Monday, January 9, 2012

Opening Statement

Back when the Philadelphia 76ers last won an NBA title, TigerBlog was living in the City of Brotherly Love.

He remembers clearly the night that the Sixers wrapped it up, defeating the Lakers in four straight, and how cars drove around all night honking their horns while others marched up and down the streets yelling, high-fiving, celebrating.

To this day, it's the only time TB has been the in the city itself of a team that just won a major professional sports championship.

The 1982-83 Sixers were an easy team to like. They featured some of TB's all-time favorite players and were led by a head coach - Billy Cunningham - who was also a favorite.

Who was on the team?

Moses Malone, of course. Maurice Cheeks. Andrew Toney. Bobby Jones (who was 0-1 in his carer as a college player for North Carolina while playing at Jadwin Gym, by the way). Marc Iavoroni. Earl Cureton.

And of course, Julius Erving.

Dr. J was as exciting as any athlete in any sport that TB has ever seen play except one. When he played, you couldn't turn away, because you might miss something so spectacular that it was likely that nobody had ever done it previously and that he didn't realize he was going to do it until he did.

While not quite Michael Jordan in this regard, he was as close as anyone TB has ever seen.

When TB was working for the student radio station at Penn, he arranged to do a halftime interview with Erving, which would be done after a Sixers practice at Temple. Never before or since has TB shaken hands with someone whose hands were as big as Erving's, and the Doctor could not have been nicer or more accommodating.

TB was at the Sixers' home opener Friday night for what turned out to be a perfect ending - the home team won and Georgetown's Greg Monroe had a strong game for the Pistons.

As part of the opening ceremonies, the Sixers honored some former players, including Malone, Jones, Cureton and World B. Free. The last member of that group introduced was Erving, and his arrival brought by far the loudest ovation of the night, eclipsing anything else that happened by at least a 2-to-1 margin.

As an aside, the biggest boos were for two of the NBA executives who were introduced and shown on the video board. Did it dawn on no one that this was a bad idea, showing two of the executives who were largely involved in the lockout, which is why the home opener wasn't until Jan. 6?

Anyway, the Sixers game was the first of two basketball games TB saw in Philadelphia this weekend. Twenty-four hours after the home team tipped off with the Pistons, TB was back, this time for Princeton-Penn women's basketball.

This game would be the Ivy League opener for women's basketball, and as such, there was something of an unknown factor pregame.

Yes, Princeton had won the last two Ivy titles. Yes, Princeton was 32-1 in its previous 33 Ivy games heading in. Yes, the Tigers were prohibitive favorites to win the league again. Yes, the RPI ranking for Princeton after its 14-game non-league schedule was 12th in Division I.

None of that really matters when you get into the league.

It all changes quickly, against teams that know your style and personnel so well. And so there was Penn, with a 7-3 record, on the bench opposite Princeton and six other Ivy schools with both eyes focused on the score to see what could be learned about where the rest of the league race is going.

Final score? Princeton 83, Penn 48.

Princeton led 6-1 early when Penn's Alyssa Barron - the Ivy's leading scorer - launched a majestic three-pointer from up top that splashed in, making it a 6-4 game. At that point, TB thought this had the potential to be a grind-it-out game in the 50s that would come down to which team executed the most offensively.

And just like that, it was over. Princeton went on a 24-2 run to make it 30-6, and Penn simply had no answers.

Princeton had five players in double figures, but again it was the defense that was too much for the opponent. At one point, the Quakers were shooting 3 for 32 as a team, with Baron at 3 for 15 and the rest of her team at 0 for 17. In fact, more than 30 minutes of the game were played before someone other than Baron scored a basket for the Quakers.

The current Ivy standings show that five of the league teams are over .500. Of the three that aren't, two - Cornell Friday night and Columbia Sunday afternoon - will be at Jadwin this weekend, before the long break for first semester exams.

The path to a third-straight title isn't going to be all about nights like Saturday. There will be those grind-it-out games, especially on the road, more likely on Saturday nights.

Still, TB is relatively certain that the other six schools saw the Princeton-Penn score and went "uh-oh," with an understanding that this Princeton team is for real.

The Tigers are deep, and their second unit often pushed the lead against Penn as much as the starters. The team has any number of scoring options, and it is led by a genuine superstar, Niveen Rasheed, who is non-stop pressure on the opponent on both sides of the floor at all times.

Penn clearly came into the game Saturday night fired up and ready for a big opening statement on the coming league race.

Unfortunately for the Quakers, they were on the wrong side of that statement.

In the end, it was Princeton's night. In a big way.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fo', fi', fo'.