Andre Iguodala, the 76ers' best player, is a standout defender and a fierce finisher on the break. Elton Brand, their most well-paid player, has become little more than a $17 million role player. Jrue Holiday, probably their best offensive player, is a 21-year-old still learning the breaks of the game.
The Sixers have tried to frame their knock as a strength, claiming that not having a bona fide star makes them less predictable late in the clock, but there is one player whom Celtics coach Doc Rivers does not want to see have the ball in a clutch situation.
"Oh, Lou Williams," Rivers said before Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series between the two teams. "Really, I wouldn't like any of them to have it. I'd like us to get it. But Lou is just a shot-maker, and they would tell you Paul [Pierce]. Guys who can just make shots no matter what defense you play scare you."
Williams was the only reserve to lead his team in scoring this season, but the Sixers had difficulty closing out close games. They were 3-12 in games in which they led or trailed by five points or less in the last five minutes. Their struggles in such games were so prevalent that head coach Doug Collins actually said he considered their five-point loss in their home finale against the Indiana Pacers an encouraging step, because his team at least played well down the stretch.
Those issues never materialized Saturday. Although Williams was shut out in the final 11 minutes, 25 seconds, the Sixers continued the make shots. Iguodala hit a 3-pointer that halved a six-point deficit with a little more than a minute to play, and Holiday scored the Sixers' final four points. The Sixers did not struggle in the clutch so much as the Celtics simply made more plays.
One game is not likely to allay Rivers' fears. It took two impressive defensive plays by Avery Bradley — a fast break block and a steal — to keep Williams scoreless late in the game. The Celtics will keep an eye trained on Williams throughout the series, especially when the game is close and the clock is winding down.