The Sixers weathered a terrible first half, an up-and-down third quarter, then absolutely blew the Hornets' doors off in the fourth to pick up their third win of the season, 101-93 (game capsule). This game showed us a lot about this young team, how far they've come in the past 14 months, and what still needs to be done for them to take the next step.
Here's your rotation chart, take note of the starters in the first and the third quarters, as well as the JTI lineup that brought the game home for most of the fourth quarter:
Let's get the individual stuff out of the way first. Turner (8/12 for 21 points, 6 boards, 4 dimes), Hawes (8/12 for 17 points, 7 boards, 4 blocks) and Brand (5/9 for 12 points, 12 boards, 2 blocks) all played well enough to be your player of the game. During different stretches, each one of those guys picked this team up and carried them. More importantly, each one of them was involved in the team basketball that won the night. But when you're picking players of the game, there can be only one, and that guy was Jrue tonight.
From the opening tip, the Jrue we saw on the floor was a different player from the Jrue we saw for the previous four games. He was calm, he was collected, he was running the offense and he was picking his spots for shots. He was never rushed, he wasn't deferring, giving the ball up too early or dribbling into trouble. He looked like a veteran. When it came time to put this game away, he was a killer. In the fourth quarter, Jrue scored 14 points on 5/5 from the floor, and every time there was even an inkling of hope for the Hornets, Jrue snuffed it out with a merciless shot. He was everything he was in the second preseason game against the Wizards, and more. He looked like the closer this team needs in the fourth, more importantly, he looked like the star this city needs.
It was far from a one-man show, though. The thing that made this game so great to watch was the way the Sixers played in that second half, especially the fourth quarter. There was no one-on-one basketball, the ball never stuck. It was quick passes, it was drives and kicks, it was pick-and-rolls, give-and-go's, transition plays run without the ball hitting the floor. Everyone was involved, whether it was a pretty high-low from Brand to Hawes, or two extra passes on a break from Turner, to Lou, to Brand, to Hawes for an easy lay up instead of an open 20-footer, the Sixers just clicked. The offense was the best-case scenario in which you have five guys on the floor, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, all looking not to put up points, or pound their own chests, but to find the player with the best opportunity to score. They used their dribble to set each other up, they thought quickly and showed a comfort level with each other you won't find on many other teams in the league. The Sixers put on a clinic in that second half on the offensive end, and they extended that clinic to the defensive end to put the game away.
With a three-point lead and 7:39 left in the game, Doug Collins substituted Andre Iguodala in for Lou Williams. For most of the second half, the Sixers had dug their way out of a hole, then let themselves slip right back into it because of shoddy defense. When Collins put Iguodala into the game, he essentially said "it's time to stop them." He said, "we're going to win this game with defense." It was time for JTI to take over on the other end of the floor, and it really worked. When Jrue, Turner, Iguodala, Thad and Hawes took the floor, the energy never let up. They swarmed the ball, they trapped, they pushed up on guys on the perimeter and didn't give an inch. When a shot went up, they were gang rebounding. Their defensive intensity led to transition opportunities. Their aggressive offense led to wide-open looks, in rhythm, for Jrue.
If it sounds like I'm going overboard for a game against a bad New Orleans team, it's because this is a game they would've lost last season. This is a game they would've lost in each of the past five seasons. Playing on the road, at the end of a long trip, they fell behind, came back, then fell behind again three times over the first three quarters. They weren't getting the calls on the offensive end, and they were getting ticky-tack whistles on the defensive end. They would've lost this game and we would've all shaken our heads and we would've all said "those are the games good teams win." This was a game the Sixers didn't know how to win in the past, but now. Well, maybe they've learned. In the second half, they looked angry, and they channeled that anger into saying, "we're better than you, and we know it," with their play.
The beautiful thing about the second half is that a grade school coach who knows nothing about stats would watch it and just say, "That's it. That's how you play basketball." And a stat head who didn't watch a second of the game will look at the numbers from the second half and say, "Wow, you really can't play better than that."
If you're a glass-half-empty sort, there's plenty for you to pick apart from this one. They never should've fallen behind to this team. They never should've let them back in the game at the end of the third, and they played some very poor defense for long stretches prior to the fourth. All valid points, but the takeaway has to be that they're good enough to right the ship, and good enough to put teams in their place on the road, and it didn't take some fluke performance by Lou, going one-on-five and pouring in 20 points in the fourth. It was a team effort, and it was a template. A template for how they're going to close games out, how they're going to win the tough games. it was repeatable, and when executed like it was tonight, it's damned near unstoppable.
A few bullets, then I'm turning in:
- Jodie Meeks was atrocious tonight. That's actually putting it kindly. Meeks couldn't hit the broad side of a barn, and he was exposed, repeatedly, on the defensive end. When Meeks was in the game and guarding Eric Gordon, Gordon shot 6/8 and scored 17 points. When Meeks was on the bench and Iguodala, Turner and Jrue took turns on Gordon, he shot 2/14 for 5 points.
- Meeks' performance was terrible, but what was a complete mystery is why Doug Collins stuck with him, and the matchup that was killing the team, for so long. Meeks played the entire third quarter, an unusual rotation for him, and his play on both ends was probably the main reason the lead the Sixers built early in the third completely evaporated by the end of the quarter.
- It was a gutsy move for Collins to go with JTI down the stretch considering how good Lou has been in the fourth this season, but Turner was having his best game of the year, and he correctly identified the problem as being on the defensive end. You gain a ton of defense and rebounding when you have Turner on the floor instead of Lou, and when Turner's scoring like he did tonight, you absolutely have to have him on the floor when the game is being decided. Good to a see a coach go off script based on what's happening in the game, instead of basing his decision on what happened in the last game.
- Hawes deserves a lot of credit for the comeback early in the third. He was hitting everything.
- Check this out: In the first half, the Sixers scored 40 points on about 44 possessions (an OFR of 89.53), in the second half, they scored 61 points on about 43 possessions (an OFR of 140.63).
- That's not where the statistical story of the second half ends, though. Their efg was .580, turnover rate: 0.057, offensive rebounding rate: 0.421 (that's a rebound on 42.1% of missed shots!), free throw rate: 0.227. Those are dominant numbers across the board. The only area of weakness was their defensive rebounding (65%).
That's all I've got. The Sixers will make their way back to Philly now with a 3-2 record, first place in the Atlantic and hopefully the confidence in themselves and each other born from playing like a team and really putting it to someone when they had to.
Player of The Game: Mr. Holiday. 8/15 FG, 4/8 3P, 3/3 FT, 2 boards, 8 dimes, 0 turnovers, 23 points.
Team Record: 3-2
Up Next: vs. Detroit, Friday night.
Comment of the Game Thread: "Traveling. so easy a Caveman can do it." - Court_visioN after Kaman's second travelling violation of the quarter.