When we first looked at the 10-game road trip, we guessed two or three wins was likely. We hadn't figured that two blockbuster trades, an injury, and a death in the family would leave the Magic, Celtics, Bulls, and Nuggets each missing crucial players. But that's exactly what happened, and the Sixers are 2-2 on the road trip thus far.
Tonight, the Nuggets played J.R. Smith, Arron Afflalo, and Ty Lawson extended minutes to try and make up for the absence of Carmelo Anthony. They worked out with varying degrees of success, but it's clear by looking at the assist numbers that Denver's offense wasn't clicking. 12 assists on 30 shots is not what George Karl wants to see and Smith and Afflalo playing "take your man off the dribble" basketball doesn't win games.
Collins has harped again and again about this team's inability to close games and how they needed journeyman organizational filler Tony Battie to close out games for them. Tonight, they needed no such thing, hitting their foul shots for the first time all game, taking care of the basketball, and not giving up too many easy buckets on the other end. Battie played 9 ineffective minutes and didn't see the court at the end of the game.
Andre Iguodala, taking the night off from Melo, blanketed Smith and held him to 4-14 shooting (1-9 from beyond). He struggled mightily from the free throw line (3-10!!!), but added 8 rebounds and 5 assists, executing well in the open court as usual. He was 2-9 on jump shots, and regardless of how pretty his arc looks, he shouldn't be shooting that many.
The biggest surprise of the game was Evan Turner. First of all, he played! While Louis Williams was (reportedly) breastfeeding his new baby, ET stole 27 of his minutes, backing up Jrue Holiday and playing next to him for a bit as well. Turner didn't shoot the ball to any success (0-7 on jump shots), but he got to the basket a bunch, which is how he was successful at Ohio State. He got in the passing lanes and ran the fast break, playing smart, aggressive basketball. On his jump shot, he's short on pretty much everything. His form looks good and he’s squaring up well, he just needs a bit more lift to get over the front rim. Great to see Collins play the rookie in the situations he did and continuing to do so will only make him better.
More after the jump.
Jrue got into foul trouble early, which is why he only played 26 minutes tonight. When he was on the court, he was extremely effective from a scoring standpoint, totaling 22 on 12 shots. He used a variety of crafty moves near the basket and hitting open outside looks to beat Ty Lawson and Chauncey Billups. He was 6-9 on shots away from the hoop and continues to get better at shot selection while creating for himself. Jrue did only register three assists, but he also turned the ball over just once. He wasn't as aggressive defensively as he'd like to be on Billups because of the foul trouble, and it showed early as Billups outsmarted him a number of times tonight. Chauncey scored 24 points on 10 shots, giving Jrue a show on savvy basketball moves.
There were times when the offense was going through Evan and Jrue worked off the ball. Definitely something Collins can go to in the future to confuse defenses down the road.
Thaddeus Young had his best game in two weeks, being aggressive on both ends of the court early and contributing to the 30-point 2nd quarter that brought the Sixers back from an early deficit. Thad, who has admittedly stayed away from his weak jump shot, went 4-7 on outside shots tonight, looking very smooth in doing so. He hit a rhythm 20-footer from the top of the key late in the game to keep the Nuggets at arms length. He didn't get to the line once, and 20 points on 18 shots is probably too much for him off the bench, but a lot of it was off offensive rebounds (5) and tips under the basket. When he was being guarded by Shelden Williams, you could see the light turn on in his head. He took the bigger guy hard off the dribble, demonstrating his quickness and agility. Williams left the game after only 6 minutes, shooting 0-5 from the field.
It's hard to believe it's taken this many paragraphs to get to Elton Brand, who was a stud on both ends of the court tonight. The 31-year-old played 39 minutes, scored 16 points, had 17 rebounds (7 offensive) and blocked 3 shots. The Sixers were minus 17 in the 9 minutes when he was off the court in favor of the combination of Andres Nocioni and Battie. Brand battled hard down low, taking it to the injured Kenyon Martin and finesse center Nene Hilario. 17 rebounds is the most for Elton since he got 19 in February of 2007 as a LA Clipper. I don't want to go all Brett Favre-y on you but EB looked like he was having a hell of a time out there.
Tonight also saw a bounceback game from Jodie Meeks, who hit 2 of his 5 three-point attempts, while also getting to the line 10 times and converting all but one of them. He was a +20 in 33 minutes, but his best plays came at the end of the game when he turned a Jrue Holiday pass out of a double team into a dagger three. Less than a minute later, he picked off a Chauncey Billups pass to seal it. He got worked by Afflalo a few too many times, but a defensive presence in the middle behind him would've lessened the damage.
- Spencer Hawes was really bad. His defensive rebounds were when he was by himself and the ball fell into his lap. He did have a few pretty interior passes, but he could use another haircut to get back to where he was before.
- Craig Brackins, Marreese Speights, and Darius Songaila were active and didn't play. Rumor has it, Dong was supervising while Brackins milked his goats.
- Anybody else notice how stagnant the Sixers offense always looks? And tired? One guy goes into the post while the others hang out around the three-point line. Nobody moves without the basketball and every screen is set half-heartedly with no urgency or commitment to the move. I can't remember the last time I saw an actual half-court set consistently run by a Sixers team. They need to employ a college-style attack to suit their younger, quicker guys. Give-and-go from the post and foul line-extended and isolation plays are very ineffective with this personnel. Mix it up.
- Gary Forbes should stick on a team for a while as a cheap option. I came away impressed by the UMass product.
The Sixers are back at 'em tomorrow at Golden State. Expect Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis to get food poisoning.
Player of the Game: Evan Turner, just because I can.