There haven't been many opportunities to feel good about this team over the past couple of months. Tonight, you should allow yourself the pleasure. The Sixers came into this game with an opportunity to put themselves in the playoffs and secure a +.500 season for the first time in 7 years. The left the floor a bit bloodied, but smiling through the pain as they put the final nail in Milwaukee's coffin. (
Here's your rotation chart:
It was actually a really fun night at the Prudential Center in Newark. It was a packed house with more than a few boisterous Nets fans in attendance (one of whom was screaming at the Sixers bench, right in my ear, all night long). The Sixers came out with an attitude and jumped on the Nets right away. Save for an 8-0 run in the third, they never really had to sweat. In fact, their defense was much better than their defensive efficiency rating for the game. I lost count of how many times the Sixers played great defense only to see the Nets hit a really tough shot as the shot clock was expiring (the Kris Humprhies three being the prime example, but far from the only one).
When the Nets scored the 8th point of that 8-0 run to bring the score to 63-62, Sixers, Doug Collins called a timeout. During the break, I looked up at the scoreboard and saw zero points for Thad Young, 2 points for Lou Williams. I mentioned it to my brother. Immediately after the timeout, the Sixers finished the quarter on a 13-6 run, with Thad scoring 10 of the points (Turner hit a shot, Lou split a pair of freebies for the other two). It was refreshing to see the Sixers stiffen in that situation, rather than fold.
Four things really impressed me about Jrue tonight. First, he went to the line 6 times. Second, after he got drilled in the nose, he came right back out and started the second half, even though the nose was clearly still leaking blood. Then, in the fourth during a dead ball with Jrue on the bench, Collins walked toward the Sixers bench, saw something he didn't like from the unit on the floor, and turned back to the Sixers bench. Before he could even get the question, "Jrue, you OK?" out of his mouth, Jrue jumped up and ran to the scorer's table. He was dying to get back in the game. Third, the physical defense on the perimeter. It's been there all year, but it was a pleasure to watch in person. Fourth, and finally, when the game needed to be closed out, he took the ball and did it. Up 9, two-and-a-half minutes to go. Jrue canned two jumpers then found EB with a pretty pass for the layup to push it to 15 and end the game. This is two games in a row where Jrue was given a chance to take big shots down the stretch, and he came through. Tonight, this came after a dreadful shooting night to that point, which is important.
I thought Turner looked pretty good, and he was indirectly responsible for the comedic highlight of the night. Turner pushed the ball on the break and got stripped early in the second quarter. The Nets fan next to me screamed "Evan Turnover!" On the very next Nets possession, Turner grabbed the defensive board and pushed the ball up the floor again, of course the guy next to me screamed "Evan Turnover!" again. Turner promptly pulled up about 8 feet from the hoop and drained a little jumper. Iguodala turned around, looked at the Nets fan and said, "Turn that over."
The win was great. It was great to see the guys clinch the playoff berth and there was a ton of emotion on the bench as the clock wound down, but none of that topped witnessing the further marginalization of Spencer Hawes first hand. It's gotten to the point where I dread seeing 00 enter the game, it doesn't even matter if he isn't actively doing damage, I just find it so aesthetically displeasing to see his array of sissy shots and weak defense, it doesn't even matter if he's hitting sissy hooks. I just want him out of the game the second he steps off the floor. Lavoy Allen isn't great, by any stretch, but he stands his ground on the defensive end and fights for boards. I hope he remains the second big off the bench for the duration of the regular season, and the playoffs. Actually, I'd probably move him into the starting lineup. Speaking of the starters, Voose barely played at all. I'm not sure if they mentioned it on the TV broadcast, but in the second half he had two fingers on his shooting hand taped together. I'm not sure if it was an injury suffered in the game, or something he's been dealing with for a while. Also not sure if that's why he didn't start the third quarter.
Apparently Collins has already said he's going to rest Brand and Iguodala for the final two games. Possibly Lou, as well. I'd like to see him limit Jrue's minutes, as well. Give Turner 40+ minutes at the point over these last two. It's been a long time since the Sixers had any kind of opportunity to rest up heading into the playoffs, take advantage. It's probably in their best interest to split the pair, at best, anyway.
Player of The Game:
I'm going with Thad for his scoring explosion when the team really needed it. Iguodala got strong consideration as well. Another solid all-around game, but more importantly, he held Gerald Wallace to 11 points on 5/15 shooting.
@ MIL, Wednesday night
The berth is clinched. Tied with NYK for the #7 seed, but NYK holds the tiebreaker.
I'll have the rotation chart tomorrow night, along with the game capsule link.