Relive the ride: A look back at the 2011-12 Sixers


When training camp began, seemingly on the fly during the second week of December, the 76ers were a relatively finished product. Everyone who finished the previous season that ended with a first-round loss to the Heat was back, plus the two draft picks, Nik Vucevic and Lavoy Allen.
The early consensus was that the Sixers were going to have a good season. After all, with eight players age 24 or younger on the roster after a season in which the team improved by 14 games, the potential was there. Besides, in a compressed, abbreviated season of 66 games, the Sixers youth and familiarity with one another should be a big asset.
The players understood that, too.
Its imperative, said veteran Elton Brand during training camp when asked if the Sixers needed to advance past the first round of the playoffs.
And strangely, as the No. 8 seed, the Sixers did get to the second round of the playoffs this year. Moreover, they came one victoryperhaps even four minutesaway from advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals. That was until the Celtics Rajon Rondo took over in the clutch in Game 7 at the Garden to finally end the Sixers season.
But what a ride it was. From a 20-9 start, one that only 13 other teams in franchise history have bettered, to the pre-All Star doldrums to the topsy-turvy play in the last month in the regular season and finally to the ride through the playoffs, it was a unique and exciting season for the 76ers.
Heres a look back on the highlights (and lowlights) of the 2011-12 season.
DecemberJanuaryFollowing a one-week training camp at Saint Josephs University followed by just two exhibition games against Washington, the Sixers jumped into the season as if they were doing a cannonball off the high dive. So with that the Sixers opened up with five straight games on the road with a back-to-back mixed in and stirred some excitement by winning three games.
That set into motion a season-best six-game winning streak that was only snapped when the Sixers had to travel to New York for the final game of a back-to-back-to-back set. Nevertheless, the Sixers went 15-6 through the first month of the season, while holding the opposition to 84.5 points per game.
Signature game: Jan. 20, Sixers 90, Hawks 76.Behind double-doubles from Jrue Holiday (16 points, 11 assists) and Elton Brand (10 points, 16 rebounds), as well as 20 points off the bench from Thad Young, the Sixers destroyed the playoff-bound Hawks with defense and rebounding. Defensively, Andre Iguodala held the Hawks top scorer Joe Johnson to eight points on 3-for-8 shooting.
What made this one special was the Sixers trailed by eight points at the half, but out-scored the Hawks, 51-29, during the second half.
Player of the month: Spencer HawesThe numbers dont jump out10.4 points, 8.8 rebounds with 58.8 percent shootingbut if there was one player who came out of the lockout ready to go, it was Hawes. The Sixers were 10-2 in games in which Hawes played and scored no fewer than 94 points for an average of 102.6 points per game. Hawes was well on his way to winning the Most Improved Player Award until his Achilles injury sidelined him for 29 games.
Best individual game: Jan. 4, Jrue Holiday vs. New OrleansTrailing by 13 in the first quarter and by six to start the fourth quarter, Holiday took over with 14 points, a pair of assists and a steal.
FebruaryThe month opened with a bang when the Sixers ripped the Chicago Bulls at the Wells Fargo Center. The victory helped serve notice to the rest of the Atlantic Division that the Sixers were poised to make a run at their first division title in a decade as well as the fact that they played some of the best defense in the NBA.
After beating the Bulls, the Sixers scored impressive, back-to-back wins on the road over the Hawks and then at home over the Lakers to push the record to 18-7. With nine games to go before the All-Star break, the Sixers seemed to solidify their standing as the most pleasant surprise in the Eastern Conference.
But then the Clippers and Spurs arrived in Philadelphia and won games. After two uneventful victories over the Cavs and Bobcats to reach the high water 20-9 mark, the Sixers closed out the first half with five straight losses.
From that point on, the Sixers had just two more winning streaks of three or more games the rest of the regular season.
Signature win: Feb. 1, Sixers 98, Bulls 82This one might have been the most impressive victory of the regular season. Led by 19 points and nine rebounds from Iguodala and 19 points and eight boards from Young off the bench, the Sixers held the Bulls to 43 percent shooting and hammered the boards against top-rated rebounding team in the league.
Player of the month: Andre IguodalaIguodala sewed up his first All-Star berth with solid, all-around play averaging 12 points, six rebounds and six assists per game. But more than that, Iguodala stood out on defense. He put the clamps on a host of All-Stars like Johnson, Caron Butler, Rudy Gay and Kobe Bryant. In the victory over the Lakers, Bryant shot 1 for 10 during the final quarter with his only bucket coming on a last-minute layup.
Best individual game: Feb. 6, Lou Williams vs. LakersIn 25 minutes off the bench, Williams scored 24 points on 7-for-12 shooting. Williams scored 14 of those points in the decisive fourth quarter in which he hit two three-pointers and went 4 for 4 from the line, including two in the final seconds to ice the game.
MarchThe month was the ultimate stretch of Jeckyll and Hyde moments. In stretches the Sixers looked brilliant, specifically during the two wins over the Celtics and one over the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. More than that, the 8-8 March will best be remembered for when coach Doug Collins finally shook up his starting lineup.
Following a loss to the Bulls at the Wells Fargo Center, Collins shifted shooter Jodie Meeks to a reserve role and inserted second-year No. 2 pick Evan Turner into the starting five.
Initially, the move paid off, with Turner sparking the team to three straight wins while filling up the stat sheet. But by the beginning of April, Collins had readjusted his lineup by re-inserting Meeks into the starting unit with Turner and Hawes going to the bench. Nevertheless, for a long stretch it looked as if the Sixers had found a missing superstar-to-be when Turner took off.
Signature win: March 11, Sixers 106, Knicks 94A huge third quarter from Turner, Iguodala and Williams led the Sixers to a rout in a Sunday matinee at Madison Square Garden. Turner and Williams combined to score 25 points during the third quarter, while Iguodala held Knicks' top scorer Carmelo Anthony to zero field goals after the first quarter.
Player of the month: Elton BrandHis numbers were hardly gaudy, though he did get six double-doubles in March. However, Brand did more for the team during March than any other player. With Hawes out with an Achilles injuries, Brand often was stuck playing much bigger opponents. The thing was Brand was battling a potpourri of injuries that might have sidelined any other player.
Best individual game: March 11, Evan Turner vs. KnicksTurner scored 24 points on 9-for-14 shooting with 15 rebounds. He also went 6 for 7 from the foul line in 40 minutes.
AprilThere was a period during the month where Collins thought his team was going to get shut out of the playoffs. It seems a bit farfetched given how far the Sixers advanced during the postseason, but during April it was touch and go. During the 6-8 month, the Sixers opened with four straight losses, including a 21-point defeat to the lowly Toronto Raptors at home.
But after a 24-point loss to the Celtics at the Garden on Easter Sunday, Collins again shook up his lineup by moving Turner and Hawes to the bench. The move worked for a short period until the Sixers fell into another three-game slide with the Milwaukee Bucks breathing down their necks for the eighth and final spot in the playoffs.
But a hard-fought overtime win in Indiana got the Sixers on track as they closed out the regular season with four wins on the road.
Signature win: April 21, Sixers 109, Pacers 106 OTAgainst the hottest team in the league, the Sixers got all of their scoring in overtime from backcourt mates Holiday and Williams. It started with a four-point play from Williams and ended with Holiday scoring two baskets in the final 31 seconds inside the paint. Meanwhile, the Sixers were led by 20 points and nine rebounds from Brand.
Player of the month: Thad YoungIn a month in which the Sixers needed someone to step up and score some points, Young led the squad with 13.6 points per game during April. He also shot 55.6 percent from the field.
Best individual game: Evan Turner vs. Milwaukee, April 25This was far from the best-played game of the month, but Turner took 29 shots in the win over the Bucks in the penultimate game of the season and scored 29 points with 13 rebounds. But just so no one thinks Turner was gunnin the whole game, he finished with six assists to lead the Sixers.
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