Philadelphia 76ers
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Channeling Kobe Bryant: That's how Marco Belinelli makes those crazy shots
New Jersey Local | 5 days ago

They both speak Italian. They both have hit more than their share of crazy off-balance shots. They both have won NBA championships.

But only one of them is still playing.

The story of how Marco Belinelli learned to make 3-pointers that are not found anywhere on the degree-of-difficulty scale is actually a story about a kid growing up in Italy who dreamed of one day making it to the NBA, and one day being like Kobe Bryant -- a guy who had his own Philly and Italy connections.

"There's a couple of great shooters from Italy, too, but I always dreamed of becoming a player like Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan when I was young," said Belinelli, whose 4-for-7 shooting from 3-point range was astonishing mostly because he never once made a shot in the traditional manner -- squaring up, following through and jumping toward the basket.

He made shots while falling out of bounds, while falling to his right and falling to his left -- shots that had every shooting coach in the world jumping off the sofa in astonishment.

"Sometimes my balance is a little bit crazy, but that's the way I am," Belinelli said. "Sometimes they go in; sometimes they go out, but that's how I be aggressive."

A little bit crazy? E pazzesco.

Nobody shoots like Belinelli. Sixers coach Brett Brown went so far as to say that the player brought in at the end of February was the best off-balance shooter he had ever coached. That being said, Brown never coached the guy who moved from Italy to the Main Line and went on to superstardom with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Superstardom awaits this Sixers team collectively if they can keep this up. Saturday night's 130-103 victory over Miami in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference playoffs made it 17 consecutive victories, and this juggernaut shows no signs of slowing.

The Heat's second unit confounded the Sixers in a first half in which they turned the ball over 10 times, lost J.J. Redick in the first minute when he crashed to the floor and tempotarily lost vision in his left eye, and could not solve the riddle that is Kelly Olynyk.

The second half? The turnover total was one. The Ersan Ilyasova production-per-minite ratio was off the charts. Redick was back, too, and his four 3-pointers and Dario Saric's four 3-pointers and Ben Simmons' near-triple double of 17 points, 14 assists and 9 rebounds allowed the Sixers to make this a runaway that sent the Heat players and staff back to their hotel for a long night of kicking around ideas on how to get in the way of a freight train running at full throttle.

"It just tumbled," coach Erik Spoelstra said. "We've got to make sure we put together a 48-minute game Monday."

This much is pretty much certain regarding Monday. The guy who rang the ceremonial Liberty Bell while wearing a Phantom of the Opera mask is going to be watching in street clothes again. Every day that Joel Embiid avoids contact with his surgically-repaired eye socket is a day that makes his orbital bone structure stronger. The healing process takes a long time -- something any Philly fan who suffered through The Process could tell you.

And all in all, the Sixers don't really miss him.

Brown pointed out that the Sixers' 34 assists on 45 made field goals was a very strong number for a postseason game, and after initially declining to answer whether he was feeling a measure of redemption after so many years of cycling through Sam Hinkie's endless array of acquisitions, he acknowledged the obvious.

"I'd be lying if I said otherwise," he said.

What lies ahead for the Sixers in the short term is fighting off an urge to grow overconfident. Monday will mark Day 34 since they last lost a game, and young teams tend to underestimate the wherewithal of a defeated foe.

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