Making the game winning free throws with 2.2 seconds remaining to vault the Sixers past the Bulls in the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs, Andre Iguodala momentarily silenced his critics.
He's the longest tenured 76er, his 8 years of service time edging out Louis Williams' 7 by a year. He's been the (supposed) poster boy for mediocrity, the guy with the (allegedly) undeserved contract that is (allegedly) holding the team back. He was the defacto number one option for years on a team that didn't have a legitimate number one option. He's been the best player on an average team.
Last night, Andre Iguodala became a playoff winner.
Iguodala has had signature moments before, most notably the game winner against Orlando back in the 2009 playoffs. But that was game 1. Down by 1 point, with 2.2 seconds remaining, about to head back to Chicago for a game 7 against a team that could possibly have Joakim Noah returning and a renewed sense of confidence?
This one tops the list.
After Omer Asik missed the second of his two crucial missed free throw's with 7 seconds left and the Bulls up 1, as Spencer Hawes and Taj Gibson fought for rebounding position and with no timeouts remaining, Iguodala swooped in to take control of the rebound and pushed the ball 94 feet in just over 4 seconds, using his lightning quick transition speed to get the Sixers an attempt at the rim. He drew a foul from Asik and momentarily put the entire Wells Fargo Center into shock.
At one point in Iguodala's career, this situation wouldn't have caused Sixers fans much concern. Iguodala came into the NBA shooting a respectable 74.3% from the charity stripe his rookie year, and improved on that each of his first three seasons, to 75.4% his second year and finally to 82.0% his third year. And it wasn't as if this was an improvement based on small sample size, either, as Iguodala attempted 551 free throw attempts his third year, the most he's ever attempted in a season.
But Iguodala was never able to retain that level of success from the line. Originally, it simply regressed back to the levels from when he came into the league, 72.1%, 72.4%, and 73.3% his next three years. The last two years have been a struggle, from 69.3% last year to an absolutely abysmal 61.7% this year.
And even that number, as bad as it is, doesn't tell the full story. Iguodala shot 45.1% from the free throw line during the 4th quarter this year. So, as Iguodala stepped to the line for those two attempts with 2.2 seconds remaining, even the most ardent of Iguodala supporters had their doubts. "Just make one out of two to send it to overtime" was the thought running through my head.
Iguodala had already played a good game up until that point. He had 18 points on 12 field goal attempts, to go along with 7 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 made three's and no turnovers. None of that would have mattered had he missed those two free throws.
But he didn't. Calm, cool, and collected, with thoughts of his son running through his mind, Iguodala sank both free throws and gave the Sixers a one point win. Their first one point win of the season, as it turns out, propelling the Sixers to their first playoff series win since 2003 and Doug Collins first since 1989.
Few players currently calling Philadelphia home are as maligned as Iguodala is. From his shooting and scoring struggles, to his supposed belief that he's the man, to his contract, alleged aloofness and bad body language, fans have long since turned on Iguodala. People tend to forget the fact that the Sixers could have major cap room next offseason without moving Iguodala, or the fact that he's willingly taken a back seat offensively when asked. They ignore his All-NBA caliber defense, his excellent passing for a wing, his ongoing battles with chondromalacia and his injured Achilles, and his underrated catch and shoot ability.
It's hard to say exactly what this win means for the team, or even any of the players as individuals, including whether it could give Iguodala the confidence to return to form from the line. This was hardly a pretty series, and the series win doesn't show the Sixers as being any closer to the end goal of winning a championship. The fact that an 8 seed beat a 1 seed is almost irrelevant because of the circumstances around Rose and Noah's injury.
It's also not likely to change the public's perception of Iguodala long term. Fans have long ago formed their opinions on Iguodala, and one play, one game, even one series won't change that, and nor should it.
But, for one day we'll be talking about Iguodala's heroics. Regardless of whether that verdict lasts, it's at least some recognition for a player who has deserved far more than he's gotten.