IT WAS YESTERDAY morning. It was hours before all of the commotion at the end. And Thaddeus Young was talking about how he felt and what it was like. He had sprained his ankle down the stretch of the regular season. He had sat and watched and hoped he would be OK for playoff time, for money time.

And he said: "I still don't have the athletic ability I had before. But as far as running and moving and twisting and turning, it's good."

It is. It is, indeed.

Running, moving, twisting, turning - that described the final shot of last night's 96-94 victory for the Sixers. Running, moving, twisting, turning - that is what Young did, taking the inbounds pass, driving past Rashard Lewis, then somehow contorting his way around Orlando's Dwight Howard in the lane. He had the ball knocked loose, regathered it, regathered himself.

Running, moving, twisting, turning - and the layup was good with 2.2 seconds left. And the Sixers took a 2-1 lead in their series against the Magic.

Even as the Wachovia Center, with 16,492 in attendance, was exploding, it was hard not to think about Young, standing there on the silent practice court, talking about what it all felt like, life in the playoff cauldron. He did not know then that the outcome would be on his fingertips. But he knew what was in his gut.

"I think if you're a rookie, when you don't have experience, it does matter," Young said. "You're first year, you don't know what to expect. But this being my second year, I knew better. I knew it was going to be more physical. I knew the crowds were going to be more intense. I knew the games were going to be faster.

"I knew everybody was going to be trying to go at each other's throats," he said.

Little did he know.

Or maybe he did.

He had not had a good game. He had only four points before the end. He had gotten lost on defense a couple of times. He had averaged 17 points in the first two games of the series, but he had fallen off in this one.

Even in the first two games, it isn't as if they directed the offense much in his direction. As Young said: "No, right now, I know that we're in the playoffs and we're trying to get certain guys the ball. I'm just playing off of those other guys, like I've been doing all season, getting easy baskets when I can, just trying to be the cleanup guy."

They hadn't run many plays for him in the series. Truth be told, they didn't run the last play for him, either. Tied at 94-94 with 6.9 second left, Andre Miller was inbounding the ball.

"Andre [Iguodala, who scored 29 points] was the main option," Sixers coach Tony DiLeo said. "They took Andre away."

He was not surprised. Iguodala is the Sixers' best player. The other team has a DVR, too.

"Thad was another option," DiLeo said.

Whatever. He took the ball and headed for home. He drove easily around Lewis and got to the lane. He encountered Howard there, the NBA's defensive player of the year. It was physical. The ball seemed to come loose for a time. Then there was a regathering and a willful move to the basket.

And the layup fell through.

Two seconds later, the confetti was exploded into the air.

"The biggest shot ever for me," is what Young called it. And why not? He said, "I wasn't having a good game, but to be able to come back and keep your poise and knock down the main shot of the game, the game-winner, it's big."

The Sixers blew a 17-point lead in this one. They stopped attacking the basket, they turned the ball over, they played a horrendous 5-minute stretch near the end of the third quarter and watched comfort disappear into concern. The lead was only 80-77 after the third quarter. When Lewis poured in a three-pointer, it was 86-86 with under 6 minutes to go.

And then it bumped along, until the end.

"Just a lucky shot," is what Young would end up calling it. "I'm glad I hit it. I'm glad the ball was in my hands at the end of the game."

So are they all. Because while he is not the Sixers' main option, or even their second option in this postseason, Thaddeus Young is a real option for the Sixers, nonetheless. *

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