Philadelphia 76ers: 5 Ways Andre Iguodala Can out-Duel Paul Pierce
Playoff series are usually determined by the play of each team's stars, and two of the best small forwards in the NBA—Boston's Paul Pierce and Philadelphia's Andre Iguodala—have pitched a spirited battle over the first five games of their Eastern Conference Semifinals matchup.
While Pierce will outscore Iguodala more often than not, the 76ers' swingman is a unique talent who leads his team in a variety of ways. Very few perimeter players are as skilled defensively as Iguodala, and on those nights where it seems like the Sixers' co-captain hasn't done all that much, the box score will show that he chipped in 11 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.
In order to knock off the veteran Celtics, Philadelphia desperately needs Iguodala to outperform Pierce on both ends of the court. So, as the series reaches a pivotal Game 6, here's a look at five ways that the 28-year-old Iguodala can out-duel the man known as "The Truth."
1. Make Him Put the Ball on the Floor
Paul Pierce claims that there's nothing wrong with his left knee, but the sprained MCL that he suffered in the Atlanta series is clearly affecting his play. Pierce was never overly athletic to begin with, but it's noticeably harder for him to create space when he has the ball in his hands.
Through five games against Philadelphia, Pierce is only shooting 38.6 percent from the floor, and he is clearly hampered when having to create his own shot off of the dribble. As long as Andre Iguodala makes Pierce work for his shot on offense, the 76ers' forward should have the upper hand in the matchup.
2. Force the Ball out of His Hands
Even with a questionable knee, Pierce is still Boston's most dangerous threat on offense. As such, Philadelphia needs to force the ball out of his hands and have someone else on the team attempt to beat them.
In Game 4, we saw what happened when Rajon Rondo took it upon himself to take the game-tying shot with a minute left (he was met at the rim by both Jrue Holiday and Thaddeus Young). That sequence only happened because Philadelphia—Andre Iguodala included—blew up Boston's plan to get the ball to one of their "Big 3."
The odds that Rondo or Avery Bradley (if healthy) will single-handedly beat the 76ers are small. So if Iguodala can make Pierce defer to one of the Celtics' other options, Philadelphia's chance to win increases exponentially.
3. Use Athleticism Against Boston's Wing Players
Andre Iguodala is just one of the versatile, athletic wings the 76ers have that can carve up opposing teams. Why the 76ers don't consistently use him in that capacity defies all sorts of basketball logic.
Iguodala shot a career-high 39.4 percent from beyond the arc this season, and seems more resigned to taking long jump shots as opposed to attacking the rim. With Paul Pierce and Ray Allen both hobbled by injuries, the 6'6" Iguodala needs to make it a point to get to the rack whenever possible. More drives to the basket means more free throws, which in turn leads to more productive possessions for a team that struggles to score in half-court sets.
4. Get Teammates Involved
Offensively, Andre Iguodala's value doesn't lie in scoring, but in the fact that he's very adept at getting his teammates involved. Over the past two seasons, Iguodala's assist-to-turnover ratio is a sparkling 3-to-1, and when he initiates the offense in the frontcourt, it creates scoring opportunities for both Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner.
If Iguodala were to try to match Paul Pierce shot-for-shot, he may wind up shooting his team out of the game. Instead, the Sixers' veteran leader needs to make sure those around him are getting good looks at the basket, which will ultimately lead to better shots for Iguodala as well.
5. Rebound the Ball
Andre Iguodala typically rebounds the ball at a higher clip than most NBA small forwards, but is getting outworked this series by a hobbled Pierce. Granted, a fair amount of Pierce's boards have come from ill-advised 76ers shots, but that's really no excuse as to why Iguodala's counterpart is having such success corralling misses.
It's no mistake that the team that wins the rebounding battle each night has won four of the five games so far in this series. If Iguodala can at least match Pierce's total output on the glass, then the Sixers' small forward will help his team punch a ticket to the Eastern Conference Finals.