In the first half, the Sixers turned the ball over 14 times. They allowed Houston to grab 9 offensive rebounds, a rate of 33%. Thad Young grabbed two rebounds the entire half. The Sixers were held to 18 points in the second quarter. It was almost an unwatchable half of basketball. The only highlights came from Elton Brand, who blocked 6 shots.
How, you may ask, did a start like that turn into the biggest win of the season (thus far)? Check after the jump for the answer.
I have so much to say about that second half, I don't know where to begin. OK, that's not really true, I'll begin with the score. With 6:48 remaining in the third quarter, Tracy McGrady hit a three to put the Rockets up 65-51. Over the final 18:48 the Sixers outscored the Rockets 44 to 28.
I want to reiterate exactly how bad they were in the first half, and really through the first half of the third quarter. They were pitiful. They couldn't do anything right. The same problems that have plagued them throughout the season were rearing their ugly heads again. There were a couple of signs of life, though. Elton Brand's play, especially on the defensive end. Marreese Speights' hustle, which was back in full force. Sam Dalembert's good-play/boneheaded-play ratio (which was lopsided to the positive). Still, it seemed like another road loss.
Then, a switch flipped. I can't really point to one thing, or one player. It truly was a team effort. Let's take a look at the team numbers first, for the second half:
- 25 rebounds for the Sixers
- 16 rebounds for the Rockets
- 8 offensive reobunds for the Sixers
- 5 offensive rebounds for the Rockets
- 4 turnovers for the Sixers
- 8 turnovers for the Rockets
- 6 blocks for the Sixers
- 1 block for the Rockets
- 12/12 from the free throw line for the Sixers
- 1/3 from the free throw line for the Rockets
Two possessions later, after the Rockets climbed to within 2, the Sixers again took the air out of the ball. This time, they found Iggy on the baseline with Shane Battier all over him. Iggy rose fading away from the hoop and just beat the shot clock again. Nothing but net. The Sixers were up by 4 with 36 seconds to go. Those are the shots your number one guy has to hit. The defense was set to stop him, the shot clock was ticking down. Both times, he drained the shot.
One more player note, then we'll do the rest of the roster in bullets so I can get to bed. Sam Dalembert was more fired up in the fourth quarter of this game than I've ever seen him. After Miller drew a late foul, Dalembert was the first guy there to congratulate him. He was screaming, he was all over the floor. He was pumped up. When the Rockets got the ball with 5 seconds to go, he put all of that energy to use. Tracy McGrady used a Yao screen to get what he thought was an open look at a three for the win. Sammy left Yao and closed on McGrady faster than any center in the league should be able to. He blocked the three and sealed the win. Huge individual effort from the much-maligned Haitian. He earned his paycheck tonight with 6 points, 13 boards (4 offensive), 4 blocks, 3 steals and only 4 fouls in 29 minutes, most of which were spent guarding Yao.
Now, the rest of the guys.
- Marreese Speights was a man possessed. In 16 minutes he had 6 rebounds (13.5/36 min. if you're into rates), and he also kept two balls alive on long rebounds, both of which earned extra possessions for the Sixers. He moved his feet well, challenged shots and basically did everything he hadn't been doing leading up to his extended time on the pine last game. He should see 20+ minutes in the next game, and I think he will. Hustle and defend, your minutes increase. Don't and you lose minutes. It's a simple message DiLeo is sending the kid, and he seems to be responding.
- Andre Miller had a horrid shooting night, but when the Sixers needed points in the fourth, he took the ball to the hoop relentlesssly. He was 8/8 from the line in the second half.
- Sweet Lou had 6 dimes off the bench, and dropped 11 of his 17 points in the first half, when they desperately needed bench scoring to stop Rockets runs.
- I already told you Thad had only 2 rebounds in the first half. Well, in the second he grabbed 5, including 3 giant boards in the final three minutes which helped the Sixers keep their lead.
- And finally, Mr. Brand. EB played 26 minutes tonight, including a 10-minute run in 3rd quarter. The team ran on 13 of the 49 possessions when he was on the floor, he played a massive game on the defensive end (6 blocks!). He finished with authority, twice diving to the hoop on the weak side, receiving interior passes and finishing with dunks. He also finished off two breaks, one with a dunk and one with a jumper as the trailer. The most-heartening thing I saw from EB tonight, though, was his play at the end of the game. He was obviously gassed out there. He doesn't have his wind back. But he still took the challenge of guarding Yao in the post on a critical possession. He used all of his strength and wouldn't move an inch when Yao tried to back him down. He wound up giving up the ball and it turned into an empty possession. I think we may see EB back in the starting lineup on Friday night against the Wizards, and if he plays like he did tonight, he just might put an end to all the trade talk we've been hearing lately.
That's all I have. This one left me exhausted. So what do you guys think, best win of the year so far? Taking down a full-strength Rockets team, on the road, coming back from a 14-point deficit in the second half? It gets my vote.
Player of The Game: Elton Brand
Team Record: 22-22
Up Next: Washington, on Friday. Time to climb above .500.