Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner take control as Sixers edge Bulls
As the confetti fell in the raucous Wachovia Center, the Philadelphia 76ers surrounded the man who had saved them from a heartbreaking loss to the Chicago Bulls in the final minute. This man, after a John Lucas III 3 pointer cut the Sixer lead to just one with 43 seconds left, bullied his way to the rim, had his shot blocked, recovered, went back up, got fouled, and made 2 key free throws to push the lead back to 3 (in a play Doug Collins dubbed “the singular play of our season”), is the Sixers second leading scorer, rebounder, and assist man through 3 games in this series, exerted his will on the game and finished it for the Sixers.
The man they surrounded was…Evan Turner.
There has been much debate amongst Sixer fans when it comes to the direction of the team. The Sixers are built oddly. They have a slew of young players who play major minutes, yet have relied on veterans Andre Iguodala, Lou Williams, and Elton Brand to carry them when it matters most, and those players have failed at that role this year. The fans have pointed to the potential backcourt of Evan Turner and Jrue Holiday (#1 on the team this playoffs in scoring, assists, and FG%) as the future of the team, but it had not yet materialized this season.
This team should now officially be handed over to Turner and Holiday for the future. Not Andre Iguodala, who, while a great defender and facilitator, is playing on one leg and has been wildly ineffective shooting the ball (his wide-open 3 with 2:55 in the game was a horrific miss). Not Elton Brand, who, despite his wonderful leadership and focus on the defensive side of the ball, has also seen his effectiveness drop precipitously. And not Lou Williams, the alleged “closer” of the team, who is probably too small and has too spotty a shot selection to be “the guy” on a good team.
No, the team should belong to Evan and Jrue. In the series they have combined for 35 points per game on 26 shots, while collecting 11 rebounds and almost 9 assists and playing tremendous defense on the Bulls’ guards (save for all of those weird fouls on Richard Hamilton in this game, which is a story for another time), and getting to the line a combined 10 times per game.
After the series against the Miami Heat last year, where the Sixers showed real growth in a 5 game loss that featured a myriad of close games, the Sixers’ goals this year were to find out what they had in Evan and Jrue, who played very well in that series. The team’s hot start shifted the goals of the season to a “win-now” mentality, which derailed the progress of the two future backcourt mates as Doug Collins stuck with what was working (namely, Jodie Meeks and Lou Williams), and jerked Evan’s minutes around despite his occasional flashes of brilliance. There was a point where Evan started and was given full control of the team, and the Sixers went on a mini-tear before his role was dialed back again. There was frustration on both sides, and it hurt the team tremendously as they floundered down the stretch and ultimately fell from their perch atop the Atlantic division, falling all the way to 8th in the Eastern Conference.
Holiday has struggled this year too. Considered a rising young point guard before the season, Jrue struggled to get to the free-throw line and had a strange lack of assists, often trying to hit long jumpers instead of finding his teammates. Both he and Doug Collins spoke about him becoming more of a “scoring guard,” and looking for his shot before his teammates, but it never really meshed well with the glut of ballhandlers on the team. Jrue struggled to find his role and there were points in the season when Sixer fans openly wondered if he and Evan could ever play well together.
Not anymore. This needs to be their team going forward. They are the future of this team, two rangy guards who excel at different parts of the game (Holiday shooting and passing, Turner driving and rebounding) and complement each other on offense and defense very well. Jrue in particular is a person who could be the emotional center of this team, and seems to be well-liked by his teammates and the city. The city pulls for Turner extremely hard (they go crazy whenever he does anything positive), but I’m not sure his personality makeup is going to allow him to be the leader the team would need him to be if Jrue were not there. Regardless, the two of them together (they seem like good friends), need to be the heads of this team going forward.
After this season, there will probably be some changes to the Sixers. Lou Williams may opt-out of his deal, and the Sixers would be wise to let him walk. Elton Brand might be on the amnesty block, and Andre Iguodala might be on the trade block. Spencer Hawes is a free agent in the offseason, and might not be re-signed (last night’s offensive explosion notwithstanding, he’s been terrible the second half of the season), so Evan and Jrue, along with Thaddeus Young, will probably be the new “veterans” on the team going forward.
I hope they embrace their new roles, as they have the potential to be the best starting backcourt in the NBA both offensively and defensively. For now, they have control of the series against these Bulls, missing so much leadership in Derrick Rose and now Joakim Noah, with one more game in Philadelphia that offers the Sixers a chance to go up 3-1 and put a stranglehold on the series. It could all fall apart with losses Sunday and Tuesday (game 5 in Chicago), but even if it does, there has been a paradigm shift in the team these last 2 and a half games (Meeks started the first half of game 1 before being benched at halftime and seeing about 2 minutes of playing time since). With the veterans struggling, Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner have taken control of the team.
Now it’s up to them to run with it and see how far they can go.