The Sixers extended their season-high winning streak to four games against Houston last night with an astounding team effort in the second half. It was quite a game. One they should've won handily, should've lost and everything in between.
The Sixers starting lineup jumped all over Houston's starters in the first quarter. Sam was dominating the paint, Jrue had Aaron Brooks in irons (1/5 to start the game, without setting foot in the paint with the ball in his hands). Before you could blink, Philly had a double-digit lead. With 2:48 left in the first, Eddie Jordan gradually shifted to his preferred "no defense" lineup and it all went to hell. Over the following nine minutes of game time, the Sixers were out-scored 32-10.
While it's fair to blame Jordan for the beginning of the run, you also have to recognize that he tried to stop it, and he tried to stop it with defense. He changed the lineup six times, mostly to get better defenders back onto the floor. These are adjustments he simply wouldn't have made even a week or two ago. Eventually, the Rockets cooled and the Sixers were able to trim the Rockets lead to 10 at the half.
I took the dog for a quick lap around the block during the half and got my mind off the game. I was pretty sure I knew where this one was going. The starting lineup would make a push, then Jordan would go back to the "no defense" lineup, and the Rockets would put them away. The first part came true, the starters moved to within seven, then the first group off the bench gave those three points back. The game seemed to be following the script, then the next rotation turned it on a little bit and the deficit stood at only six heading into the fourth.
At this point, I was actually on the edge of my seat. This was a game that could be won. If they could get their act together, buckle down on the defensive end and the defensive glass, this game could be a win. Jordan went with an odd lineup to start the fourth, with rarely used Jason Smith at the five and Carney at the two. I can't say this lineup excited me, but they turned it on and by the time Brand returned, the game was tied at 88. The Sixers took the lead, pushed it to as many as seven points, then started to slip back thanks to Lou getting burned by Aaron Brooks (a theme for the entire game).
With 2:09 remaining the officials took a timeout. The Rockets would have the ball with a chance to tie it up coming out of the break. This is the moment Eddie Jordan has blown on every occasion this season. Every single time up until tonight he's trotted out an asinine lineup to get that one crucial stop needed to save the game. Every time he's proven that he has absolutely no clue which players on his roster are capable of winning a game, not with a made 20-foot jumper, but with in-your-jock defense of the highest order. Tonight, Eddie made the right move. During that break in the action he inserted Jrue Holiday for Lou Williams. This is what the Houston rockets did with their next six possessions:
- Battier missed three
- Battier missed three
- Brand blocks Landry's attempted layup
- Brooks missed three
- Thad draws a charge on Battier
- Jrue steals a pass thrown by Battier
After that spurt, the Sixers were up 99-91 and this game was over. Four out of six possessions for Houston ended with the ball in the hands of the worst offensive player they had on the floor. One block, two turnovers, three missed threes.
As I said in my preview, Andre Iguodala was the most talented player on the court tonight. At the end of the night, it held true. Iguodala won this game for the Sixers, and he did it shooting 3/8 from the floor. He did it with two premier wing defenders guarding him the entire game. He did it after sitting the final six minutes of the first half with foul trouble. There are very, very few players in this league who can win a game taking fewer than 10 shots, Iguodala is one of them. In the fourth quarter, while the Sixers were scratching and clawing to get over the hump, Iguodala scored 10 points on two shots, grabbed four defensive boards, grabbed a steal to key a fast break and continued to play lockdown defense on the perimeter. Simply put, he put the Rockets on ice. His final line isn't the stuff hall of fame voters will notice, but it was deadly effective and again, the reason they won this game. 14 points, 10 boards, 6 assists, 3 steals.
Of the four, this was the best win in the streak by far. Second night of a back-to-back, both games on the road against teams with winning records. To fight back from that deficit was a thing of beauty and it hearkened back to the quality basketball this team has played over the past two-plus seasons, with a small caveat. I'm 100% convinced this team has more talent now than they had the past two seasons. At no time in Andre Miller's time with the Sixers did they have a reliable half-court option like Brand. At no time could they put five quality defenders on the floor when a stop was absolutely needed. At no time did they have an on-the-ball defender like Jrue.
I'm of the belief that this franchise has moved the ball forward this season in terms of personnel, even with the loss of Miller. They're in better shape now than they were this time last season. The record obviously doesn't back up that assertion, but my eyeballs do. If you're looking for an excuse as to why the record is as dismal as it is, well, you know what my response is going to be. Tonight was probably the best Eddie Jordan has managed his rotations this season, and it resulted in a hard-fought win. This was one of the few times he's made substitutions for defense the entire season, and the Sixers actually closed it out. You can say the players are starting to rely on each other, you can say the effort is finally there, you can say a lot of things that put the blame directly on the players for the 19-31 record, but the fact of the matter is they have essentially been playing with one arm tied behind their backs.
If you need a dose of reality, I don't think the Sixers win this game if Kyle Lowry doesn't get hurt. There's no way Lou and Willie could contain both Brooks and Lowry, and Adelman would've ridden that combo all the way to a double-digit win.
I realize this win streak should have me down. I realize the high draft pick everyone covets so much is slipping further away. I even realize that each win extends Eddie Jordan's reign of terror, but I can't help it. Wins like this one will always bring a smile to my face, no matter how bad they may be for the future of the franchise. I can't possibly be down after a game that was won on the defensive end and saw Jrue Holiday play 30 minutes. Even when I think about the lost opportunity to get rid of Jordan, I'm also warmed by the thought that a winning streak heading into the trade deadline may make it impossible for the team to trade away its best player for table scraps.
Player of The Game: Iguodala
Team Record: 19-31
Up Next: Tuesday, vs. Minnesota. There's a legitimate chance this streak will be 7 games when we hit the All Star break, by the way.