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Sixers Smother ATL, Explode Late

The defense was there all night. In the first half, the Hawks shot a completely unsustainable percentage on long twos. In the second half, they missed their jumpers, if they could even get a shot off, and the Sixers energy was too much for the Hawks (or anyone else) to handle. Big win to take over the #2 spot in the Eastern Conference. (game capsule)

Here's your rotation chart. Note the two runs for the starting lineup:

The Sixers played their worst offensive half of the season in the opening 24 tonight. They settled for bad shots, they were stagnant, they couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. The defense was fine, even with the bad shots Atlanta was hitting, the defense was good enough to win in the first half, the offense is what sent them into the break down by eight points.

In a season of impressive second half performances, tonight's stands alone. Basically from the opening possession of the third quarter, the Sixers took the heart right out of Atlanta. They were smothering on the defensive end, lightning quick in the open floor, and for a long stretch, surgical in their half-court offense. The starting lineup poured it on to the tune of 23-7 run to open the third, when the bench came in, the defensive intensity never let up.

There are so many things to talk about in that second half. Jodie found his stroke from three. Jrue suddenly took off the volume scorer mask and emerged from the locker room as a world class distributor. Elton Brand was an absolute monster on the defensive glass. Andre Iguodala made Joe Johnson beyond a non-factor. Thad Young was all over the floor. It was really a thing of beauty. The frenetic energy was contagious, and when the Sixers get their engine revved up like that, I don't think anyone can withstand it. Tomorrow night, hopefully we'll get a chance to see if Miami is up to the task.

I'll cut the suspense, Brand is your player of the game, and if he can play like he did tonight, he's going to really help this team retain their lofty production. That being said, the most important thing we saw tonight was Jrue's play in the second half. Either Collins said something to him, or he just decided to flip the switch because he was a completely different player from the one we've seen most of this year. He used his dribble and his vision to set everyone up for easy looks. Jrue had 9 assists in the second half: 3 to Iguodala; 2 to Meeks, 2 to Brand, 1 to Turner and 1 to Vucevic. He was all over the floor on both ends, with three boards and three steals to go along with a couple of big shots, but the points weren't nearly the point. Without Hawes, this team has struggled to run offense in the half court. Tonight, when they needed it most, Holiday took the ball and orchestrated the offense to perfection. He really should've had 11 assists in the second half, Thad was fouled on a point-blank shot, and a nifty pass to Brand under the hoop went off the big man's hands, it would've been a dunk.

This is the Jrue the team needs, even when Hawes gets back. I'm fine with him putting on the scorer's hat for stretches during the game, but his main role has to be running the offense, getting good looks for his teammates. Andre Iguodala is a gifted point-forward. Evan Turner can handle the ball and set people up, but neither of them do it as well as Jrue does when he's motivated, or unleashed, or focused, or relaxed or whatever he was tonight. I had almost forgotten this part of his game it's been so long since we've seen it. It needs to be back to stay.

Player of The Game: Brand gets the nod. He was an absolute beast tonight with 16 boards (9 offensive), 2 dimes, 2 steals, 3 blocks and 10 points on 10 shots. Thad gets an honorary mention for 20 points on 11 shots and just an endless supply of energy. Jrue finished with 16 pts, 6 boards, 11 dimes, 3 steals but 5 turnovers.
What happened? Joe Johnson averaged 25 points/game over the previous four games. Tonight he was 3/8 for 8 points. He could barely even touch the ball when Iguodala was on him. Just a masterful defensive performance by AI9. Speaking of what happened, Lou Williams shot 1/9 from the floor tonight, bringing his two-game total to 3/18. Lou needs to get his act together.
Team Record: 11-4 (BOS and NYK lost tonight, the lead is 5 games over the Knicks)
Up Next: @ Miami, tomorrow night
Comment of The Game Thread: "good teammates don't let each other air ball by themselves." - Court_visioN (in the middle of the Sixers' dreadful shooting in the first half