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Sixers Move to 4-0

It wasn't pretty by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a win. The Sixers fourth in a row to open the preseason, in fact. After the jump I'll give you my first-hand notes on the team's performance at the Garden tonight.

About 200 random thoughts are swirling through my mind after this game, but I'll do my best to organize them.

In the first quarter, the offense was not working. The ball was sticking way too much, the passing was sloppy and Sammy was basically out of control. Luckily, the Knicks may be the worst team in the league, running a silly system that doesn't do much to mask their overall lack of talent. No one really stood out early on, on either end of the floor. I thought the defense looked good, but again, I don't know how much of that was the Knicks.

When Jordan went with a full B-team lineup in the second quarter, the wheels really fell off. With Iguodala and Lou out of the game, no one was capable of handling the ball. Ivey and Green couldn't handle the token pressure applied by the Knicks. The highlight of the second quarter wasn't exactly a positive for the Sixers. Brand grabbed a rebound and was swarmed by three Knicks who hacked him mercilessly. He coughed the ball up. The Knicks immediately missed yet another shot, Brand again grabbed the rebound, the only difference was that this time Brand got his elbows high and cleared the Knicks out of the way. Notably, one of his raised elbows caught Jared Jeffries right above the eye. Jeffries took offense and there were words exchanged. I'm not sure if a double T was called, but Jeffries immediately made his way to the locker room for stitches. Needless to say, Brand wasn't crowded when he secured a rebound again.

The Sixers started the third quickly. It was in this quarter that I first began to see what I hope is a developing trend. Iguodala was a monster to start the third. By my count, he grabbed four consecutive defensive rebounds, brought the ball up, and drained 3 or 4 shots. He was using screens and weak spots created by player movement to get to the rim. He was playing a two-man game with Brand and Thad. He was basically all over the floor and he took over for a stretch. The Sixers quickly pulled even after being down by as many as 10.

When Iguodala's streak ended, Elton Brand picked up right where he left off. Brand was running the two-man game with Iguodala, Lou and Thad. He got the ball on the blocks, he got it on the wing, he got it on the baseline extended, and he crashed the offensive glass. I think he scored either 6 or 8 straight in this stretch.

Brand's streak led right into Thad's streak. Backdoor cuts, dribble drives off hand-offs, weak side jumpers and a three. Thad's off-the-ball movement was spectacular, and Iguodala found him time and time again. I'm pretty sure he had 12 straight points during the stretch. Essentially, the Sixers spent the entire third quarter, and a large portion of the fourth, taking turns among the big three picking apart the Knicks defense.

Where the ball was sticking in someone's hands in the first half, and the offensive movement was stalled, for about a 15-minute stretch in the second half, the offense was a thing of beauty. Thad and Iguodala, especially, were just torching the Knicks' lackluster rotations. Elton looked like a man in the post. Lou was getting to the tin whenever he wanted. There were obviously warts, mostly risky passes that didn't hit their mark, and some extremely shoddy ballhandling but just about everyone, but I do feel like I saw what the Princeton offense can do for this team in that second half. (or did I? Check the note at the bottom, apparently they weren't running the PO when they finally clicked).

Now, on the bad side of the ledger. Zero minutes for Jrue. I just don't get it. 19 minutes is way too many for Ivey. Green played 14 horrid minutes. I can sort of find a justification for Christmas and Bowman combining for 8, I mean, they do need to get a look at those guys if there's a snowball's chance in hell that they're going to keep 14. But still, I have to believe Jrue is in Jordan's doghouse at this point. Not one second of action, the only guy to spend the entire game on the bench? Not a good sign at all.

Sam's night was pretty much typical Sam. Ugly to watch, not quite so ugly when you get home and see the box score. He had two goal tends in the first quarter. A few bad turnovers (moving screen, travel and I think another offensive foul). He was a non-factor for most of the night, but he did grab 12 boards in only 25 minutes of work.

For me, though, the huge disappointment of the night was Marreese Speights. He just looked flat out lazy on the floor. Didn't move his feet one bit on defense. Didn't really move on offense either. If he got the ball, he shot it. He didn't work to post up, he didn't set picks, he didn't hustle after the ball. He basically went through the motions and shot jumpers, if he got his hand on the ball. On defense, he was a passive as can be. On one play, I think it was Al Harrington, who drove on Speights. Speights gave ground, Harrington missed the shot, then went over Speights for the offensive rebound and the put-back. For a second, I thought it was Rodney Carney on defense, then I realized it was Speights and he was just literally shrinking away from the play. We need more from him, much more.

Jason Smith was a non-factor in 6 minutes of work. Kapono hit one three, really the only open look he had. He nailed a couple mid-range jumpers, but his line is disturbing. 0 rebounds, 0 assists, 0 steals, 0 blocks and 4 turnovers.

My main takeaway from this game was that Brand, Iguodala and Thad can carry this offense. They can carry it for long stretches. They could probably carry it for an entire game against a team like the Knicks, but the rest of the team is woefully lagging behind.

Let me know if you have any specific questions and/or thoughts in the comments.

Oh, by the way. On the way out of the stadium I had a bet with my brother. He had the Knicks shooting 28% from the floor, I had 31%. I won, they were 29/94 (30.4%). I don't believe I've ever seen a team attempt 41 threes before, and I hope to never see it again, especially when they only hit 7. The Knicks are a putrid, miserable franchise with annoying fans.

Oh yeah, also wanted to touch on the keys I pointed out before the game:

  1. Rebounding - 74.6% (44 out of 59) defensive rebounding. That's a B+
  2. Half-court efficiency - F in the first half, A in the second half.
  3. Lou - He had a terrible shooting night (3/12), but overall he played very well. He didn't force shots, he got to the line, he played good defense and believe it or not, they really missed his ballhandling when he was on the bench. I came away fairly impressed with Lou. He also only had 1 turnover in 28 minutes
  4. Defensive poise - I'll give them an incomplete on this. How the hell can you even tell when the opposing team jacks up 41 terrible threes.
  5. Called plays - Nothing really stuck out, so I'll give them a C. They didn't have trouble getting the ball in bounds. The end-of-quarter plays were basically Iguodala iso'd at the top of the key.

Just read Kate Fagan's recap of the game, and she had a quote from Jordan basically saying the Sixers abandoned the PO after the first quarter. I guess that's why the big three looked better in the second half. Not sure what that says about the PO. I'm actually kind of surprised that Jordan would let them abandon it for three solid quarters of a preseason game, if that's what happened. It's funny, because I swear I saw more ball and player movement in the third and fourth quarters. Maybe the comfort level just really isn't even close to being there yet.