The Sixers played an inferior team at the Wach tonight under tough circumstances. They lost Elton Brand for the season earlier in the day, they were coming off a buzzer-beater loss to the Celtics and an epic offensive collapse to the Nets. To say they needed a win would be a gross understatement. Their starters showed up ready to dominate. Their bench did not. Ultimately, Tony DiLeo put the guys who really wanted it on the court when it mattered most and they brought it home.
I think we have to start with the bench, because that's exactly where I'd start if I was the coach. Lou Williams, Reggie Evans, Royal Ivey and Marreese Speights played a total of 56 minutes of basketball. They combined for a +/- of -75. They shot 3/13 from the floor, grabbed only 9 rebounds, didn't have a single assist, steal or block. They did, however, manage to commit 3 turnovers and 6 personal fouls.
When the first sub was made with 1:31 left to play in the first quarter, the Sixers held a 27-19 lead. When the starting lineup finally returned to the floor with 4:56 to go in the second quarter, the score was 45-37, Indiana. The starting lineup, give or take, would play the next 15 minutes. When the bench came back in, the Sixers held a comfortable 77-66 lead. Coach DiLeo then mixed and matched with his bench for 8 minutes. When the starters came back to finish the game with 6:00 to go in the fourth quarter, the Pacers had closed to within 2 points at 87-85. From there, the starters would out-score the Pacers 12-9 to finish off the game.
This game better be a blip on the radar. If you remember, the bench was woeful in the beginning of the season as well. The starters would jump out to an early lead, the bench would give it up, and more, then the starters would spend the rest of the game continually bailing out the bench. This kills a team in a number of ways. First, it means both Andres have to play 40+ minutes to secure a win. Second, it can create derision in a locker room. Third, it clearly is not sustainable.
One more note for the bad column, then we'll get to the positives. Thad Yound, what is going on with your shot? Over the past 4 games, Thad has shot 31% from the floor. That, in and of itself, is not shocking. Everyone goes through cold stretches. What is shocking, however, is that Thad has taken 16 shots per game over the stretch. On the season, he averages 11.7. I'd expect a guy like Thad to take less shots when he's going through a dry spell, rather than jacking up almost 50% more than usual.
I will say this for Thad, though. He was much more active on defense and on the glass tonight. He finished with 7 boards (3 offensive), 5 steals and a block. He also took it personally when a couple of defensive lapses led to threes by Troy Murphy. On the next trip down the floor he shook loose and buried a three in Murphy's face. A couple minutes later, he buried another one at the buzzer. Killer instinct. Good. Shot-happy when you're ice cold. Bad.
Willie led the team in scoring and hit some big shots down the stretch, so I'll give him a little ink. OK, that was enough.
Now, onto the stars of the game. Sammy was a man among boys on the inside tonight. 18 points, 20 boards and a block in 33 minutes. 9 of those rebounds came in the third quarter when the Sixers put a double-digit lead back on the Pacers. More importantly, Dalembert dominated the defensive glass and stopped the Pacers from getting offensive rebounds and second chances. The Pacers had 7 offensive rebounds in the first half, only 4 after the break. Sammy's minutes are going to be back up in the second half. The Sixers need this level of effort from him on a nightly basis.
Finally, let's talk about Andre Iguodala. There's something I want to share with you that you would never be able to tell by looking at the box score alone. Andre Iguodala's shot was off tonight. It was way off. By my count, he only took two jumpers all night, both missed badly. But guess what? Even though his jumper wasn't falling, he still scored 20 points on only 13 shots, and he shot 8/13 from the floor. You see, Iguodala realized very early that he didn't have his jumper, so he didn't force it. Instead, he forced the action, got himself to the line and relied on his other skills to lead this team to victory.
20 points, 11 assists, 8 rebounds and 4 steals. Quite a night for a guy who didn't have his jumper working. The most-impressive thing Iguodala did, however, came in the waning minutes of yet another close game. Iguodala sat down with 8 minutes to go in the fourth quarter and the Sixers leading by 10 points. His rest would only last two minutes and he'd return to a 2-point game. On his first play, he drove the lane and found Sammy for a sick alley-oop. Three minutes later, with the Sixers up by 4, he out-jumped three Pacers for an offensive rebound. 20 seconds later, he'd find Dalembert again for a layup. The next time down the floor he drove the lane, kicked to Willie for a wide-open three when the defense collapsed on him. Willie bricked the three, but again, Iguodala went up among several Pacers and ripped down the offensive board. He was quickly fouled, drained both from the line and iced the game.
He only scored 4 points on 2 shots in the fourth, but he had 3 offensive rebounds, 3 assists and a steal. It's a mistake to say that Andre Iguodala isn't a superstar because he only scores 20 points a game. Scoring is only the beginning with him. It's everything else that he does that makes him such a special player. Tonight was a perfect example of that.
Player of The Game: Iguodala (with Sammy nipping on his heels)
Team Record: 24-24 (.500 again)
Up Next: Miami on Saturday
By the way, here are the results of the premiere match-up of the game (and they spent over 30 minutes guarding each other):
All Star Danny Granger: 18 points on 6/15 shooting, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 blocks, 3 turnovers.
Non-All Star Andre Iguodala: 20 points on 8/13 shooting, 8 rebounds, 11 assists, 4 steals, 4 turnovers.