That was an enjoyable game. Was it good basketball? For stretches. Was it solid fundamental basketball? Not entirely. But when you're talking about a team with the fundamental flaws this Sixers team has, playing without their best player, that was nearly as close as we're going to get. Most importantly, they bounced back after every bad stretch and they put the Knicks away with defense in the fourth quarter.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon at the Garden. I'm pretty sure there were two people in the building wearing any type of Sixers apparel, myself and a woman wearing a shirt about 10 sizes too small, so good for you, ma'am. Knicks fans continue to confound me. They show up somehow convinced their team is a legitimate title contender, then act like the past 10 years never happened and respond with amazing shock as they pile out of their seats before the loss is over. But they do show up, so they've got that on us.
The only Sixer I saw on the floor prior to the layup line was Tony Battie, which was a bit disappointing. Iguodala is out there religiously when he isn't injured and I was hoping to see a couple guys out doing some extra work. I guess that was too much to ask prior to a noon start. Good for Battie, though.
Speaking of Battie, I thought Doug Collins played it perfectly. In Friday's game, Battie gave the team big production, but was obviously dragging by the end of the game. 26 minutes was too much for the 34-year-old. Today, Collins kept Battie on the bench until there were 3:44 left in the third quarter. At the time, the Sixers were trailing by 6 points, 68-74. Battie played the five for the remainder of the game. From that point on, the Knicks scored only 22 points. He was able to stay on the floor for that entire stretch because (a) Collins didn't waste any of his gas on the first half and (b) all the stoppages in play. It was an extremely effective use of his players, and a great feel for what his guys can and cannot do. Well played.
Lou Williams continues to amaze me. I've never seen someone draw so many fouls on jump shot attempts, and the crazy thing is that he isn't what you'd call a deadly shooter. He's maybe above average (his numbers are better than that this season), so for the life of me, I can't figure out why defenders routinely leave their feet on his ball fakes. Isn't that like item number one on the advanced scout's Sixers report? Far be it for me to look a gift horse in the mouth, though. Without the 14 trips to the line, Lou would've been a drag on the team today. With them, he buoyed the offense and got them through some extremely dry stretches. Lou's +12 was not an aberration, he had a very positive impact.
I thought Brand was excellent today. 20 points on 11 shots, he was drawing double teams, the rebounding wasn't great, but he wasn't a zero. Most importantly, though, I thought he did a very good job defensively on Amare Stoudemire, especially in the fourth quarter. Amare is a tough matchup for Brand due to a size and quickness advantage. Brand was all over him out on the floor (forcing long twos) and in the post (blocking shots, challenging shots and a couple times, stifling him to the point where he couldn't even get a shot off). Heavy minutes for Brand, again, but he was needed for every one of them.
Evan Turner played exactly the type of game you'd expect a very talented rookie to play. 14 points, 10 boards and 3 assists, but with 5 turnovers, and a couple of them were just mind-bogglingly stupid. One in particular sticks in my mind because it happened right in front of me. Turner had the ball in the corner with a man on him in early offense (probably about 19 left on the clock). Nocioni cut to the baseline under the hoop on the weak side. Turner saw him, I saw him, everyone in the Garden saw him. Including Rony Turiaf who was planted in the lane between Turner and Nocioni. Literally, there wasn't an inch of space to fit the pass through to Nocioni. Turner threw the pass anyway, essentially, he threw the ball right into Turiaf's chest. Terrible, terrible decision, and it wasn't the only one. Of course, the game didn't end on that turnover. The kid bounced back in a big way. In fact, this team doesn't win without he and Jrue crashing the boards and scoring in the fourth quarter. The future of our team combined for 12 points (on 6 shots), 8 boards, 2 assists and 2 steals in the pivotal fourth quarter.
And Jrue. What can I say about Jrue? 19 points (on 14 shots), 4/5 from three, 8 assists, 5 boards, 1 steal and only 2 turnovers (I need to check the tape, because I think one of these turnovers was on a play where Lou Williams threw a pass out-of-bounds, Jrue jumped into the first row and saved it under the Sixers hoop, where it was picked up by the Knicks. That play was not Jrue's fault, it was a horrible pass by Lou). Jrue not only dominated the game by running the team, but whenever the team needed a hoop, he found a way to get it. Every time the Knicks went under a screen, he stepped back and nailed the three. Every time someone made a nice cut, the ball was waiting for them for an easy hoop, and every time a crease opened in the lane, he attacked it. Jrue was the best player on the floor today, and I don't have any doubt in my mind when I say that.
Here are tonight's charts:
Player of The Game: Jrue.
Team Record: 2-5
Up Next:@ OKC on Wednesday