After Ed Stefanski pulled off the coup of the Summer by signing Elton Brand, and brought Andre Iguodala back on a big money extension he put a few more pieces of the puzzle into place. He signed Royal Ivey to be a third point off the bench, Kareem Rush to add depth at the SG and a deep threat, Theo Ratfliff to give the Sixers minutes at the five without losing a shot blocker and Donyell Marshall to give the Sixers a forward off the bench who could come in and drain threes when the floor needed to be spaced.
The idea behind having an experienced, specialized bench is that these guys can come in for short spurts and give the team a real boost. They can hit a game-deciding shot. They can catch fire and punish a team for overplaying your stars. On any given night, one of them can mean the difference between winning and losing. Due to the team's overall poor start, and Mo's questionable rotations, they haven't been used. Not until tonight.
With 2:29 left in the third quarter, and the Sixers flailing away, down by 13 points, Donyell took off his sweats and entered the game. At the time, the score was 65-52. From that point on, he'd only sit for a total of 54 seconds, and the Sixers would outscore the Pistons 44 to 26. Marshall spent a great deal of time playing center, believe it or not, and held his own with a tough defensive assignment in Rasheed Wallace.
Cheeks went small, the Sixers pressured the ball and ran at every opporunity. They climbed the mountain, slid back down, then with 35 seconds left and the team down by one point, Lou Williams and Marshall ran a play that they'd had earlier success with. Marshall flashed to the top of the key and set a screen for Williams. The Pistons immediately doubled Williams. He got the ball to Marshall quickly and Marshall got the shot off before Rodney Stuckey could recover. The three was a dagger. The Sixers held their largest lead of the game at 91-89. The Pistons inbounded the ball quickly and tried to get a quick hoop at the other end. Rodney Stuckey drove right by Lou Williams and cruised to the hoop, but Marshall came out of nowhere to block his shot. Williams got the ball, drew a foul and the game was sealed at the line
One clutch shot, one huge veteran defensive play turned a loss into a win. That's why Ed Stefanski brought these veteran guys in to fill out the bench. That's why Mo has to find more minutes for them. Without Donyell Marshall, the Sixers do not win this game.
More after the jump.
It took the Sixers longer to figure things out than it should have, but at the end of the third quarter they did exactly what I thought they'd do without Elton Brand. They got back to what made them such a special team in the second half last year. They used their speed, athleticism, hustle and small lineup to completely befuddle the Pistons offense. They rebounded, blocked shots and got in passing lanes and used their legs to get easy opportunities at the other end. The sad fact is, there's no reason they can't play like this with EB in the lineup. In fact, it's still their best basketball. That's what this team is built for and it's a style of play that EB can not only fit into, but he can make it even better with his rebounding and defense.
They have to figure out how to do it. As a team, they have to stop thinking they're a half-court team now that they have that ever-elusive low post pressence. EB is their best option when they're forced into the half court, but that doesn't mean that they should settle for playing in the half court the majority of the time. I feel like I'm beating a dead horse here, but I know there will be people out there who see this game as an indication that the Sixers are better off without Brand. That's simply not the case. The Sixers are the best they can be when they have EB on the court and they play this type of game. It's as simple as that.
A couple things to note from the boxscore, and then some kudos. First, no one on the team took more than 11 shots. Personally, I don't think this is a good thing. During the entire game Andre Miller and either Thad Young or Andre Iguodala had a serious mismatch. The Sixers never took advantage of them. Miller should've gotten the ball in the post multiple times when Iverson was guarding him. It happened once. Iguodala should've gotten it down there when Hamiton was on him. They ran the play for it, but the help came before Iggy could even get the ball and Miller slipped in the backdoor for an easy hoop. Thad never got the ball in the post at all. That's poor gameplanning. Had the Sixers taken advantage of these mismatches they never would have fallen behind by 15 in the first place. As it was, they were lucky to keep the lead below thirty and wouldn't have been able to had they not played such an excellent defensive game across the board.
Here's to finishing strong. In the first half, the Sixers scored 38 points. In the fourth quarter, the Sixers scored 38 points. Amazing.
Finally, it's time to tip our caps to Lou Williams and Andre Miller. When I first found out EB would miss the game I thought those two guys would come out gunning, trying to soak up the shots EB wouldn't be taking. Instead, we saw simply stellar play from both of them throughout the night (with maybe one hiccup in the fourth quarter from Lou when he hogged the ball on a fast break, but he did draw the foul). Miller and Williams played the role of a pass-first point, who distributes and runs the offense to a tee. Check out their combined lines:
- 9/15 from the floor
- 17/19 from the line
- 35 points
- 10 points
- 6 assists
- 2 steals
- 2 turnovers
It wasn't a perfect game. In fact, even the fourth quarter wasn't pretty to watch unless you really get off on helter skelter defensive pressure and breakaway hoops, but it was an important win. A win on the road against the Pistons may not be quite what it used to be, but it's still big, especially for this struggling young team without their best player.
The live blog is obviously the reason why they won the game, so we have no choice but to keep it going for tomorrow night. Set a reminder for yourself below, the tip is at 7:30 p.m. And thanks to all the guys who participated tonight, it was great watching with you.
Player of The Game:
Live Blog tomorrow night at home against the Nets.