By Bill Campbell
Playing good, hard-nosed defense is often effective, sometimes rewarding. But it’s seldom fun to watch. It’s not a spectator’s game. The ball doesn’t find the hoop as frequently as fans like to see it. That’s what happened the other night in Boston in the seventh game of the Sixers-Celtics playoff series. The teams played well enough to make it close most of the time. But when the history of the Philadelphia-Boston games is written, this one will not be well-remembered. Defensive battles seldom are. That’s the kind of playoff this was and it ended with a seventh game that typified the whole series.
Philadelphia shot 28 for 80 – 35%, Boston was 31 for 73 – 42%. The Sixers were 14 for 20 at the free-throw line, Boston 20 for 22. And for the first time in the series the team that won the third quarter didn’t win the game. The Sixers won that quarter 19 to 14 but it produced the worst-played basketball of the night.
The Celtics won the game by outscoring the Sixers in the fourth period 30 to 23 and Ray Allen, while not the game’s high scorer and left unguarded most of the series, was open enough in Game 7 to hit a big shot going down the stretch to help win it. As expected, the Boston veterans did their usual dirty work: Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo with 18 apiece, Brendan Bass with 16 and Paul Pierce, who fouled out on a charge with four minutes to play, had 15 points. As for the Sixers, Andre Iguodala led Philadelphia with 18 points, Elton Brand and Jrue Holiday scored 15 each.
But there is a message here in this season’s end that has been directed to the new 76ers owners enough times to be set to music: make a deal and get a high-scoring big guy to help this team, a guy who can shoot and take the pressure. The NBA is a league of superstars and the 76ers don’t have one. Doug Collins can coach until his ears fall off and his tongue falls out but he will make no significant difference without a big man. The Sixers are better than they were but that’s all they ever will be. They are competitive. They will scratch and claw as they did through this entire season. But the name of the game is winning. That’s why the Celtics have all those banners floating all around the TD Garden. The Wells Fargo Center needs a few. Go get a Banner Guy.
We may have seen the last of Andre Iguodala – an issue that has hung over this team for years. He didn’t lose this game. But there were a few chances to win that he could have seized. In the third period, the Sixers trailed 53-45 before going on a 7-0 run on two great plays by Jrue Holiday. They got to within one point of Boston at 53-52 when Iguodala had a lay-up. He was fouled on the play and, with a chance to give his team the first lead in the game, he missed both foul shots. Then the air seemed to go out of the Sixers. The Celtics went on a 9-3 run and seemed to settle the issue. Observers here always have held Iguodala’s big salary against him, which I have always considered a bit unfair. But there is no doubt that he is not the “big guy” this team needs as a winner or leader. While he did score 18 points in Game 7, 125 points for the series, he was a poor shooter throughout the season (37.9%) and has been plagued by poor foul shooting. Going into Saturday’s game he was 13 for 29 against Boston. Iguodala made $13.5 million for this season, is scheduled to make $15 million in the next and also has an option for 2013-14. Not easy numbers to trade. Players making that kind of money are usually winners and leaders. So far, he has not been that guy.
In retrospect, it should be remembered that the 76ers might never have been in the Boston series if the Chicago Bulls hadn’t suffered two devastating injuries in the first round of the playoffs. As a result, the Sixers will not have to take on the problems that the Miami Heat always present for them.
On to next season.
A paragraph or two on Kyle Kendrick is in order.
The Phillies right-hander often has been taken for granted as a fill-in reliever and occasional starter on a star-studded pitching staff. Not anymore after his performance against the solid-hitting Cardinals. While most were thinking and talking basketball as the 76ers battled the Boston Celtics, in St. Louis Kendrick was limiting the Cards to 7 hits as he pitched the Phillies to their fourth straight win. While Roy Halladay’s inability to win was on the minds of many and Cliff Lee was in a spat with Shane Victorino, Kendrick became the Phillies big story. His shut-out of the Cardinals was his first victory of the season and the first complete game shut-out of his career, lowering his ERA to 4.10. But his most significant achievement in that complete game effort may have lay in his giving the bullpen a little rest.
Kendrick really has pitched well all season and his efforts have been overlooked. In fact, making six starts filling in for Cliff Lee and Vance Worley, he has been outstanding with only one outing in which he has been hit hard – April 23rd in Arizona. Kendrick would like to be thought of as more than a sixth starter and he may achieve that designation in the near future. In 21 starts over the last two seasons his ERA is 3.18. On most pitching staffs around the league he would be very much in the pitching rotation. He may be here soon as well.
About Cliff Lee and Shane Victorino. They had a recent heated exchange in the dugout that was caught on TV cameras on Friday. While Lee declined to comment on it later t hat night, he did talk about it on Saturday, saying, “Everything is fine, there are no hard feelings. Just a case of emotions flying high and just part of the game.” It was all about Victorino losing a fly ball in the lights on Friday night during the game which turned out to be a 5-3, ten-inning victory. Right-fielder, Hunter Pence, also lost a fly ball in the twilight sky during the same inning. Victorino confirmed that Lee’s comments about the fly ball he lost precipitated the spat but said it really didn’t matter too much and their team-mate relationship remained intact. Manager Charlie Manuel had no comment on the incident. Meanwhile, the recuperating Chase Utley is still with the team and will continue on the trip to New York. No decision has been announced on future plans for using Utley.
Notes on the Week in Baseball
Albert Pujols finally hit a meaningful home run for the California Angels last week. It was his fifth of the young season. The former St. Louis Cardinal, who had been struggling since opening day for the west coast club, had a three-hit day with four RBI’s, two runs scored including a first inning homer – the 450th of his career.
The Chicago Cubs have lost ten straight games proving that good pitching doesn’t always help. The tenth loss in the stretch, 1-0, to the Pittsburgh Pirates was extra painful for Ryan Dempster, who hasn’t won a game since last August. He gave up only one run and seven hits in seven and two-thirds innings, striking out six and walking only one and dropping his ERA to 2.14. Yet the Cubs just can’t seem to find a way to win.
The Baltimore Orioles are close to signing outfielder Adam Jones to a club-record contract extension although outside of Baltimore his name has hardly generated much excitement. The deal is rumored to be for six years and in the neighborhood of $85 million. Jones is twenty-six and has helped the Orioles get off to their surprising start which has them in first place with a 28-17 record. He’s hitting 311 with fourteen home runs and twenty-nine RBI’s. The Orioles clearly want to hang on to him for the future.
Guess you just need a Big Guy.