The Philadelphia 76ers never give up. That's a statement of fact. Unfortunately, it doesn't mean they're particularly adept at finishing games off. Far too often, we've seen them fall just short of a magical win. Far too often their deficiencies have proven too much to overcome when the game is on the line. Tonight, they used the fourth quarter to show exactly what they can do when they impose their will on another team.
With 8:51 to go in the fourth quarter, Antonio Daniels drove to the hole for a layup. He was fouled on the shot and completed the conventional three-point play from the line. That free throw gave the Wizards a 90-78 advantage. From that point on, the Sixers outscored Washington 23-6. They held the Wizards scoreless for nearly 5 minutes during that stretch, and went on a 17-0 run. If you're looking for a reason, look no further than the defense of three players: Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young and Rodney Carney. Yes, I just said Rodney Carney.
Carney had what might have been his best game as a Sixer tonight, and they wouldn't have come away with the 101-96 win
if he hadn't. His final line, a thing of beauty. 7/11 from the field, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 steals, 0 turnovers, 16 points in 23 minutes of action. Carney was all over the floor, skying for rebounds, finishing dunks, challenging every pass, every shot. He in no way resembled the player I've watched for the past two seasons. Whatever got into him, I hope we see it again.
Beyond Carney's miraculous transformation, Thad Young's play needs to be talked about. Not only did he set a new career-high with 17 points and 9 rebounds in 34 minutes, but he played some of the best defense you'll ever see on Antawn Jamison. The All Star power forward finished 6/23 from the floor and Thad had him locked down for most of the game.
If you want to know why the Sixers are playing at such a high level, I can give you a couple of reasons. First, they're running more. This is directly related to Thad's extended minutes in many cases. When he grabs a rebound, the ball is out of his hands in a flash with a crisp outlet pass to a guard. Right away. He doesn't dribble, he doesn't swing his elbows around, he secures the rebound and gets rid of the ball. With the Sixers speed on the wings, this turns misses into fast breaks and easy opportunities. Even on makes Thad is always looking to get the ball moving the other way. Honestly, he and Jason Smith are the only players on the roster who seem to want to inbound the ball in a timely fashion. Twice tonight, Thad hustled after a made shot, inbounded the ball quickly and a make turned into a fast break and points on the other end. That doesn't happen with Reggie Evans in the game. In fact, Evans refuses to inbound the ball, many times Iguodala has to come back down the court to throw it in.
The other reason is the Sixers have found a way to produce points in the half-court. When Korver left, the rest of the team seamed bound and determined to make up for his outside shooting. They were taking too many threes. Over the past three games, their half-court offense has been designed to get into the lane, at all costs. They aren't settling for deep jumpers, they're moving the ball until a they find a crease. When that crease opens up they're exploiting it. They did it against the Magic, the Hawks and tonight against the Wizards. Out of their 72 field goal attempts, only 29 came from outside of the painted area. Add to that 30 trips to the foul line and you've got a team that refused to settle for low-percentage jumpers.
It's not all roses, though. They can't hit a free throw to save their lives (18/30, 60%), they shot a horrible percentage on the jumpers they did take (9/29, 31%) and their three-point percentage continues to plummet (1/6, 16.7%). While I applaud them for taking the ball to the hoop, you have to be able to knock down the occasional jumper. Still work to be done, but seeing this young team, led by it's youngest players, put forth a defensive effort like the one we saw in crunch time tonight is heart-warming to say the least. Did I mention that they were playing the ass end of a back-to-back and the Wizards were well-rested?
One thing to note. During the run in the fourth, Andre Miller was planted firmly on the bench. I know some people have said that the team slows down when Miller is on the floor. I don't buy this, and I wouldn't read too much into his absence from the floor down the stretch. The team was playing so well that when it was time for him to come back in, Mo Cheeks wasn't about to mess with the chemistry he had on the floor. It was a good coaching decision and it paid dividends. Miller had a great game through the first three quarters (11 points, 14 assists).Player of The Game
: Rodney CarneyTeam Record