For the third time this season, the 76ers brought forth a valiant effort against one of the NBA's top teams, only to come up on the short end of the proverbial stick as they drop one to the Thunder by a six-point margin.
Remember in the preview for this game when I said that the Thunder were struggling to get it going offensively? Well, I may be the biggest jinx of all time. Oklahoma City's offense was right where they and their fans have been expecting this entire season. The two-headed monster that is Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined for 62 of OKC's 109 points, shooting a combined 18-37 (<------ that's pretty good).
You know the old adage "you can't stop him, you can only hope to contain him" from ESPN a while back? Well that's exactly how I would describe Durant and Westbrook in this game. Westbrook was getting to the basket easier than it would be for Jimmy McNulty to find a bar in West Baltimore. He was using his tremendous first step to blow by defenders all game long, stopping for sweet pull-up jumpers, and drawing away defenders and hitting the open man better than one could ever ask for.
Durant followed in Westbrook's footsteps as he too was getting to the basket what seemed like any time he wanted to. Nocioni and Turner did a pretty good job not allowing him to come off screens for a catch-and-shoot, but because they committed to getting in his face and not allowing any separation for jumpers, he was able to use his quickness and absurd length to take the ball to the hole. Durant, doing what he normally does, was able to get to the line 14 times, hitting every attempt. 45% of his 31 points came from the free throw line. Wow.
The first half for the Sixers was the Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner show. Jrue was driving and kicking, hitting mid-range jumpers, and drawing out defenders on drives and hitting teammates underneath the basket like it was nothing to him. He finished the half with 10 points and 8 assists causing me to write things in my school notebook along the lines of "Mrs. Tanner Holiday." That's a lie but I thought about it.
Turner continued the success he had on Sunday, especially shooting the mid-range jumpshot. It's a thing of beauty when he gets the ball off a pass and goes right up with the shot instead of being hesitant with it like we saw in summer league and pre-season. Right now he looks more comfortable setting up off the ball and running off screens than he does actually running the offense. That first half really gave us a glimpse into what the future holds for this backcourt, and may I say, it's a thing of beauty.
Another young Sixers also came through tonight. Have you heard of him? His name is Jodie "Poot (H/T Tron)" Meeks! Since Jason Kapono was out for personal reasons, Meeks sutied up for the second straight game and did exactly what was needed of him. He made some big, big, big shots towards the end of the game and gave a decent effort on the defensive end. After this game, there is no reason Kapono should ever get any minute Meeks. We've been advocating this for a while and after seeing this performance, Collins should come aboard our Jodie vessel.
More thoughts in a format that resembles bullet-points (it's bullet-points) after the jump-a-rooski.
- Despite Jrue's offensive showing the first half, he disappeared in the second half. Some costly turnovers and a torching on the defensive end courtesy of Westbrook turned this game from a great one to just a decent one for Jrue. At the end of the game, with one second left on the shot clock, the Thunder had an inbounds play which was most likely headed towards the rim and Jrue completely lost Westbrook off a screen which lead to an easy oop, killing any momentum the Sixers had. And if that didn't kill it, Jrue's costly turnover where he tried to throw Elton Brand a bounce pass through two Thunder defenders certainly did. He's only 20 years old though people, there will many growing pains along the way.
- Fun stat courtesy our own Derek Bodner via Twitter: "#sixers were +2 (52-50) when Turner and Holiday were on the court together vs #thunder . -8 when not on the court together." I left the hashtags in for dramatic effect.
- Lou Williams had his worst of the eight games played so far. Lou was settling for too many jumpers and could only connect on one resulting in a miserable 2-11 from the field (the other was on a drive). He only got to the line one time, hitting one of the two free throws. Maybe after struggling with his jumper, Lou will look to get to the hoop and get fouled more. And if Jrue had trouble with Westbrook, one can guess as to how Lou faired with him. In the second half, Lou drove and crashed into Nenad Krsti, hurting his shoulder in the process. Kate Fagan reported it is a left shoulder contusion and we'll see what his status is for Friday in the coming days.
- During his post-game press conference, Doug Collins talked about how the Sixers need to learn to communicate better. He said a lack of communication was the root cause of Jrue losing Westbrook on that late inbounds play resulting an an easy basket for the Thunder. He also said he loves the effort he's seeing from this team and the fact that they're in every game. He said every minute of pressure the young guys endure is precious because that is what good teams need to thrive in.
- Turnovers were a huge cause for concern in the first half as the Sixers totaled 11. Luckily they came out in the second half much more composed and ended with 16 total, although four of the five were in the fourth quarter, at least two being very costly.
- Etlon Brand continued his wave of early success. Although he had trouble keeping possession early (4 first quarter turnovers), he was able to get into the short range areas that he often likes to shoot little jumpers from and finished with 17 points on 6-11 shooting while also taking 7 free throws, 5 of which he made. Like he has been for the majority of the season, Elton also rebounded well coming away with 9 total, 5 of them on the offensive glass.
- The Noce Man played fairly well, especially given the task of defending Durant. When a role-player like Noce is given a job like that, I don't really expect much on the offensive end but he was getting out on the break and being rewarded with wide open lay-ups. He also was frustrated after a foul call, threw his mouth piece into the crowd, and had to have a Sixers official get it back for him.
- Other than taking a charge and throwing a full court heave to Noce, Marreese Speights was nonexistent. He only got 8 minutes of playing time, missing both field goal attempts and hitting just one of two free throws. We need more from you Speezy!
- After a kicked-ball call, the Thunder arena plays the "KICK IT!" part of "Fight For Your Right" by the Beastie Boys which I found simple, yet effective.
Overall, a fine effort yet again from this young team that despite being 2-6, is a blast to watch and looks to be able to at least hang around with any team. What a change of pace from last season huh? Next up are Dirk Diggler Nowitzki and his friends from the Dallas Mavericks on Friday. Until then, keep Jrue'in what you Jrue. Okay that was probably a stretch.