Hold Your Fire! Blazers Stiff Sixers on Opening Night

The Sixers first game of the shortened 2011-12 NBA season was rife with rust, hustle, missed jump shots, made jump shots, questionable officiating, and a just-missed triple double from the most unlikely of sources. With such an abbreviated preseason, the kinks were to be expected on a team that's still relatively young. The Blazers were not as kinky, allowing them to keep the Sixers at arms length throughout the game, quelling any Philadelphia burst with a run of their own. Though it wasn't decided until the final seconds of regulation, the Sixers did not play well and had to scrape for each point in 48 minutes.

Hit the jump for the bads, the goods, and the Hawes. But please be gentle - it's been awhile since I've exercised my recapillary muscles. Away we go!

Bad - The Rim is Contagion

For the entire first quarter and the better part of the game, the Sixers were completely averse to the painted area. If you're familiar with the paint, it's the place on the court closest to the basket. The Sixers, not a jump-shooting team, took the ball to the basket exactly ZERO times in the first quarter via a halfcourt set. Needless to say, they dug themselves an 11-point hole early after waiting 6 minutes between their first basket (an Elton Brand elbow job) and their second. Young and Hawes especially should never be allowed to take jump shots outside of 10 feet.

Thankfully, trendsetter Louis Williams started to attack the basket more in the second quarter, and Andre Iguodala followed. They cut the lead going into halftime but the rest of the game found the Sixers frequently ignoring the basket entirely and resulted in some tough deficits that would have been surmountable had they not taken three times as many outside shots as they did from the interior.

Bad - Where are your Loose Balls?

As a scrappy team with grit, hustle, gumption, etc, the past Sixers have had a knack for coming up with the loose ball over slower, older teams. Not so with the Blazers, who could reasonably match them in terms of speed and athleticism and managed to get their Stick-Em paws on every ball on the ground or out of the air. It was like the Sixers were wearing fine silk mittens each time a ball hit the ground. It didn't seem like a lack of want for the ball, just that the bounces weren't going the way of the Sixers tonight.

Spencer Hawes (14), Elton Brand (8), Thaddeus Young (8), and Andre Iguodala (8) all managed very good rebounding numbers, but according to the eye test, a hefty majority of those boards were uncontested and out of traffic. I'm confident that Hawes needs at least a 5-foot radius around him to secure a defensive rebound. Gerald Wallace (5), Marcus Camby (4), and LaMarcus Aldridge (3), all pulled down a bunch of O-boards that would have severely limited the Blazers opportunities inside. After the game, Doug Collins cited the advantage Portland had in shot attempts (14 more than the Sixers), courtesy of the offensive rebounding and....

Bad - Turnovers

Just like in football, taking care of the ball is consistently in the top few indicators of success each game. The Sixers coughed the ball over 8 more times than the Blazers did tonight, allowing them more possessions and chances to score. Jrue Holiday and Thad Young were the main culprits, pissing it away 10 times between them. I'd chalk it up to Lockout Hands (much different than Jazz Hands) that they were so loose with the basketball. A few times Jrue would pass it to his mates that were either invisible or not actually on the court at all. That's all about chemistry and repetition in knowing where your teammates are going to be - something everybody's lacking coming off the Lockout. Jrue needs to stay in control and be stronger with the basketball. If he gets it knocked away each time he goes towards the basket, he'll continue to settle for outside shots.

Thad, meanwhile, was stripped inside far too many times, showing how poor his handles are in the halfcourt. Between not shooting and not dribbling, Thad's not as versatile as the masses give him credit for and would have been a liability all around had it not been for a defensive-improved second half. It also bears mentioning that the Sixers were called for five (!) offensive fouls and two defensive 3-second violations that may have been a result of whistle-happy officials. But body control and awareness are worth discussing internally if the alternative is to give up the ball that many times on offense.

Good - Lou Williams

Fans of the site will realize how big this is for me, but credit where credit is due: Lou kept the Sixers in the game in the 2nd and 4th quarters. Taking the ball inside, drawing contact, and most importantly knocking down colon-sized three's during crunch time is what Doug Collins counts on him for, and this time, it nearly paid off. Those stone cold jumpers were reminiscent of his Miami Heat series Game Four shot to send the game into overtime. And for as much as I roll my eyes at the idea that "he's our closer", down the stretch was when Lou put the team on his back and decided they would live or die by his hand.

That said, he did play his characteristically poor defense and took a number of BOSS shots including a particularly raunchy fadeaway in the corner early on in the shot clock. Get what you pay for with this one. I'm gonna go wash my hands.

Bad - Defensive Rotations

Chalk another one up to Lockout awkwardness, because the Sixers had an extremely tough time figuring out where they were going to rotate on double teams that, often times, didn't need to be made. LaMarcus Aldridge frustrated Thad and the Sixers all night, along with the terminally aggravating Jamal Crawford. Both guys had a ton of open shots and luckily only made about half of them, otherwise this game wouldn't have been as close.

As Derek outlined earlier, the whole team has big issues defending the pick and roll, mostly because it doesn't seem like they're aware and are able to communicate when the guard should go above a screen with a big hedge or under the screen with a soft hedge. That comes with knowing your opponents' strength and having a plan between the guards and the big men. Portland went 9-19 from beyond tonight and almost all of those attempts were on wide open looks. They doubled Raymond Felton and Gerald Wallace far too much, which freed up Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum. LMA deserved one, but because of all the open looks, he didn't spend much time near the basket in the low block anyway. Collins needs to find some practice time to work on those rotations.

Good - Fine, Hawes.

I suppose I should congratulate Spencer on his line of 10 points, 14 rebounds, and 9 assists. Though it's difficult for me because according to my untrusty eye test, all of his rebounds looked like he had all the space in the world to maneuver for them. He managed to avoid the free throw line for all 39 minutes he was in, and took a few eye-gouging outside shots that should earn him a few lashings.

But he had two hook shots in the third quarter that give us a fleeting glimpse at his former upside at U-Dub. Those were gorgeous. And those 9 assists were quite earned, setting up guys near the rim or for open looks on the outside. Interior passing isn't the most important, but he orchestrated some of the offense from the high post and on broken plays, which helps when the point guards aren't playing their best. Would've been fun to see him get that triple double, just because of how funny it would be in 9 months to hear his agent using that as a bargaining point for a long-term deal. Oh, Spencer.

Mostly Good - Evan Turner

Evan played well in spurts, though he was the victim of a startling number of bad calls that ended up fouling him out of the game. He took the ball to the basket and continued his play from the Wizards twosome. He still needs to get a bit more arc on that shot but the form is there and he has the potential to be money in the midrange this year.

Good - Malik Rose

The new Sixers color guy was extremely solid in his debut next to the legendary Marc Zumoff. I could use a catchphrase that he keeps going back to but the sufficient funds bank reference was nice and he blended mild homerism with calling a fair game much better than any Sixers guy I've heard since Steve Mix. Never annoying, never talking over Zu'. Color me surprised, I think we may have ourselves a keeper.

The Last Shot

After Lou had hit two dirty trey's to give the Sixers a chance, Jrue fouled Felton, who made one of two from the line to keep the lead at 3. With 17 seconds left, Iguodala took the rebound from Hawes and dribbled away the clock until he took the most predictable step-back three of all time. Over the outstretched arm of Aldridge, Iguodala hit rim from 26 feet out and the Blazers recovered.

Doug Collins opted not to call a time out after the free throw so the Blazers couldn't set up their defense. Any talk here would be Monday Morning Quarterbacking, but I've always been a believer of setting up an actual play at the end of a game rather than an isolation contested fadeaway. I don't have as much of a problem with Andre taking the shot as I do the fact that it wasn't the right shot. Iguodala had, earlier in the quarter, cut the deficit by six with two back to back three's and felt good from distance all night. Lou had the hot hand at the time but there's no doubt Lou would have taken the exact same shot if he was passed the ball. Whether it went in or not, who knows, but without a diagrammed play, the Sixers last hope was in a back-legged three over the hand of a defender. Need the coach to step in there.

What's it Mean?

Nothing, really. Aside from getting a glimpse at Doug's rock-hard 8-man rotation, the fact that shots were made and missed doesn't concern me because it's just one game with a ton of rust to shake off. I'm confident that the guys we hope get better (mostly Jrue) will do so and the ship will right itself to another 6/7 seed. The guys showed their typical resiliency but ultimately lost to the better team. No shame in this one.

That Turner will be featured heavier in the offense is a great sign early on. A win would've been nice to kick off the campaign, but I'll definitely settle for that. Don't go too far - next game is Wednesday night in Phoenix. Great threading with you all, let's do it again soon.

Player of the Game: The NBA. And YOU. Lockout over, babies.

Box Score - Blazers Edge

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