What could have been …
That was the theme from the Sixers’ thrilling 101-100 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers at the Wells Fargo Center on Monday night (see Instant Replay). Sure, the Sixers finished off a four-game homestand with three wins and appear to have finally found their groove on offense.
But with the announcement that Andrew Bynum will have arthroscopic surgery on both his knees on Tuesday (see story), one could only think about how the Sixers’ season would have played out differently.
For instance, would the Blazers have attempted to throw the ball down in the paint to big man LaMarcus Aldridge with 7.1 seconds remaining in the game if he was being guarded by Bynum instead of Spencer Hawes?
We’ll never know. However, if Bynum played as advertised this season, chances are the Sixers would be a lot better than 26-40 headed into the four-game, week-long road trip through Los Angeles, Denver, Sacramento and Utah.
One also has to wonder how effective Hawes would have been playing alongside of Bynum. Recently, the sixth-year big man has put together the best stretch of basketball of his career and coach Doug Collins mused before the game about Hawes playing a role similar to the one Pau Gasol played with the Lakers with Bynum in the middle.
Again, what could have been?
Nevertheless, the result on the final play could not have been much better regardless of who was guarding Aldridge. With the game on the line, Hawes forced Aldridge to spin before taking the last-second shot and that tiny sway of momentum away from the basket was enough for the ball to roll off the rim.
After swatting the rebound away, Hawes raised both arms into the air and let out a victorious shout. Hawes deserved it after posting 18 points on 9-for-14 shooting to go with 13 rebounds. It was Hawes’ second straight double-double and fourth in the last six games.
“Spencer did a really nice job on the last possession on LaMarcus Aldridge,” Collins said. “We did not want to double team him and free up anything, so he did a really good job.”
Hawes and Thad Young made Aldridge take 28 shots to get his 32 points (and 14 rebounds). Aldridge also hit an amazing three-pointer with three men draped all over him and 17.9 seconds to go in the game to cut the Sixers’ lead to just two. It was after that three-pointer that Young wondered if the Sixers could ever get a break.
“Are you serious?” Young said when asked what he thought when Aldridge fired in a 26-footer over three defenders.
Fortunately for the Sixers, Jrue Holiday buried two foul shots with 13.4 seconds left because Rookie of the Year candidate Damian Lillard drilled another three-pointer with 7.9 seconds to go to cut the lead to one point.
That’s when Young threw the inbounds pass to Holiday. The problem was, Holiday fell down and the ball ended up in the first row.
“They came up with a three-point play and had another loose ball, we gave them a three and a turnover,” Collins said, shaking his head. “So we fought through two threes and a turnover and we won the game.”
After building a 14-point lead late into the third quarter, a loss would have made the flight to Los Angeles rough. Instead the Sixers have their first back-to-back wins since Feb. 4.
Who would have guessed that it would come down to the center stopping Aldridge in the paint in the final seconds?
“I thought it was going to be a dribble handoff the way they set it up,” Hawes said. “But that’s the way you like to see it -- throw it to the big man in the post.”
The Sixers would have liked to be able to throw it to a big man in the paint more often this season. It didn’t happen.
The Sixers return to action on Wednesday night when they take on the L.A. Clippers. They follow up that game with one in Denver on Thursday night.