With less than a minute to go in Monday night's game, Paul George effectively ended things.
For these Sixers, the game was close enough to a win. The Indiana Pacers, owners of the second-best record in the NBA at 50-17, took the full 48 minutes to finish off a group that has been the subject of a ton of ridicule recently. In the end, though, they still found a way to lose their 21st straight game, a franchise record. Of course they did.
From a basketball standpoint, this game probably says more about the Pacers' current worrisome state. From George mean mugging after his (admittedly very nice) dunk on a night where he shot 4-14 from the field to Lance Stephenson eschewing any defensive responsibility to cherry pick, Indiana seems extremely satisfied with itself right now. For their sake, I hope they can refocus before the playoffs start. Even after acknowledging the caveats of a long, grinding season and plenty of time to regroup before the playoffs get underway, they played like crap tonight. Even worse, they seemed content.
Anyway, the Sixers played extremely hard as a group and kept the game close throughout. And honestly, a hard-fought loss is probably their ceiling against a team like Indiana on the road. Even if they don't win another game this year (they'll most likely get one, IMO), Brett Brown definitely wants to see more of these efforts. The rest of the thoughts are below, in bullet points:
- Michael Carter-Williams really struggled with his shot, especially at the free-throw line where he went an ugly 1-5. He never stopped competing, though, as evidenced by an extremely impressive 12 defensive rebounds. I also like the little floater that he's working on when he gets into the lane. While that's never really been an efficient shot in a vacuum, Carter-Williams seems like a player who can use it as a weapon. He doesn't actually need to blow by his defender off the dribble to get it off cleanly because it's unblockable from a 6-foot-6 point guard. I'd like to see him continue working on this shot in pressure-free games instead of trying to bull his way to the rim on every possession.
- Hollis Thompson might've played his best game of the season. The shooting (6-7, 4-4 from distance) was obviously good, but more importantly, Hollis actually felt involved in the game. I like Hollis' game more than that of most of the current Sixers, but he's always been kind of aloof on the court. Sure, he's pretty efficient, but that's because he's only taking wide-open threes and not providing much of anything else. Tonight, things were different. Hollis was guarding Paul George tough. He was rebounding. He was even moving the ball around the perimeter a little bit. Nice night for Hollis.
- Forgot to shoot this one in portrait, but it's worth flipping your computer or turning your head sideways for:
- Henry Sims battled hard against fellow Georgetown Hoya Roy Hibbert and the tough as nails David West, finishing with 9 points and 11 rebounds. He should continue to play big minutes for the rest of the season. By the way, I've talked about three players so far, and they're all from original Big East schools. If you haven't seen it yet, please catch the relatively depressing 30 for 30 called "Requiem for the Big East." RIP to my favorite college basketball conference.
- Tony Wroten had a pretty good game by his standards (17 points on 18 shots, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 turnovers), which is kind of the problem. I love the guy's effort and think he should play a ton for the rest of the season, but his play hasn't really warranted a roster spot on next year's team.
- The Sixers seemed to receive a healthy amount of tough calls toward the end of the first half, which partly led to the 38-20 free-throw disparity. For example, the super-physical West got away with a couple of blatant push-offs that led directly to offensive rebounds. Indiana didn't necessarily "out-tough" the Sixers in this one, but they're just a generally more physical team. The officiating definitely favored physicality.
- Evan Turner struggled with his shot (2-7), but he collected seven boards and was a plus-11. This current Sixers bench sure is a shot in the arm for a player's plus-minus.
- There was a pig in a wagon, which is cool. And I think that about wraps it up.