It was close. But they pulled it off.
Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand carried the team from the onset of the game, simultaneously quieting and igniting the split Wells Fargo Center Crowd on Friday night. Iguodala had 9 assists in the first quarter and finished with a career-high 16. Elton Brand dominated the whole game, showing off his mid-range jump shot which is definitely top 5 in the NBA. Brand scored 33, his most as a Sixer and the most for him since he scored 37 in April of 2007.
Putting both stat lines together, the two bloated contracts scored 51 points on 34 shots, nabbed 20 rebounds, and dished out 17 assists, with 3 steals, 4 blocks, and NO TURNOVERS. This is easily the best two-man performance we've seen out of any two Sixers this season. Andre made all the right passes, looking for Elton when he was feeling it and hitting Thaddeus Young near the bucket and Jodie Meeks on the wing.
Both guys played terrific defense, Andre on Landry Fields, Wilson Chandler, and Danilo Gallinari throughout the game, and Brand on Amar'e Stoudemire on a 7-19 shooting night. Even when the Knicks were on top and the teams were playing the quarter-long see-saw, EB and Dre couldn't be stopped. This isn't something that can happen every night, but when both guys are playing their best, this is a really tough team to stop.
This was a very strange game. On a quarter-by-quarter basis, no team came within 7 points of the other team. It was truly a game of runs, and the Sixers got their biggest one at the right time, outscoring the Knicks 27-16 in the final frame. Despite New York cutting it nail-bitingly close at the end of the game (Shawne Williams has to take that open three), the clock ran out before they could put it together and Collins had his W by a score of 100-98.
Honestly, I still don't think this team can win more than 2 games in a playoff series against Miami/Chicago/Atlanta/Boston/Orlando, but when they're playing Doug Collins defense, they're capable of at least hanging with everybody. The team's won 6 of their last 7 games, the only loss coming from the biggest collapse of the year to Memphis.
The biggest problem with the Knicks gameplan tonight was where Stoudemire got the ball. He's always been able to knock down an open jump shot, but you don't want him catching the ball by the three point line if he's supposed to be in a position to score. When he's moving to the basket, the Sixers have no one that can stop him. He should be taking a maximum of two dribbles against this team that's completely hopeless against a good interior big man. Elton let him catch the ball on the outside and played him tough as he came inside on him, holding him to a 36% shooting night and just 7 rebounds.
Rebounding was a problem all night, as the Sixers still lack any big man competent enough to play next to Brand. Spencer Hawes recorded 5 fouls in 19 minutes and got manhandled (literally, at one point) by Stoudemire when he was on him. Marreese Speights only played 3 minutes, all in the first half, and got whistled for 2 quick fouls and saddled on the bench by Collins the rest of the game, to the chagrin of a few readers here. Tony Battie played 8 highly inefficient minutes during which he took two long jump shots that never had a prayer of going in. Once again, Thad played a lot of 4 tonight and against a poor rebounding team like New York, it should have worked. But it didn't. The 6'10 Gallinari was all over the glass, pulling in 13, and Timofey Mozgov led the offensive rebounding charge with 5 of the team's 14 O-boards. Unacceptable.
The final moments of the game where among the most exciting for Sixers fans since the 2009 NBA playoffs when Andre Miller and the boys almost took a 3-1 series lead on Dwight Howard's Magic. The crowd had a good chunk of Knicks fans there, but the Philly contingent made their voices heard. As Marc Zumoff popped a blood vessel for the first time in years, the crowd was on their feet, living and dying each bounce of the ball. Despite my feelings toward this current Sixers team, it's exciting to see playoff-like basketball being played around these parts once again.
Evan Turner got 21 minutes of game time, most of which came in the 4th quarter. Collins stuck with the same lineup throughout much of the final frame, with Iguodala and Brand leading the offense and Turner, Thad, and Louis Williams playing their roles on the side. Turner deserved to be out there because of his defense on his fellow rookie Landry Fields. When the Knicks were pressing, ET was getting by Fields easily and keeping him away from the basket and forcing him to take long jumpers. Though Evan's scoring wasn't there tonight, he did a bunch of other things that indicated to me how much he's improved since November.
The negative of Collins sticking with the same lineup throughout the 4th is the fact that Lou-Will was in. Though Jordan has disagreed with me, Jrue is a better defender than Lou even on his worst day. And this was certainly not one of Jrue's best games. He only scored 6 points on his 8 shots and a 3/2 assist to turnover ratio isn't what we've come to expect out of him. But he recognized it wasn't his game and let Andre orchestrate from the top of the key. Lou, on the other hand, shot 3-14. His misses were a mix of layups and ill-advised jumpers early in the shot clock and with the game winding down. Neither played good defense on Raymond Felton (who abused them for 26 and 9), but with a 9 point lead with three minutes to go, Jrue has to be on the court. Ray brought them all the way back to within two points, and they had a good look that would've at least sent the game to overtime. Collins has to be questioned for keeping Jrue out of the game there, even despite the win.
The game was so exciting that I just received word that they'll play again on Sunday at MSG. Try to catch your breath and enjoy this one tonight -- Mike D'Antoni and the New York crowd will be out for blood on Super Bowl Sunday. Good win, everybody. Two games back of the six seed.