If you thought I was crazy when you read my Sixers season preview earlier today, I hope you watched tonight's game. The Sixers were up against the class of the Atlantic, on the road, with a center who missed basically the entire preseason and an unsettled rotation. They came out showed exactly why I'm so high on them (and also why I think they're going to miss the playoffs, unfortunately), in a 106-97 loss.
The Sixers starters came out a bit flat, but when the second team hit the floor, everything started to click. They finished the first down 24-22. The second quarter saw the second team continue to run with the Raptors, only to see them pull away when the starters rotated back in at the end of the half, the Raptor lead swelled to 8 at the break.
The third quarter started out horribly, with the Raptor lead ballooning to 22 points before Andre Iguodala and Kyle Korver absolutely caught fire. Following a 15-0 run to end the third and begin the fourth, the Sixers were 1 point behind and Iguodala had the ball on the break, looking to put the Sixers ahead. He turned the ball over, Bargnani hit a three and was fouled, the lead went back up to five and the game was pretty much over.
I can't say enough about the fight this team showed tonight, nor the performance of the bench players. The Raptors played a great game tonight, if they hadn't, the Sixers would've blown them out. They're a talented team with deadly outside shooters. The Sixers' Achilles heels were free throw shooting (14-23, 60.9%) and turnovers (16, led by Iguodala's 7).
Dalembert played excellent defense tonight, holding Bosh to 16 points on 6/14 shooting, but his offense was non-existent. They need him to at least sniff double figures, and he's more than capable. The Haitian sensation only logged 25 minutes, but did manage to block 4 shots. The Sixers D funneled drivers to the lane and Sammy either blocked or altered their shots with regularity. Another positive was Calvin Booth's limited playing time. Mo Cheeks opted to use Jason Smith at the five when sitting Sammy, and run with a small, quick team for long stretches. It paid off.
One thing that perplexed me at the time was Reggie Evans limited playing time. In the first half he only played 7 minutes, ripping down 5 boards. Looking back, I think Mo realized he needed a better offensive team on the floor. Evans returned for heavy minutes in the second half, and finished with a meager 6 points, but 15 monster boards, including 6 on the offensive glass. This guy is fast becoming a favorite of mine (see the graphic below, it's going to be a new feature).
The Sixers showed some signs of life on defense, despite allowing 106 points. Their biggest problem was defending the pick and roll when they had their small lineup on the floor. Korver wound up on the low blocks covering Bosh a couple of times. Lou Williams did as well. Calderon was left wide open for jumpers when the guard didn't fight over the screen. They definitely need to work on that.
I could easily write another thousand words on this game. I didn't realize how much I missed basketball, and I'm glad the season is finally here. I'll condense the rest of my thoughts into a couple of bullet points, but let me just say one more time that I'm excited to watch this team play another 81 times.
- Willie Green was under control, played solid defense, and helped this team tonight. I couldn't honestly say that after more than 3 games all of last year.
- Kyle Korver worked hard on his game, added a few wrinkles which are going to give people fits. His 20 points tonight will be more the norm than an aberration this season.
- Jason Smith and Reggie Evans are going to combine to be a very, very productive PF combo.
- Iguodala has worked on his three-point shot. It showed tonight.
- Andre Miller is in shape, he was not coming into the season last year.
- Rodney Carney's disappearing act has not ended. He's basically just filler when he's on the floor.
- Kevin Ollie did not play. I hope to repeat that statement many, many times this season.
- The Sixers bench scored 37 points, Toronto's scored 34. Expect the Sixers to win that battle on most nights.
- The Sixers out-rebounded Toronto 47-35. Welcome to Philadelphia, Reggie Evans.
- The Sixers were definitely the aggressors tonight, they played tough interior defense, attacked the basket and wound up with a 23-17 free throws attempted edge. It seemed to me like the refs swallowed their whistles for a good portion of the game, however. So foul trouble could plague them at times this year.
The Sixers have tomorrow off, then travel to Chicago for the front end of a back-to-back with the Bulls and the Nets.