A 10-point loss typically isn't considered a good start to a season, but under the circumstances, the Sixers equated themselves quite well against Dwyane Wade and his sidekicks. The 97-87 final was better than we could've hoped for, definitely not indicative of the talent gap between the two teams, but perhaps a testament to the skill of the Sixers' new coach.
When the game ended, I spent some time going over what had happened. There were a few obvious observations: Turner was very, very good. More on him later. Thad was flashy, but probably did more harm than good. Jrue was horrible for the first three quarters, then looked born again hard in the fourth. Brand played a productive game. Once I worked my way through the easy stuff, I realized what was different. The Sixers actually made adjustments.
Early in the game, Elton Brand looked like his feet were glued to the floor when he was defending the pick-and-roll. One play in particular was just embarrassing in the first quarter. Jrue was on Wade, Brand on Bosh. Wade made a short pass to Bosh, then immediately cut off him and got the hand-off. Brand never moved, Jrue got picked by Bosh, it was a wide-open dunk. That play was the modus operandi for the Sixers defense last season.
Fast forward to the second half. Collins made a definitive change to how they were going to handle the P&R, they were going to double it, and double it hard. There was no hesitation, the big immediately jumped out and got in the ballhandler's face, often forcing him away from the hoop and forcing the Heat to reset. Brand was particularly effective in this role, due to his long arms, mostly. This defense caused a few mismatches, but overall, it was an extremely effective adjustment, and not something we ever saw last season.
Collins also made it pretty clear that he's going to have a short leash, even with his best players. In the first half, I didn't think Jrue looked terrible, but he wasn't good either. It looked to me like he just got off to a slow start. Collins pulled him after about 6 minutes in the first and sat him for the remainder of the quarter. In the second, Jrue only played about 3 minutes and he didn't look good. I think this completely unnerved the kid, and he was a mess when he came out to start the third. He only lasted three minutes before Collins yanked him. Collins was steaming on the bench. This time, I think the benching had the desired effect on Jrue. He was himself in the final 10 minutes, hitting a couple of threes, forcing turnovers and taking care of the ball. I don't have a problem with Collins demanding a lot from Holiday, and I don't even have a problem with the quick hook. I'd rather see him put Jrue right on the bench next to him so they can talk about what he was doing wrong, then get him back in there after a couple minutes than seeing Jrue drudge to the end of the bench with his head down to wait until Collins calls his number again. Let's hope Jrue shakes whatever it was quickly so we don't have to worry about this situation again.
Thad was a scoring dynamo early on, the problem is, Thad has to score like that to be a net positive on the floor. As soon as he stopped attacking, the poor elements of his game wound up costing the Sixers. His inept helping allowed James Jones to completely torch the Sixers, and basically provided the lead for Miami. I'm not sure what you can do with Thad, this has been a problem with him since he entered the league, and it's only getting worse. He left Jones to help on Carlos Arroyo at one point, after Jones had already hit several threes. There's simply no excuse for that. Collins didn't want to sit Thad, so he was forced to move him to the five and match him up with Bosh. Had Miami thought to exploit that matchup, things would've been even uglier.
Finally, let's talk about Evan Turner. This game started out much like Summer League and preseason. Turner missed his first three shots and was generally hesitant with the ball. He was using his dribble to create space, but wasn't looking to attack into that space, instead, he was looking for a pass to make on the perimeter, basically, handing the baton off to someone else. With 9:53 to go in the second quarter, Turner grabbed an offensive board, put it back and was fouled on the play. It's like a dam broke at that point. He was a completely different player on the offensive end. From that point on, Turner was 7/7 from the floor for 16 points and he really played an excellent all-around game.
Not many rookies spend their first professional game guarding and being guarded by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade all night. Even fewer produce under those circumstances. Turner started his scoring in close with a series of nifty moves and ambidextrous finishes, later on, he added a couple jumpers in catch-and-shoot situations. He also made Wade look silly on an iso play where he crossed over on his fist dribble, created space and buried a long two (hate the shot, love the result). Needless to say, I'm feeling a lot better about Turner's prospects after his showing tonight. The beautiful thing about his performance is that he wasn't dominating the ball to get his production. He started out running the point with Lou playing the off guard, but as the game wore on, he was used off the ball and he was finding ways to get open and get in favorable situations to create.
Here's a look at Collins' rotations, and the advanced stats for the game:
For all the praise I just gave Collins, there were some flat-out ridiculous lineups on the floor tonight. Songaila should never be in a game. Nocioni's guaranteed 20 minutes is going to bother the hell out of me forever. Thad played about 6 minutes at the five, which is laughable. Kapono's ball-friendliness was apparently only needed for 13 minutes and he didn't attempt a single three.
I'm forgetting Spencer Hawes and Marreese Speights. Probably because Hawes is worthless basketball player and Speights only played one stretch of about 3 and a half minutes.
I thought Iguodala played a decent all around game, and you can't argue with his shot selection. He only attempted one three, and I only counted one bad shot (a 20-foot jumper with about 18 left on the shot clock). He wasn't efficient, though, and he didn't get to the line. In fact, the Sixers entire starting lineup went to the line exactly zero times in the entire game. That's ridiculous on a number of different levels.
He's not going to get player of the game honors, but Elton Brand deserves a big nod for his efforts tonight. I talked about his defense above (he also had 3 steals and 2 blocks), but his work on the glass was great (9 boards in 31 minutes, 7 defensive) and he did some work on the low blocks as well. He even drew a couple double teams down there, which was interesting.
Stat of the Night: The Sixers grabbed an impressive 84.8% of available defensive rebounds. Just a shocking number considering their pitiful bigs. Turner and Brand get the lion's share of the credit here, but even Thad helped box out the Miami bigs on occasion.
Player of The Game: Evan Turner. 16 points (on 10 shots), 7 boards (6 defensive), 4 assists, 1 block and 2 turnovers in 31 minutes off the bench.
Big Question: Does Collins change the lineup prior to Friday's game? I think Turner earned the starting nod.
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