Joakim Noah was the difference in Chicago.
At least before this week, the Sixers were living in a bubble.
Yes, they were playing a bad brand of basketball, but nobody outside of Philadelphia was taking notice. Their play wasn't so amazingly bad that they had become an "I can't look away" type of sideshow SportsCenter will focus on from time to time. Even in the basketball blogosphere, a pretty comprehensive place, nothing stood out about the Sixers besides Andrew Bynum's ever-changing hair. The general sentiment from hardcore NBA fans was "Oh yeah, bummer about Bynum. Well, at least Jrue Holiday is having a nice year." Then they moved on and looked elsewhere.
Until this week happened.
All it took was two games for the Sixers to become the butt (Ha!) of everyone's joke. First there was a stinker of an effort against the lowly Magic and then the press conference (and I do mean "THE press conference") where head coach Doug Collins threw the team that he picked under the bus. Collins randomly drawing on how he was never booed during his playing career and talking about cat scans, now that was the "I can't look away" stuff major media outlets want.
But the week had only started, and the internet wasn't going to be the only medium subjected to the Sixers' downward spiral. At the worst possible time, they played the worst possible team on TNT last night. A struggling, hard-working Bulls team wasn't going to be the squad that the Sixers could sneak up and steal a win from. And yes, it should be repeated that this game was on national television. For much of the second half, there was no other professional basketball being played. The country watched in horror, and made fun of the Philadelphia 76ers as they lost to the Chicago Bulls by a score of 93-82.
The bubble burst. Onto the game specifics:
- I didn't think there was a poor effort tonight. After a sluggish start, the Sixers battled and somehow stayed within reaching distance for much of a game that was truly never in doubt. So did Collins' message about effort get through to the team? To me, not really, because tonight's game felt much more indicative of the last two months than the Orlando game: The Sixers played hard, but they just lost to a better team.
- At the risk of lionizing Arnett Moultrie to the point where people are going to expect a young Karl Malone, it needs to be pointed out that Collins' handling of his playing time was again head-scratching. He played seven 2nd Quarter minutes and scored four points on 2-2 shooting (a 15-foot jumper and a halfcourt alley-oop for Turner). He hedged and recovered to force a turnover on the pick and roll. He made a nice defensive play and cut off Nate Robinson's penetration to force a traveling violation. He set good screens. He rolled to the basket. Basically, he played hard and did some nice things. Moultrie made a mistake or two (like the offensive rebound and dunk to Nazr Mohammed that he gave up) but man, what type of message does it send to the rookie when productive minutes aren't rewarded with any burn in the second half?
- The conventional wisdom on Moultrie seems to be that he hasn't been in shape this season. Even during the broadcast, it felt like that's what David Aldridge was referring to when he said "they can't play him big minutes just yet." Obviously I'm not there at practice, but Moultrie's doing an excellent job of hiding being out of shape if that's still the case. Last night, he was sprinting the floor and beating his man to the basket. All of the effort plays were there, and as Andrew from over at The 700 Level pointed out, it's not like LeBron James and Blake Griffin-level athletes are playing in front of him. "Out of shape" is Lamar Odom at the beginning of the last two seasons, not Arnett Moultrie right now.
- Evan Turner struggled. He was hot early, but four of his first five field goals were unassisted. This turned out to be fool's gold. After that, he started over-dribbling, and the offense bogged down because of it. He managed only 12 points on his 16 shots.
- Jrue Holiday wasn't much better. Looking at his shot-chart, save for one time in the second quarter when he was fouled, he didn't get to the basket once all night. The Bulls forced the Sixers as a team into what seemed like a ton of heavily contested mid-range jump shots, and Holiday definitely took his share. In a sense, the fact that Jrue shot 10-19 on so many tough looks shows that he shot the ball pretty well. But the shots weren't even close to the ones he should be looking for.
- Thaddeus Young played 39 minutes and struggled from the field. He understandably looks like someone who is getting his wind and timing back coming off the injury. Young missed a couple of defensive rotations that he usually makes in his sleep, as well.
- Kirk Hinrich airballed a three. I giggled.
- Oh yeah, John Mitchell tweeted this:
Hawes has 16 and 12 tonight. Whose minutes should Moultrie get?— john mitchell (@JmitchInquirer) March 1, 2013
I'm generally pretty hard on Hawes here, but we can admit that saying "16 and 12" (ended up being 20 and 15 after some solid late-game work) is pretty misleading, no? Yes, those are nice totals, but Hawes' second half doesn't make the other things that he did in this game magically go away. Joakim Noah had 23 points, 21 rebounds, and 11 blocks while matched up against him for most of the night. I went back and watched Noah's eight offensive rebounds, and Hawes was guarding him on seven. Four of them were plays where Hawes was in great position, but just didn't put a body on him. Noah also blocked Hawes three times.
Hawes' 20 points came on 7-18 shooting, which isn't horrible, but not great either. Coming off a one rebound performance, Hawes played a decent second half and truthfully rebounded pretty well as the game went on. But his point and rebound totals don't come close to telling the whole story.
Whatever Hawes was, Noah was better. Whatever the Sixers were, the Bulls were better.