Originally posted on FOX Sports  |  Last updated 5/16/12
The last time the Philadelphia 76ers captivated anyone with anything that even resembled playoff grandeur, all eyes were on Allen Iverson, a speedy, quick-handed volume shooter who averaged 31.1 points on more than 25 shots per game en route to the 2000-01 MVP award. Eleven years later, and back among the NBA's relevant for the first time since that 2001 NBA Finals run, Philadelphia still marches to the beat of A.I.'s drum, but it's a different A.I. -- Andre Iguodala -- keeping time now. Nicknames, however, are where the comparisons stop. Unlike the brash, pompous Iverson, Iguodala is modest to a fault and prefers to deflect the spotlight toward his teammates, choosing instead to lead the way with staunch defense, an understated personality and veteran poise -- veritable qualities that have the No. 8 seed Sixers tied 1-1 with the No. 4 Celtics and, once again, thinking big. Others have contributed to Philadelphia's playoff success against Boston, sure -- Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen, to name a few -- but Iguodala is the axis upon which the Sixers rotate and has been a key component in their newfound home-court advantage, an edge gained in large part because of Iguodala's suffocating defense on Celtics star Paul Pierce over the first two games. After averaging 21.2 points on 42.9 percent shooting in the first round against Atlanta, Pierce has been limited to 10.5 points on 25 percent shooting thus far against Iguodala and the grind-it-out Sixers. Pierce scored just seven points, went 2-of-9 from the field and committed five turnovers in Monday's 82-81 loss in Game 2, and he was held to 0-for-4 shooting in the second half and scored just two points down the stretch in the Celtics' razor-thin loss. Some of Pierce's struggles can certainly be attributed to a balky left knee as he battles through an MCL sprain, but Iguodala's exhaustive efforts on the 10-time All-Star have been nothing short of commendable, regardless. For Sixers coach Doug Collins, though, seeing his star lock down another team's most dangerous option is hardly anything new. That's just what Iggy does. "I feel like Andre Iguodala is a premier defensive player at his position," Collins said, noting that his team went 7-3 against Boston, Atlanta and Indiana in the regular season, in large part because of Iguodala's defense. "We have a guy that makes Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce or Danny Granger work hard every single night," Collins continued. "We don't have to double team, and he fights through all the picks and he has long arms and he's strong and he's quick." Iguodala showed all of those qualities in the waning moments of Game 2, when his tenacious effort led to a controversial illegal-screen call on Kevin Garnett as Garnett tried to free Pierce for a game-tying 3 with 10 seconds left to play. KG stepped up and set a solid pick, but Iguodala came hard around the screen and Garnett was forced to lunge into him, essentially shoving Iguodala out of the way in order to create space. The hard work Iguodala put into Monday's game kept Philadelphia from falling into a 2-0 hole, but it's something he's been doing all year, and it hasn't gone unnoticed by the masses, either. A first-time All-Star selection this year, the 6-6 forward also finished seventh in Defensive Player of the Year voting, receiving one first-place vote, seven second-place votes and seven third-place votes. Additionally, he's a finalist for the Team USA Olympic roster, set to compete in the in London this summer. Though he's not expected to make the team, Iguodala can help his cause if he continues to lock down Pierce and paint himself as a rugged, first-class defender. So suffice it to say his lockdown D didn't take Boston by surprise. "No, they are who we thought they are," Pierce said after the Game 2 loss. "They are a tough defensive team; they grind it out defensively; they try the fast break and they're not going to give in. They have a good coach over there who instills his mentality into his players. So nothing's surprising, they are what we expected them to be." The residual effect of Pierce's struggles has been hard not to notice, too. The Celtics, for all their talent, don't have another player who's nearly as adept as Pierce at finding his own shot, and the offense can tend to grind to a halt when scoring and shot creation are left in the hands of Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo. "You've got to play right," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said Monday, somewhat dismissive of the thought that Boston needs someone else to emerge as a go-to scorer. "You've got to move the ball. . . .We have to do that first, and then we'll find out if somebody else has to step up." Problem is, even if Pierce regains his touch, he still has to worry about slowing Iguodala, at the other end of the court, too. Iguodala is no one-trick pony, and defense isn't the only thing he's good for. He might not be a 30-point guy like the diminutive former scoring champ Iverson, and his team might be offensively challenged as a whole, especially against a stalwart unit like Boston, but Iguodala still knows how to put the ball in the basket. Thus far, he's averaging a team-high 16 points on 44.4 percent shooting against the Celtics, in addition to adding six rebounds and 6.5 assists a night. And over his past three games, including Game 6 of the Bulls series -- when Iguodala hit two game-winning free throws to vault the Sixers into Round 2 -- the eighth-year Sixer is averaging 17.3 points per game. But Philly -- which has inferior talent across the board and is already a massive long-shot to win this series -- won't advance past Boston and into the Eastern Conference finals on the wings of its offense. The Sixers' best hope is to muck things up on defense and keep games close, then find a way to pull it out in the end, something they struggled mightily to do in the regular season. So that's where Iguodala, who is unsurprisingly team-first over me-first, will continue to focus his efforts. "We've had a lot of problems, this team in particular over the last two or three years, getting defensive stops when we need them late in the game, in the regular season or playoffs," Iguodala said. "We've seen too many times where we've let teams get 3s or let them get baskets and end up losing the game. So, we've learned from those moments, and it's shown being able to put them out." Follow Sam Gardner on Twitter .
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