Posted May 19 2012 11:09AM
PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia 76ers' bench had been their strength all season. Check that. All regular season.
In the Sixers' first-round series against the Chicago Bulls and in the first three games of the conference semifinals against the Boston Celtics, they were getting inconsistent production from the guys that they were used to counting on for a lift.
Rookie reserve Lavoy Allen has been a revelation on both ends of the floor against Boston, and Thaddeus Young was Philly's lone bright spot in the Game 3 blowout. But as a group, the Sixers' bench hasn't made the same kind of impact it had in the regular season.
Lou Williams and Young finished second and ninth respectively in Sixth Man voting last week. And when the two were on the floor together in the regular season, the Sixers outscored their opponents by 192 points, the highest margin of any two-man combination on the team.
But the Sixers were a minus-12 in 153 minutes with Williams and Young on the floor together through the first nine games of the postseason. In the conference semis, Young had been practically invisible in the first two games, while Williams had shot 11-for-34 (32 percent) through the first three, and his failure to convert on a late fast break may have cost the Sixers Game 1.
Things changed in Game 4 on Wednesday, as the Philly reserves lifted their team in a 61-point second half and a 92-83 victory that evened the series at two games apiece.
The Sixers were in a most desperate situation early in the third quarter, getting blown out for the second straight game and far down the path of going down 3-1 with Game 5 back in Boston on Monday.
Then they turned things around on both ends of the floor, outscoring the Celtics 61-34 over the final 22-plus minutes. Williams led the way offensively, scoring 13 points and dishing out seven assists in the second half. He had two huge buckets down the stretch and then the drive-and-kick that produced Andre Iguodala's wide-open dagger 3-pointer in the final minute.
Young and Allen crashed the glass, outworking the Celtics for 10 of Philly's 17 offensive rebounds. And with Young flashing into the paint when the Celtics trapped the Sixers' ball-handlers, the bench bigs also pulled off some nifty interior passing. One Young-to-Allen assist gave the Sixers a two-point lead with less than two minutes to go.
"They outworked us, both of them," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "It felt like, every long rebound, [Young] got to."
Allen's defense on Kevin Garnett was also critical. And Jodie Meeks got into the act too, scoring nine points and picking up three second-half steals. In all, the bench scored or assisted on 46 of the Sixers' 61 second-half points. And Williams' eight total dimes were the most he's had in over two years.
"They deserve a lot of credit for this win," Iguodala said of the reserves. "Lou Williams, that's about as good as I've seen him play, basketball-wise. It wasn't just scoring shots. He made some really big shots for us, but I feel like the things he did outside of that were really big for us.
"He was probably the player of the game."
Plus-minus bears that out. Williams was a remarkable plus-28 in Game 4, with the Sixers outscoring the Celtics 68-40 in his 29 minutes. Philly was a plus-15 with Williams and Young in the game together, their best mark in over a month.
In the end, it was a typical Sixers boxscore, with seven guys scoring between eight and 16 points and with the bench playing big minutes and leading the plus-minus department.
Of course, there's another side to this bench success. The Sixers' starting lineup has now been outscored by 38 points over the last three games. And in preparation for Game 5 on Monday (7 p.m. ET, TNT), Sixers coach Doug Collins again must think about making a lineup change.
Before Game 4, Collins insisted he wouldn't bench Elton Brand for Allen, even though he had previously explained why Allen was a better matchup against Kevin Garnett.
"I just think EB deserves to start," Collins said. "I think he's one of our proudest players. I love and respect him to the ultimate. And I'm not going to come in here, in a game like tonight, and have him not in our starting lineup. I'm just not going to do that."
With Garnett playing center, Collins could start both Brand and Allen, moving Spencer Hawes to the bench. But that's a question for another day. And Collins would surely prefer questions about his lineup than questions about facing elimination.
Thanks to his bench, he won't have to hear those questions for at least a few more days.
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