You don’t win 20 games in a row without knowing how to close out games. You also don’t lose 13 out of 15 games if you know how to close them out. That’s the tale of the two teams that battled last night in Philadelphia. The hometown 76ers (24-40) fell to the defending champion Miami Heat (49-14) by a final score of 98-94. It just as easily could have been the 76ers on the winning side of that score as they played some of their best basketball against the best team in the NBA.
Closing out games used to be something that people said LeBron James couldn’t do. He was afraid to take winning shots, constantly deferring to team mates. Didn’t drive the lane to get to the line with the game on the line. What you “witnessed” last season then in the playoffs was the best player in the world, realizing that there isn’t anything he can’t do on the basketball court. When it came down to the end of the game last night and the 76ers not backing down and making all the right plays, James was there. James only made 1 of his last 10 shots in the game, including two right at the rim that Dwayne Wade swooped in and finally put home, but when the game was on the line, so to was James. Making six crucial free throws in the closing minutes.
James finished with 27 points, eight assists and seven rebounds leading the Heat along with Dwyane Wade who finished with 21 points and eight rebounds. Not to be outdone, the 76ers were lead by Thaddeus Young, who continues to play great finishing with 24 points and 15 rebounds and Jrue Holiday finished with 21 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists including what was the play of the game and possibly the play of the season for the 76ers. With 1:21 on the clock and Holiday in control of the ball, he made a move at the three points line and hit the lane at full speed rising up towards the basket with James trying to come over for the block. It was to no avail as Holiday threw down a one handed dunk, James stumbled as he landed and the game was tied at 91. Aside from a Dorell Wright (13 points) three pointer, it was the last bucket of the night. Thad Young was rejected by Chris Bosh at the end and James ran out the clock after stopping what would have been another highlight dunk like his whole first half was filled with.
This game wasn’t so much about the Heat winning its 20th game in a row or its 14th straight over the 76ers as it was the 76ers ability to hang in there and trade punches with the best team and the best player in the world. A tight first quarter and start of the 2nd had the fans on the edge of their seats as the 76ers were playing well and leading the Heat 33-28. That was until James decided he had enough and took the Heat on a 23-6 run to put them ahead 51-39 at the half. Normally, that would have been enough, but the 76ers fought the whole game and had and 85-82 lead with just over 4 minutes to play. After trading baskets and a couple of turnovers, Spencer Hawes missed an open reverse layup and the air went out of the crowd with 30 seconds left.
After Monday’s win over the Nets, the 76ers played the Heat as if they were the team on the verge of losing for the first time in 20 games. They played with a determination and fire that hasn’t been on display this year. Maybe having a view of the way the Heat play each game, especially in 2 of their last 4 games over the past week, the young 76ers players have picked up some tips on how they should play every game. After sitting on the edge of my seat for most of the game, I hope that the 76ers can finish out the season playing the same way they played last night.
The Sixers are off until Saturday and have time to regroup and hopefully put together an effort like the past two games. The Indiana Pacers (40-24) are coming to town on Saturday night at 7:30.Tags: 20 game win streak, 76ers, Chris Bosh, Dorell Wright, Dwayne Wade, Jrue Holiday, LeBron James, loss, Miami Heat, NBA, Sixers, Spencer Hawes, Thaddeus Young