A few weeks ago, Derek wrote about inexperience playing a major role in the Sixers failure to close games. On New Years, against the defending champs, the same elephant reared its ugly snout.
Down three, Evan Turner was on Kobe Bryant with a minute to go. Kobe went right, then faked the spin towards the paint and went back to the baseline, but Elton Brand was there to knock the ball away. Turner scooped the ball up and pushed the ball. He found Louis Williams who dished it to a diving Thaddeus Young for the layup over Derek Fisher and a foul. After Thad knocked down the free throw (76.8% on the season), the game was tied.
But Kobe did what he does on the next play, going back to his right hand with Turner on his hip, hung just long enough for a clean look and buried it. Turner was with him the whole way, but slipped as Kobe pulled up, letting his hands fall and creating a window for Bryant to shoot through. Hardly bad defense, but against that guy, it usually doesn't matter.
The next two possessions down two, the Sixers had a number of opportunities that they couldn't cash in on. First, Turner missed a step-in jumper that came down to a leaping Young, who got blocked on the putback attempt. With the ball in the air, both Thad and Matt Barnes got a hand on it to knock it out of bounds. After a number of looks at the replay, the refs opted to give the ball to the Lakers rather than jump it up. After a Kobe miss, Jrue Holiday missed a contested three. The rebound came down to Lou, who hurried a turnaround three with 6 seconds left, plenty of time to find an open man or do anything that wasn't a running three-point attempt while moving to his weak side. It missed, and who else but Kobe hit two free throws to put the game out of reach.
Having Andre Iguodala on the court wouldn't have done much offensively, seeing as his end-of-game possessions are rarely effective. But he has much more experience guarding Kobe, which could have made the little bit of difference in him missing that shot. Or not. Regardless, I'm glad ET got the chance to play crunch time minutes against the best player in the last ten years.
Hanging with the Lakers on the road is a tremendous accomplishment in itself for this team, and at the very least they gave a good Degeneration-X salute to the Silver Screen and Roll guys who didn't think this was a game worth watching. Somehow I don't think Doug Collins sees that positive.
More day late goodness after the jump.
Consider the front court rebounding statistics for both teams. The Sixers three big guys, Spencer Hawes, Elton Brand, and Tony Battie, combined for 8 defensive rebounds in 70 minutes, or a 14.1% defensive rebounding percentage. Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom managed 20 defensive boards in their 96 minutes -- a 24.4% percentage. Collins saying we apparently "need Tony Battie" in games like these is absurd. If we're going to get out-rebounded anyway, we may as well do it with Marreese Speights or Craig Brackins losing on the glass.
Without Iguodala, Evan Turner got another 35 minutes of play. While he was generally seen as being more active, moving the ball well and getting into space, he only took two shots inside of ten feet, making one on a nice take where he got by Odom and Gasol to finish a three-point play. He shot 4-11 from everywhere else. Again, his midrange game seemed just a bit off, sometimes because of his hesitancy and sometimes because he's not getting enough lift on his shot. One day, he'll be a top-level midrange jumpshooter. Not today.
He split time with Andres Nocioni and Jodie Meeks in the difficult assignment of guarding Kobe. Meeks never really had a chance, giving up size, speed, strength and skill to him. Noce can do enough to annoy Bryant, but without Iguodala, Turner is the best man to guard him, and Collins recognized that late in the game. Kobe got his, pulling up for 10 of his 24 shots between 15-23 feet, and making five of them. Without an interior presence, the wings have to give up the outside shot to protect the drive, making them (and everybody else in the league) vulnerable to a guy like Kobe who can shoot and slash. All in all, I'm very pleased with how Evan played defense against the Lakers.
Jrue keeps playing good basketball. Let's start on defense. Derek Fisher went 0-7 in 28 minutes, logging only 4 assists. He took zero shots inside of 16 feet. That's called keeping your man out of the paint. On offense, Jrue weaved in and out of the defense all night, scoring 19 points and dishing out 11 assists. One play he absorbed contact from Bynum and finished in and-1, showing how much stronger he is with the basketball than last year. He hit from all over the court, finding open guys at the rim and around the arc. Four of his assists led to three-pointers. Dominating guys like Fisher is what Jrue should be doing nightly.
- Lou's first step looked really good. No chance Steve Blake should be covering him. His usage rate was a gag-inducing 32%, but he scored 18 in 25 minutes off the bench. Good enough to be dealt? He could be the first one out once Andre gets back. Could help a contender off the bench.
- Noce, again, was all over the place tonight. 13 and 8 in 24 minutes is a nice night for him. He'll lay an egg every so often, but if he gets regular time, this is how he'll play.
- Jodie continues to falter. Bad defense, terrible in the open court, and 2-7 shooting. 40% from three is good, but he's got to improve other areas of his game before he can start on a real team.
- Another solid game from Thad. Love his energy on the boards and in the passing lanes. He's a feisty one. All five of his buckets came at the rim. This is a man who knows what he's good at. Props to Doug.
- In unrelated news, Kenneth Faried continues to rock out with his sock out at Morehead State. Everybody's boy is averaging 23.5 and 11 in his last two games, shooting 76% from the field and tallying 5 blocks and 5 steals. Holy draft picks.
The Sixers go to New Orleans on Monday to play their first full game in 2011. This will be the last game of an 8-game road trip where they are currently 3-4. 7 games under .500, our boys are just one game out of the 8 spot.
Hope all your New Year's were filled with merriment and Dongaila.