Billy King is dead. Well, metaphorically dead as the former GM and President of the Philadelphia 76ers. Tonight his legacy was in full force as the moribund Sixers attempted to show the Celtics that they could keep pace with the varsity, and for a while they did so nobly. While the timing of King’s dismissal is as mysterious and nonsensical as the majority of his player personnel moves, there is little doubt that a fresh start was in order for this franchise. King was as good as gone when he traded Allen Iverson for salary equalizers in Andre Miller (a decent point guard, but not a long-range asset) and Joe Smith, as well what became the 21st and 30th picks in 2007 draft. With some draft day movement, the Sixers ended up with Jason Smith and Derrick Byars, and Byars was cut in training camp. Thus, unless they extract some value for Andre Miller, this trade boils down to Allen Iverson for Jason Smith. Long live Billy King.
The Sixers started the game strong, matching the Celtics stride for stride. Andre Miller led the charge, abusing Rajon Rondo in every way possible: posting him up, shooting jump shots, and making a back cut underneath the hoop for 10 quick points. The Celtics, meanwhile, were spreading things around with all five starters scoring. Kendrick Perkins made all his shots, including two nice hooks, for a Celtic high of 8 first quarter points.
With five minutes left in the quarter and Philly ahead 18-17, Eddie House mercifully replaced Rondo on the court and was greeted by Andre Miller who blew left around him and immediately drew a foul. Miller then posted House on the right block and spun around his immobile form. House responded with a finger roll in the lane and a successful three point play.
At one point in the latter half of the quarter, the Celtics and Sixers combined for 11 straight baskets. Somewhere Billy King was smiling (maybe) as the Sixers ended the quarter up 32-26, having shot 74% from the field.
The Celtics started the second quarter with the second unit plus Ray Allen on the floor. The Sixers jumped out to a 42-31 lead three minutes in, with Louis Williams continuing Philly’s excellent point guard play by hitting a three and getting excellent penetration. Over the course of the first few minutes, Doc responded to a struggling second unit by subbing most of the starters back into the game.
Tony Allen stayed on the floor, however, and the TA rollercoaster continued its latest run. Allen hit a 3-pointer, grabbed 3 rebounds, made a nice penetration and dish to James Posey for a dunk. He also threw two horrible passes on consecutive possessions, one into the stands and another to the Sixers when he tried to hit a covered Pierce at the top of the key. He’s got spark, but there still seems to be a short in there somewhere.
Philadelphia scored easily through much of the second quarter. However, near the end of the half, the Celtics finally seemed to wake from their stupor. KG put on his game face and ended the half with 12 points. The fouls also started coming thick and fast, and Rondo went to the bench after picking up his third personal foul of the game.
Philadelphia ended the half up 57 to 52, shooting 60% from the field. Andre Iguodala scored fourteen points in the half and Miller 19 points, with 6 assists, and 5 rebounds. AI who?
The Celtics scored the first seven points in the third quarter on a Garnett dunk, Ray Allen three-pointer, and a Pierce runner in the lane, to jump ahead 59-57 and force Philly into an early timeout. The pace slowed considerably following the time-out, but the Celtics’ defensive intensity had clearly moved to a new level.
Perkins picked up his fourth foul at the 5:43 mark, and was replaced by Glen Davis, again the first big man off the bench (a couple more games and we may need to post an Amber Alert for poor Leon Powe). Paul Pierce continued his strong second quarter play, driving and drawing fouls, hitting an open Davis underneath the basket, and generally playing with a level of focus rivaling that of Kevin Garnett. Pierce’s distribution of the ball has been strong throughout and he ended the third quarter with 8 assists for the game.
Toward the end of the quarter, Williams re-entered the game for Philly making an immediate impact, with a lay-up and a three-pointer on consecutive possessions and a lob to Dalembert for the dunk. Fortunately for the Celtics, Posey managed to wedge two three-pointers into this streak and Rondo stepped in for a lay-up with a second left, allowing the Celtics to finish the quarter ahead 83-80.
Remember how last year, the Celtics would stay in the game all the way through three quarters and then the other guys would kill us in the fourth? Well now we are the other guys. Despite the decision to play Tony Allen at point guard for much of the fourth quarter (actually, to be fair, Tony played pretty well with a couple runners in the lane and decent decisions with the ball) and an early Philadelphia run which put the Cs three points down, the Celtics quickly gained the high ground and held it for the remainder of the game.
The Celtics fourth quarter success was driven largely by excellent three point shooting by House and Posey, strong defense and a solid quarter for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. By the 6 minute mark the Celtics were up by 8 points and the Sixers were making sloppy mistakes. Although the Celtics never quite pulled away with absolute certainty, they were safely up at least 6 points for the remainder of the fourth quarter. As the clock wound down there was an air of inevitability about the win. The final score was 113-103 Celtics. Garnett led the way with 22 points, and Pierce had 19 (and 12 assists). However, a case could be made that the MVPs for this game, and the reason for the Celtics’ separation in the second half, were Posey with 17 points (and generally good all around play) and House with 15.
Not only is Billy King dead, but, apparently, so is the franchise he left behind. Long live the King.