The Philadelphia 76ers suffered a 97-89 loss in the opening game of their first-round series against the Miami Heat on Saturday afternoon, but the seventh-seeded Sixers acquitted themselves well in defeat. Doug Collins' squad gave the South Beach faithful (well, the ones who were there on time, anyway) an early scare, getting off to a strong start that had LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and company facing a 12-point deficit after a quarter.
After the Heat predictably rolled back in the second and third quarters to take an 11-point lead into the fourth frame, the Sixers didn't quit and came back hard in the final 12 minutes, thanks in large part to energetic Philly forward Thaddeus Young. The athletic Georgia Tech product found a rhythm in the fourth, attacking the Miami defense to post 12 points (6-for-10 from the floor) in the quarter.
Not even the dreaded flat tire — hastily administered by Heat center Joel Anthony as Young leaked out for a fast-break bucket — could stop Young. After losing his right sneaker on the play and careening out of bounds, Young ran back onto the court, retrieved the Nike Hyperfuse (thanks, Sole Collector) and, rather than stopping to put it back on, simply chucked it off toward the sideline as he hustled back on defense.
A player choosing defense over sneakers. The ears of coaches everywhere must have been filled with choirs singing hymns of praise.
Young's aim was a bit off, though; the shoe sailed over the Philadelphia bench and landed in the high-priced seats behind it. (Like people who can afford those tickets really need free kicks.) The fan, apparently not all that fond of size-14 souvenirs, returned the shoe to the Sixers bench, allowing Young to be re-shod at the next whistle. With his full complement of footwear, Young continued his strong play late, completing a sick alley-oop layup on a pass from Andre Iguodala and finishing with 20 points and 11 rebounds (eight on the offensive glass) in 28 minutes of play.
The fan's choice puzzled ABC color commentator and former NBA head coach Jeff Van Gundy, who said that in the playoffs, every advantage should be exploited, including trying to make an opposing player play without a shoe. This makes some sense, but we also live in a world with morality and reason and rules, and so of course you shouldn't keep someone's shoe from them, lest you be viewed as sort of a creep.
To sum up:
• Watch where you're going, Joel Anthony, you big klutz;
• Nice hustle, Thaddeus Young;
• Good job, Heat fan;
• Stop suggesting people steal shoes, Jeff Van Gundy.
Game 2 tips off in Miami at 7 p.m. on Monday night.