So that's what it would've looked like if the Sixers got Elton Brand in his prime. This game had all the makings of another disappointing loss. Slow start. Low energy. Terrible offense. Klutzy, soft, ineffective play from the five spot. The difference came in the fourth quarter when the Sixers remembered they had Elton Brand with a mismatch on the low blocks, and rode him for all he was worth right to the final buzzer of a close win over a winning team. (game capsule
Here's your rotation chart. Note the starters run in the first, and then the big run in the fourth followed by the middling six-minute stretch when Spencer Hawes came back in the game for Evan Turner:
First things first. Brand was unbelievable. It didn't matter who they put on him, it didn't matter how they tried to play him. He was bound and determined to carry the Sixers to a victory tonight and it took every last bit he had to pull this one out. All the benefits of having a big man who can score showed themselves in this game in a way they simply haven't for the Sixers with any consistency for nearly two decades. I was kidding earlier when I said this is what it would've been like if they had Brand in his prime, but it is a sad reminder of what could've been had he not been damaged goods when they signed him. His two three-point plays and his two kick outs to Jrue and Iguodala for three were just things of beauty.
On a more somber note, I find it maddeningly frustrating that Evan Turner and Jrue get benched for being loose with the ball, but Spencer Hawes is allowed to completely submarine the team with sloppy play with absolutely no repercussions. It goes without saying that Hawes will take bad shots and play terrible defense. I guess Collins just accepts those things for the occasional pretty backdoor pass (and he doesn't have many other options), but when Hawes is as careless with the ball as he was tonight on top of all the other ways in which he kills the team, it's almost a sure death sentence. I couldn't believe he came back into the game in the fourth. I realize Collins did it because Josh Smith came back in and he wanted to get away from his small lineup, but I think he should've stayed small. Brand at the five and Iguodala at the four may not be a literal bigger lineup than Hawes/Brand, but in practice it is.
Turner's removal in the fourth was ponderous to me, but nowhere near as maddening as Jrue's benching in the third quarter. Jrue's shot wasn't falling early, I believe he started 2/8 from the floor, but he was contributing in every other way possible. He finished the night with 8 rebounds (including one in traffic that iced the game), 6 assists, 1 steal and only 1 turnover. When Collins took Jrue out 3 minutes into the third and sat him for the rest of the quarter, he was essentially punishing him for having a poor shooting night, when Jrue had already made the adjustment to not having his shot. I just don't see the sense in that.
Andre Iguodala had his best game in a while. He outplayed fellow All Star, Joe Johnson, even out-scoring ATL's best player. In the first half, Johnson could barely get a touch. He scored 7 points on 4 shots with Evan Turner on him, 8 points on 8 shots against Iguodala.
It's a rare occurrence when the Sixers get next to nothing from Thad and Lou off the bench (5/13 for 10 points) and still win the game.
Does this win make up for the Washington loss? No, probably not, but it was important, very important. There were four key games left on the schedule coming into tonight: this one vs. Atlanta. 4/8 at Boston. 4/17 vs. Indiana. 4/21 vs. Indiana. They took the first of the four. Celtics vs. the Heat on ABC later today at 3:30. If the Celts lose, the Sixers are back atop the Atlantic Division.
Player of The Game:
Brand. 25 points, 10 boards, 5 assists, 3 blocks in 37 minutes.
at Miami, Tuesday night.