Finally, optimism isn't laughable. Make no mistake, if the Sixers can bottle the basketball they played from minute 12 through minute 36 of tonight's game, they're going to be in the playoffs. They took it right to the Cavs on both ends of the floor, against the subs first, and then against the starters. It was impressive, it was uplifting and I'm hoping it's a sign of things to come. Unfortunately, we also need to talk about the other 24 minutes.
Here's a quick look at the rotations, then we'll dive right in.
It's pretty clear where the damage was done. The starters had to fight to get the score within 13 by the end of the first quarter, then at the beginning of the fourth a Royal Ivey-led unit coughed up a six-point lead in four minutes of action.
Rodney Carney was inserted into the lineup twice. Both times the Sixers went on a big, big run. +9 in three minutes in the second quarter, +7 in only 2:09 at the end of the third. It was no coincidence the runs happened when Carney stepped on the floor, he was a huge plus tonight.
If you want to know, from a basketball perspective, how the Sixers dominated the game for such a long stretch it's a simple formula. Defend, rebound and run. This teams needs to do all three to be successful and for those 24 minutes, they did.
The first and fourth quarters, well, they weren't what you'd call pretty. In the first, they didn't defend and they didn't rebound. In the fourth, they defended but the rebounding was shaky and they didn't get out and run at all. Instead, they settled into their half-court offense and it wasn't pretty.
I have a visual for you to demonstrate exactly what was happening in the half court throughout the game. The first image is Andre Iguodala's shot chart for the game.
And now here's the same for Lou Williams:
If you count up the x's and the o's for these players you're going to see that Lou and Iguodala finished 5/24 outside of the lane. That's 20.8%. That's also 12 points (Lou hit two threes) on 24 possessions, which is pitiful. This could be an indictment of the decision-making skills of the players involved or the Princeton offense's effectiveness. It could also be the result of playing a very good defensive team who clearly cut the lane off. Most likely, it's a combination of all three.
Two criticisms for Eddie Jordan tonight, neither of which was the reason the Sixers lost, however. First, the Sixers had a short bench tonight. Speights and Kapono were out with injuries and Brezec was out with "why the hell is this guy in the NBA." That left Rodney Carney, Jason Smith, Willie Green, Royal Ivey and Jrue Holiday as able bodied subs off the bench. Jordan overextended the starters in the first half, realized Willie was completely useless and he was in a corner when the fourth quarter started. He needed a guard sub and he had no choice but to go with Royal Ivey in this close of a game against this type of opponent.
I don't disagree with the move, necessarily, because as much as I'm pro-Jrue, I don't trust him in big situations yet. The reason I don't trust him in those situations, however, is that Jordan has absolutely refused to give him enough minutes in low-pressure situations to get any kind of a feel for what type of player he is, what type of situations he's capable of handling. It's a tremendous failure on Jordan's part that he hasn't gotten the kid minutes. It's criminal the way he's jerking Jrue around and this is when it comes back to bite him in the ass. He desperately needed another option to eat up a couple minutes at PG and he had to go to Ivey. We all saw the results.
The second F for Jordan comes from failing to recognize what was going on defensively for the Cavs in the fourth quarter. Iguodala and Lou were dribbling the air out of the ball, then trying to drive, being cut off and settling for deep jumpers. I don't know why all the sets were suddenly isos at the top of the floor, but there were better options. For one thing, how about a pick to get those guys into the lane? Brand and Jason Smith both ran the P&R well tonight, but for some reason they were nowhere to be found for most of the fourth, it was one-on-one time after time. If you don't want the P&R, then fine, just dump the ball down to Brand on the blocks. That's what he's there for, and honestly, he's been the best player on the team, on both ends, for the past three games. When scoring in the half court gets difficult, lean on him.
I don't think either of these things would've necessarily changed the outcome of the game, but the offense in the fourth quarter needed adjustment and it never happened.
One quick word on your player of the game, Elton Brand. He's back. I'm convinced. He just played 72 minutes in a back-to-back and dominated down low. 18 points, 14 boards tonight on 13 shots and he set the tone for the team down low with several hard fouls on drives to the hoop. If Jordan was really concerned about the toughness of this team, he should be kicking himself for sitting Brand down the stretch for so long.
Player of The Game: Elton Brand
Team Record: 5-8
Up Next: Tuesday @ Washington
Also a quick word that's a couple weeks overdue. We have a new writer for Don't Boo The Birds, his name is Dave and if you're an Eagles fan, head over there and check out his work.