Go ahead, say it out loud. The Sixers are back. We've all been waiting, holding our breath that the turnaround wasn't fool's gold. We tried to pick apart their wins with excuses like "They haven't played anyone good," "They were missing x player." Well, these past two wins have me convinced, the Sixers we saw in the second half of last season are back. In fact, the team we're watching right now is probably better than they were heading into the playoffs last season.
Everyone's darling, the Portland Trail Blazers, came into the Wach tonight riding high on a 3-game win streak. Their confidence lasted roughly 13 and a half minutes. That's how long it took the Sixers to build a twenty-point lead.
Jumping all over a good team is a great sign, but it's something they've been able to do before. What happened tonight, though, is that they withstood the run their opponent would go on (and it was a monumental run). They took Portland's best shot, dusted themselves off, then proceeded to pummel the Blazers into submission.
For the second straight game, the Sixers shot the lights out from deep. 11/23 from three, highlighted, once again, by Thad and Iggy who combined to shoot 7/10. Over the past two games, those two have hit 13 of 18 from downtown, an amazing 72.2%. Iguodala's January shooting number, well, they speak for themselves. 56.1% from the floor, 46.2% from three, 79.5% from the line, 4.6 boards, 6.4 assists, 2.1 steals and 23.3 points per game. That $80M contract certainly doesn't look like a mistake right now.
Let's go back to that third quarter for a second, because a couple key things happened. First, when the Sixers were getting killed on the boards, DiLeo quickly went to Speights for Thad to get more size in there. Then, when the Blazers came to within 10 points it was Lou and Speights who put 8 points on the board in a little over two minutes (Speights also had an assist to Iggy in that stretch). That scoring burst, from the bench, quelled the Blazers run and put five points back on the lead, allowing the team to breath easier. The fact that the bench was there when they were needed, and they came through in such a big situation is a night and day difference from the beginning of the season when the bench did nothing but blow leads the starters had built.
Obviously, there's an 800-pound gorilla in the corner named Elton Brand, and we'll get to what his return means tomorrow. For tonight, go to sleep thinking about how this team has come together and the second half run has started about 10 games before the second half. Last year, they had to dig their way out of an 18-30 hole on February 4th. It took them until March 19th to get to .500. If they keep playing like they have, this season they could reach .500 on January 17th, against the Knicks.
Player of The Game/Week/Month: Andre Iguodala
Team Record: 18-20
Up Next: San Antonio, Friday night.