In their second opportunity in eight days to put to bed the "they haven't beaten anybody" naysayers with a win over an admirable opponent, the Sixers fell short yet again. Tonight's 108-104 overtime loss to the Nuggets drops the Sixers to 10-4 overall and 6-1 at the Wells Fargo Center.
In a game which they controlled early and led by as many as 14 in the first half, the Sixers found themselves in a uphill battle following a 26-6 Nuggets run to end the second quarter, sparked by former Sixer Andre Miller. Miller, who normally comes off the bench, got the starting nod from George Karl to being the third quarter, and from that point on the crafty veteran was the best player on the floor, hands down; he finished the game with 28 points, 10 assists and 8 rebounds a game-high +18.
Miller was also responsible for the play of the game. The Nuggets trailed by one with 16 seconds remaining with the ball in Andre Miller's hands. Defended by Andre Iguodala – arguably the game's best perimeter defender – Miller put Iguodala in the washer with a series of crossovers and pump fakes, capped off by an easy four-foot shot to give the Nuggets the lead. The basket concluded a stretch where Miller scored 10 consecutive points for the Nuggets. Whatever the Nuggets needed, whenever the Nuggets needed, Andre Miller came through time and again in a truly unbelievable performance. He also made three three-pointers in one game for the first time since 2000.
So much more after the jump.
In the grand scheme of things, tonight's crushing loss may be overshadowed by the play of one Evan Turner. The Villain has been much-maligned since the Sixers selected him second overall in the 2010 draft, with BUST talk rampant as ET struggled throughout his rookie season. However; Turner had moments last year, and if you watched closely, you caught glimpses of what Evan Turner could one day become. If you blinked you may have missed it, but an in-and-out dribble here, a behind-the-back step back jumper there and I saw enough from Turner last year to feel comfortable about him as a part of this team moving forward. His impressive playoff showing only solidified my confidence.
One of the best things about sports and being a sports fan is watching teams and players grow. And there are certain moments, certain games when the moment is palpable – you can literally see or feel a player or team growing. Tonight was one of those nights with Turner. Over a year ago, we had our first "moment" with Turner, which I wrote about here:
Regardless of what happens from here on out, we know Turner has "it" in him. What "it" turns out to be remains to be seen, but tonight may have just been a peak into what we all thought we were getting with the second pick.
If the embracing standing ovation Turner received from the Philly crowd after making a jump shot, blocking a shot, then grabbing three consecutive offensive rebounds before drawing the foul - all in a span of 30 seconds - didn't send chills down your spine, I don't know what will.
Evan finished the game with 20 points (on 17 shots), 11 rebounds and 2 assists, but his stats don't even scratch the surface of the impact Turner had on tonight's game. With the Sixers offense stagnant, 15,000+ Wells Fargo Center faithful sitting on their hands and the Sixers all but dead in the water, the second-year player stepped up in a big way – he took over the game. The Sixers had been uncharacteristically dribbling the air out of the ball possession after possession, followed by unproductive, contested jumpers. Turner came in and attacked, attacked, attacked, taking the ball to the hoop, either making the layup, getting fouled, or both. For a stretch in the fourth quarter, this was Evan Turner's team, who single-handedly energized the entire arena and helped the Sixers erase a double digit deficit in the blink of an eye.
I'll say it again, I don't know where Turner goes from here, but tonight was a step, a "moment", whatever you want to call it – just like last year's Warriors game, and the James Jones scuffle in the playoffs, and the game-sealing free throws he hit in the Sixers' lone playoff win. We have something here in Evan Turner, folks. Enjoy watching him grow.
For as encouraging as Evan Turner played, future backcourt mate Jrue Holiday was awfully disappointing, to say the least. He finished the game with 13 points on 15 shots, four assists and two turnovers. He continues to take bad shots and dribble too much. He had a few great takes to the hoop, including a gorgeous spin move at the end of regulation to give the Sixers a late lead, prior to the aforementioned Andre Miller hoop, but all in all, Jrue played a bad game offensively, as he has most of the season.
Jrue capped off a miserable performance with one of the worst turnovers you will ever see at the end of overtime. The Sixers corralled an Andre Miller miss with 13 seconds left, down two. Instead of opting for a timeout Doug Collins implored his young point guard to "go". Jrue responded by driving halfway through the lane, getting caught up in the air and basically handing the ball to Andre Miller. Game over, huge mistake by the young point guard. I know he's young, but this is now his third year in the league, and he continually makes bone-headed mistakes with the basketball. Unacceptable.
The Sixers interior defense – of lack thereof – was exposed in a big way tonight. We already knew the Sixers were soft inside, but unlike weaker opponents, the Nuggets guards were able to penetrate and kick to teammates for easy bucket after easy bucket. The Nuggets only legitimate big man – Nene – ate the Sixers alive down low. Normally the Sixers stifling perimeter defenders are able to keep guards out of the paint, which is why they were the number one ranked defense coming in, but Lawson and Miller lived in the paint all night. The Sixers are going to have a difficult time against teams with a handful of good guards, who can penetrate and feed teammates for easy buckets, because the Sixers literally have no second line of defense.
Bullet points to finish us off:
- The refs missed a few crucial calls tonight, including a charge called on Evan Turner in overtime. It was one of the worst block/charge calls I've ever seen, but you have to move on. It's not the reason the Sixers lost the game.
- Yes, Andre Iguodala missed one of his two free throws at the end of the game. In retrospect, if he made both the Sixers win the game. Don't tell me you're surprised he missed.
- Doug Collins had some head-scratching coaching decisions tonight including: taking the ball out of Turner's hands after he had been hot all fourth quarter and not calling a timeout on the final possession.
- Rookie Nikola Vucevic is going to get lost in the shuffle tonight, but he started his first career game in the NBA and played really well to start the game. Unfortunately, he was hampered by foul trouble throughout and only played 12 minutes. Personally, I would have liked to see him a little more, because unlike any other Sixers he played average interior defense.
- On the surface Thad played a good game (22 points, 7 rebounds), but he needed 22 shots to reach 22 points (inefficient), and he only grabbed two defensive rebounds in 38 minutes – that's entirely unacceptable coming from someone who primarily played the four. He still did "good Thad" things like hustle, offensive rebound, etc., but took way, way too many jump shots and provided no resistance whatsoever in the paint, on defense.
- Andre Iguodala sprinkled in a few great plays, as always, and finished one assist shy of a triple double, but that missed free throw, failure to stop Andre Miller and way too many jump shots (much like Jrue and Thad) are going to leave a bitter taste in the mouths of most Sixers fans.
- The Wells Fargo Center was rockin' tonight. Kudos to them. Malik and Zumoff were also on their game tonight.