After a lackluster first half the Sixers found themselves trailing the Al Horford-less Atlanta Hawks by eight heading into the locker room. Nothing more than a simple golf clap echoed throughout the Wells Fargo Center in the first half as the Sixers played with zero energy. The second half was a different story as the Sixers came out and blew through the Hawks like a freight train. Tremendous defense, fast breaks galore, relentless hustle and a few acrobatic Andre Iguodala dunks later, the Wells Fargo Center was sent into a frenzy, and the Sixers never looked back, out-scoring the Hawks 51-29 en route to an easy 14 point victory.
Tonight's win improves the Sixers record to 11-4 overall and 7-1 at home – good for the second best record in the Eastern Conference.
The first half was bad and frustrating to watch. The offense was stagnant, shooting and missing a lot of jumpers, and the defense was allowing easy baskets for the Hawks. The second half, on the other hand, was a beauty to watch – one of the most enjoyable halves of basketball I've seen in a long, long time. The defense was tenacious, forcing turnovers, shot clock violations (or forced shots at the end of the shot clock) and tough shots. The Sixers won the battle for every loose ball, and the ball movement on offense was flawless thanks to the passing of Jrue Holday and Andre Iguodala. Once Jodie Meeks started drilling threes the Sixers were not going to be denied.
The question has to be asked, does this count as a "good win" for the Sixers? I'm going to have to say no. The Hawks are a pretty good team – not as good as their record – but they were without Al Horford and playing their second game in as many nights. The Sixers were playing on full rest in front of their home crowd, so as far as I'm concerned this is a game they should have won. That said, the way the Sixers battled back and obliterated the Hawks in the second half was damn impressive. I'm not one to get caught up in moral wins or cheap wins – every win counts the same in my book – but the skeptics are growing because A) the Sixers haven't won a close game and B) the Sixers lost to the Blazers, Knicks and Nuggets – the three toughest games they've had all season. Tomorrow night they travel to Miami to face the Heat, who will be playing on full rest. With or without Dwyane Wade the Sixers have no business going to Miami on short rest and beating the Heat, so we'll see what they're made of, and that will be an impressive win if they can pull it off.
A few more observations after the jump.
- Fact: Jrue Holiday's 16 points on 16 shots is not ideal. Fact: five turnovers from Jrue is not a desired total. Fact: Jeff Teague > Jrue Holiday in the first half. Jrue Holiday looked well on his way to another disappointing showing after 24 minutes of action, but responded in a big way in the second half and was arguably the main catalyst for the Sixers comeback. His passing and setting up of teammates – whether in transition or half court – was phenomenal. His defense was phenomenal. The fact that he mixed in a few sexy jumpers of the pull up and fadeaway variety was only a bonus. If Jrue can bottle the way he played during the second half and continue playing that way all season, the Sixers become an unbelievably dangerous team. Watching stretches of play from the Jruth like we saw tonight is the reason fans are so excited about his future.
- The emotional lift Jodie Meeks' threes gives the Sixers during home games cannot be measured. When he's knocking down threes and loosening up the defense for guys like Jrue, Andre, Evan and Lou to penetrate the Sixers are a tough team to stop offensively.
- Andre Iguodala didn't play the best game offensively – 11 points on 12 shots, most coming on dunks – but take a look at the opposing team's box score for Iguodala's impact. Joe Johnson: 8 points on 8 shots, 1 assist and 2 turnovers. Dre's job was to shut down the Hawks best player and he did a fantastic job. Appreciate it, there's not many players who do it better.
- In his second career start Nikola Vucevic was decent. He had good moments and he had bad moments – expected from a rookie.
- Like Iguodala, Brand wasn't great on offense, but he played a great game overall. His nine (count 'em) offensive rebounds gave the Sixers much-needed second chances when they were struggling in the half court and his three blocks, two steals allowed the Sixers to get easy baskets. Bottom line, the old school chevy made everyone else's job easier tonight.
- Evan Turner followed up his best performance of the season with an uninspiring game. He wasn't really a factor tonight outside of him getting abused by the ageless Tracy McGrady on what seemed to be five or six straight possessions in the second quarter.
- Louis Williams was "bad Boss" tonight. He was 1-9 from the field, took a few ill-advised shots and settled for two terrible shots in his typical end-of-quarter isolations. When Lou was on the court the ball stuck in the half court and the offense subsequently stalled.
- Thaddeus Young was Thaddeus Young. He hustled and "turned garbage into gold" around the basket. He also made a plethora of awkward, yet calculated shots around the basket. Someone who doesn't see Thad on a regular basis would qualify those shots as "lucky", but Thad's always had a knack for making those uncomfortable-looking baby hooks and spinners. Two defensive rebounds in 23 minutes is still unacceptable from one of my "big men", although his box outs often lead to rebound opportunities for guards. See: Turner, Iguodala, Holiday.
- Andre Miller had zero points tonight. Just sayin'.
- Willie Green led the Hawks in scoring with 14, including a leaning, fadeaway, floating, spinning, contested three at the end of the Sixers epic third quarter. Sans Green's prayer at the buzzer the Sixers would've held the Hawks to seven measly points in the third. Damn you, Willie Green.
- The Knicks and Celtics both lost again, at home. The Sixers now lead the two teams by five and five.point.five games, respectively – the largest lead of any division leader in the NBA.