10-9-8-76ers: MCW Beats the Heat, Sixers Start 3-0

Mitchell Leff

Throughout this week, the Liberty Ballers staff (but not all of it, you don't have all the time in the world here) will be going deep into the team's Top 10 Things That Happened, for the lack of a better term, from the 2013-14 season. First up, the first thing that happened: Michael Carter-Williams' best game of the season highlighting a 3-0 start.

On one hand: elation over an inexplicable 3-0 start, beating three consecutive playoff teams. On the other: worries that the Sixers were too good, beating teams they shouldn't be beating if they wanted to finish with the worst record in the lead.

On one hand: hysterical laughter and ownership and defense of a totally legitimate NBA heavyweight championship belt. On the other: the exact opposite of all those things.

On one hand: #TeamChill. On the other #TeamPanic.

One thing both sides agreed upon, though, was on Michael Carter-Williams. That looked like a good draft pick by Sam Hinkie, and while his play would crater and recover later in the season, his cold open versus the Heat served as his greatest work, one which sparked a likely ROY campaign season and convinced enough people that yes, he might be a cornerstone of this franchise.

For today though, let's remember his, and our, best night of the season.

***

The Sixers scored 19 in a row to open the game against the Heat. The Heat! The HEAT!! How the heck did this happen? A predictably energy-less Heat team, coming off a victory the night before and immediately traveling to Philadelphia for a game against a team with the lowest over/under EVER set by a Vegas casino, would not wake up until MCW, Turner, and Hawes combined for those 19 points. Sloppy passes, lazy shooting, no Dwyane Wade, too much Roger Mason and James Jones, it was all there set up to make the Sixers get off to a good start.

But 19 in a row? 23-2 lead to start? I mean, what?

Keying that run were 3 steals from MCW, who eventually had a season-high of 9 during the game. 9 steals is not a realistic total for an NBA point guard for basically any game. MCW did this in his debut. His first came on the team's first defensive possession, and it was quite memorable. Off a bad pass from Miami, MCW hustled to beat a 1-on-2, unleashing a dunk for the first points of his career and the game.

Carterdunk_medium_medium

via cdn2.sbnation.com

I will probably always remember that dunk. I wouldn't go as far as to say it was iconic, but it's very memorable.

Long arms, and sloppy passing, gave MCW numerous open court opportunities. That kind of highlighted what to me was a surprising defensive season. MCW struggled against physical opponents - having a slender frame, light with long arms, had both its advantages and disadvantages. So did his time playing in Syracuse's 2-3 Zone, which allowed for lane jumping but discouraged one-on-one defense and its principles.

But it worked against the Heat on opening night! MCW had a relatively easy defensive assignment in Mario Chalmers, one who wouldn't command the offense, allowing MCW to gamble off the ball and jump into passing lanes for easy opportunities. The video above isn't a great example, as the steal occurred more due to a bad dish from Roger Mason than it did from MCW's roaming. Forcing live-ball turnovers, though, keyed his great outing and was largely responsible for the Sixers winning. Along with, you know, everything else.

***

Despite jumping out to a large lead, Miami ended up leading by as much as 8 in the third quarter. The Heat are a great team, and the Sixers would prove to be a terrible one. But not that night! The Sixers came back through the efforts of the same three players that keyed the hot start: Turner, Hawes, and MCW. Two players who would prove not to be part of this team's core, and perhaps the only player who would show this through the rest of the season, led the way both to start and end the affair.

The Heat, like many other teams this year, had some difficulty defending the MCW-Hawes pick-and-roll. Part of the reason Carter-Williams struggled in the middle of the year was the decline in play and eventual trade of Hawes. Hawes, as he did against Miami, provided unconventional spacing and cleared the paint for MCW to make plays, even as he steadfastly refused to make contact on picks. Between one of Turner's strong performances and the Sixers' pet pick-and-do-whatever plays, they staged an unlikely comeback.

Down 4 with about two minutes left to play, MCW ran a pick play with Hawes, leading to an open elbow three. Hawes knocked it down. Hawes from above the break this year was one of the best shooters in the league, largely from passes coming from Carter-Williams. Then after a steal, Hawes converted a fast break layup (no, I don't know how either) giving the Sixers the lead. They wouldn't relinquish it.

***

The Sixers would follow this most unlikely win with two more: games against Washington and Chicago, who are currently beating the tar out of each other in the first round of the playoffs. MCW was mostly subdued against the Wizards, but he had another dominant performance against Chicago. I had the recap for that one, and I remember it well.

The Bulls forced MCW to shoot off the dribble as often as they could, and would rather have the point guard outscore them himself than get other people involved. His shooting wasn't as efficient, but his performance seemed almost as impactful, if not more, than it was against the Heat. He hit a variety of floaters and finished against contact, things he would sometimes struggle with as the season moved along.

Start Talking, Sam

The differences between MCW's strong and weak games were plainly obvious to those who watched. Performances like these, and his strong stretch of games to end the season, give us hope he can perform at a high level more frequently in the future.

But for now, let's relish in the fact that we had an exciting, unpredictable, and unexpected 3-0 start to a season filled with losing. And let's not feel guilty either - even if we lost all 3, we'd still have been ahead of the Bucks. That Hawes shot, though...

Well, you'll have to wait to hear about that later this week.

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