Basketball is a strange beast. Imperative as it is to have a superstar in your ranks to ascend the pyramid, on any given night, anybody can step up. This given night was Game One against the Denver Nuggets, and anybody was Spencer Hawes. Behind a performance reminiscent of Wight Howard himself, Hawes led the starless Sixers to victory over erstwhile face of the Sixers, Andre Iguodala.
I can tell you that the final few minutes of the game involved multiple MVP chants for Mr. Hawes.
I can guess that if you haven't watched the game, you probably don't believe me. It happened. Those same fans that booed Iguodala every time he touched the ball screamed for the much-maligned center from Washington, whose most recent on-court exploits include getting absolutely torched by Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass last postseason. But -- and I say this honestly because there is no love lost between Spencer and me -- the dude deserved it.
Obviously he won't be winning any MVP awards between now and the Oak Creek Senior Wheelchair League, but he sure kept the Sixers in it tonight. Looking noticeably slimmer -- perhaps his extra weight went into his mullet? -- Hawes played smart, controlled, occasionally athletic basketball tonight. Aside from draining two big three's in the first half, the up-and-under play in the 2nd quarter was the big highlight for Spence on the offensive end.
Hawes also was the saving grace of the frontcourt after Thaddeus Young and Lavoy Allen left much to be desired on the defensive glass, pulling in 12 rebounds over a 31 minute run. Anchoring the defense wasn't supposed to be his duty once Bynum got here, but since Andy was in street clothes, Ol' Dirty Spencer took it upon himself to block five shots -- all of which turned into Sixers possessions, most on the fast break.
He looked the part of Pau Gasol tonight (if you can imagine Pau with a mullet) -- moving around the lane, shuffling from block to block and setting up at the high post. If he can become any sort of consistent threat from deep, he's the perfect guy to run the pick and roll with Jrue while Bynum sets up in the post. A few pick-and-pops were successful tonight but he'll need to roll well also in order to get a shot at the rim for himself or Drew.
And to top it off, earlier Spence had taken the microphone to half court to welcome Sixers fans and wish them a Happy Halloween. He did not, however, urge them to vote for Mitt Romney. Full night from The Artist Formerly Known As HAHAWES.
Chalk it up to rust or the weather or Tanner's heckling, but the Sixers defense was great tonight. Against a team that had scored less than 90 points just 4 times last season, Michael Curry's squad held them to an anemic 75 points. They reached the Ricko quota of 25 points per quarter exactly zero times. 20 turnovers, 37.5% shooting from the field, 11 foul shots, and a whole lot of stalled possessions.
Jrue Holiday did a great job keeping Ty Lawson in front of him and mostly out of the paint. Ty's so good at changing speeds and staying low to the ground, but Jrue moved his feet and forced him to be a jump-shooter. He's good enough to hit some shots and make plays (16 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds, no turnovers), but on 7-17 shooting and just two foul shots, I'll consider that a huge success.
Minus Danilo Gallinari, the Nugs were forced to play more Andre Miller than they would like. And between him and the other Andre, they took a number of hero ball shots that made life easy on the Sixers defense. Same goes for Corey Brewer and Wilson Chandler, who both looked pretty bad. I came away impressed with Evan Fournier (as I always do), but the Sixers did a great job limiting easy baskets for Denver's athletic wings.
Jrue 'N' Evan
As we've repeated, this season is not so much about wins and losses as it is about figuring who is going to be an integral part of this team moving forward and in what capacity. That conversation starts and quite possibly ends with Evan Turner and Jrue Holiday. We're still waiting anxiously to see how they perform with a legitimate big man on their side, but tonight was another chance for them to take the car out for a little spin on their own.
And as has usually been the case, it didn't go too well.
Evan made his first shot on and and-1 (yay!), then got into foul trouble and went 1-6 for the rest of the game. He was second on the team in defensive rebounding, no surprise, but couldn't get much going offensively and took two really bad shots out of the flow of the offense. He also missed a wide open three that rimmed out. Would appreciate a bit of luck from the Goddess of Rims, please. Not the start you're looking for from Evan. The best I can say for him is that he only shot it 7 times -- less than Jrue, Dorell, Thad, J-Rich, Hawes, and Swaggy. Gotta show up in other ways, then, Ev.
Jrue had what has become a typical Jrue game. (As I'm writing this he JUST got extended. Congrats, dude.) Lots of jumpers, a few splendid plays, and stifling defense. Sort of frustrating because he's so talented and can really control the game if he picks his spots better but he simply doesn't. He's young, and he's now very very rich, so maybe the combination of the two will age him up into making better decisions. At least he got to the line 5 times tonight, most of them on and-1's. Still too many jumpers though.
As Derek's favorite film HUSTLE & FLOW tells us, flow is immensely important. This game didn't have much of it. Unless one team was out in transition, offense was choppy and disconnected. It seemed like the only play the Sixers had was a pick and pop with Jrue and Hawes. Otherwise it would be someone deciding to jack up a shot. That's why all seemed well when shots were falling in the first, but regression happens and things stalled.
Live by the three, die by the three is not the worst strategy to deploy while Bynum is out, but it's important to get good looks, not rushed or contested ones. The offense will have cogency once Drew gets back, but I'd like some movement in the interim as well. Maybe some off-ball screens with Thad or Evan and one of the shooters? That way those two guys can cut to the basket or flash high and pass from there. Plus you have the option of a potentially open good shooter. Get me a whiteboard.
I'm gonna say it was just some game one rust.
DNP -- Kwame Brown.
- I really love how long Dorell Wright is. The potential of him at the 4 is exciting me, especially once Bynum returns.
- Anybody surprised at the lack of Arnett Moultrie? Me neither. We got a brief look at Sheep though!
- How 'bout that Hawes guy?
- Filing a grievance against George Karl for not playing Quincy Miller all the minutes.
- Tanner, Dave, and Roy were all in attendance. To my knowledge, they bound and gagged 32 men/women/children for booing Dre.
- It's going to be so much fun when Nick Young gets hot. Kid just likes playing basketball. Respect.
- Seemed like the refs were letting both sides play quite a bit. Judging by some people at Denver Stiffs, they weren't too pleased with the refs but I think they tended to let most things go for both teams.
- Dikembe Mutombo still sounds like Dikembe Mutombo.
- Why didn't Kenneth Faried and Javale McGee play more minutes? They're, uh, good. Gooder than Brewer, Chandler, and Hamilton.
- Need more Big Bella (or Bertha, depending on how much you enjoy being wrong). Ordering one for my apartment.
- I ate a lot of BBQ yesterday and didn't get any on my shirt. Thus, I knew they were going to win.
In this non-Lockout compressed season we have to get used to longer breaks between games. Sadly, the matchup against the New York Knicks won't happen until Sunday 11/4. Lord only knows how much lube we'll need by then.
Basketball is back. Hawes has a mullet. Order is restored. Mediocracy forever.