for me.
So here’s the fork in the road that we’ll have to discuss: was the handling of Evan Turner and Jrue Holiday a great coaching move by Collins, or did his reluctance to let the backcourt make mistakes and grow together prevent us from seeing this happen earlier in the season? It’s tough to decide, and we may never know the answer.
It’s entirely possible that Doug Collins decision to force Turner to learn some lessons, and earn his way into this position may have made him a better, tougher player, and more capable of dealing with the situation. It’s possible that Collins decision to keep Holiday from being the lone ball handler and distributor during the year gave him a chance to learn how it should be done, and allow him to escape some of the criticism that four turnovers per game would likely bring.
It’s also entirely possible that both are getting this opportunity because it was Collins’ last resort. Watching Lou Williams chuck up fadeaway three pointers in the last few minutes of close games had to grow tiresome, even for Doug. That if he did this sooner, maybe we’d have a better idea in what we’ve got in Turner and Holiday.
The truth is most likely somewhere in the middle. Which is a place in today’s sports talk and media atmosphere we’ve all forgotten, and I can be as guilty as anyone.
Doug Collins called a play for Evan Turner in a clutch situation in a tight game.
Andre Iguoldala convinced Collins to allow Jrue Holiday to take another clutch three point shot in another one.
Both decisions worked. The Sixers won both games.
We’re in bizarro-Sixers land. I don’t know how we got here, but I don’t want to leave.