PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Andre Iguodala is winning games for the Sixers and winning over Philadelphia with each clutch basket.
Iguodala has long been blamed for the Philadelphia 76ers’ eight-year run of painfully mediocre basketball. Before this season, Iguodala had never won a playoff series. He was labeled overpaid, overhyped, and he always led the Sixers in trade rumors.
His most memorable shot before April? Most Sixers fans would shrug at the question.
This amazing and improbable postseason, though? Take your pick.
Maybe it was the go-ahead free throws with 2.2 seconds left in Game 6 against Chicago that knocked out the top-seeded Bulls. The image of Iguodala standing on the scorer’s table and celebrating with his teammates has been an oft-replayed scene over the last few weeks.
There’s a new No. 1 contender — and a 1A — after he helped the 76ers storm back from 18 down in the third quarter to beat the Boston Celtics in Game 4 on Friday night. The big reason the Eastern Conference semifinals are tied 2-2 going into Monday’s Game 5 in Boston rests on Iguodala’s late-game jumpers.
Iguodala shook off a shaky shooting night with a step-back jumper over a charging Ray Allen with 1:22 left for an 85-83 lead. Then he buried the dagger. Iguodala took the feed from a driving Lou Williams and let rip a 3 from the wing — boom! A tie game became a five-point lead with two flicks of the wrist and Iguodala did what he wanted to do since he was the No. 9 overall pick in the 2004 draft — send a packed postseason Philly crowd into a frenzy.
Fans finally have a reason to cheer their All-Star.
After he won Game 6 from the line, coach Doug Collins noted how Iguodala’s uneven career arc made him worthy of the accolades.
“For ‘Dre, he’s gone through a lot,” Collins said. “I told him, ‘Nobody deserves this more than you do to have this moment. To move on and to be able to experience this.'”
Iguodala has heard since Allen Iverson was traded that he wasn’t ready to handle the responsibility of being “the man” for the Sixers. He signed an $80 million, six-year deal in 2008 that only served as a lightning rod for the fan base when he struggled to take the Sixers past 40 wins. He has almost $31 million owed to him over the final two seasons of his deal — which still makes him an attractive trading chip for a contender looking to added one more All-Star to get to the next level.
Under Collins and a blossoming nucleus that includes Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen, Iguodala has found his niche. He was fourth on the team in scoring his season (12.4 points), and was rewarded with his first All-Star berth. Iguodala is one of the top defenders in the league — his stout perimeter shut-down play is one tool that was never doubted — and is vying for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.
He’ll never play like the superstar so many expected of him. But he doesn’t have to on this unselfish team.
“I’m happy, but not as happy as I am for my teammates,” Iguodala said. “That’s something I’ve been trying to get better at as my career has gone on, which is the type of mark I leave for my teammates. I think back to (assistant) coach Aaron McKie. He didn’t do a lot on the court my first year here and his last year here, but he left a mark on how my career would shape out because of how I followed him. So I’m trying to do the same things he showed to me for my teammates, and this is a part of it.
Like the rest of the Sixers, he doesn’t want the run to end.
They know they need a better start than they had in Game 4 when Boston reeled off the first 14 points, led by 15 at halftime and 18 early in the third quarter. The Sixers have won three postseason games when trailing by at least 10 points — a sign of resiliency, for sure. But the taxing comebacks eventually leave a team worn down as the benches get shorter and practice time is at a minimum. The two-day break will surely help both teams.
The Celtics needed a day to forget about the epic collapse.
“In the first half, the execution was beautiful,” coach Doc Rivers said. “We did all the right things. In the second half, we just didn’t do it. They pressured us. They took us out of a lot of stuff.”
Kevin Garnett scored only nine points and Rivers’ loyalty toward giving veteran Ray Allen important minutes in the fourth seemed to backfire.
The Sixers attacked the lane, and attacked some more. They got to the line 36 times. When there was nowhere to go, well, they kicked the ball out and found open shots on the perimeter. Just like Iguodala’s buckets over the final 90 seconds.
“We were up 15, you really have to take their confidence away from them and we didn’t do that,” Celtics forward Paul Pierce said. “We gave that team some life, they took that and ran with it and it carried all the way through the third and fourth quarter. That was really on us.”
The Sixers guaranteed they’ll be home for Game 6 on Wednesday.
Iguodala might be celebrating under confetti streams again.
(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)