For as bad as the Sixers looked during losses to the Pacers, Heat, Bulls and Knicks, they looked just as good Friday night against the Celtics. The C's dropped 32 first quarter points on the vaunted Sixers D – the most they've given up all season – and entered the locker room with a six-point lead. Despite the scoreboard saying otherwise, the Sixers played relatively well in the first half; the Celtics were simply making shots at an unsustainable pace. Sure enough, they regressed to the mean, and scored only 37 points in the second half.
I'm going to avoid the whole 'big picture' route I normally take with my recaps and focus strictly on the game that was played, but not without stating the obvious: the Celtics were playing the second game of a road back-to-back, without one of their best players in Ray Allen, and lost Mikael Pietrus to a freak injury in the second quarter.
Despite the score throughout the first half, I never felt like the outcome of this game was in jeopardy, for reasons perviously mentioned. The Sixers offense, as a whole, looked phenomenal, and the Celtics were racking up their points via a hot shooting streak from Paul Pierce and a bunch of long two pointers from Kevin Garnett. Things evened themselves out in the third quarter and the Sixers ran away with the game.
The Sixers began the season with a top 10 offense to go along with their league-best defense, which helped them sustain one of the best records and point differentials in the NBA. Then Spencer Hawes went down with an injury, and non-coincidentally, the Sixers offense suffered. Hawes was playing at an uncharacteristically high level prior to his injuries, and since returning, has been a shell of his early-season self, also known as Wight Howard.
Spencer played 28 minutes tonight – a high since returning from injury – and for the first time since his original injury, looked like a halfway decent basketball player, and the Sixers offense reaped the benefits.
Hawes finished with a modest 12 points (on 13 shots), 10 rebounds (4 offensive) and only three assists. However; his presence in the half-court offense was a big part of the Sixers success. He passed the ball brilliantly, crashed the offensive glass, and visibly understands floor spacing better than his replacements – Lavoy Allen and Nikola Vucevic.
Partly because of Hawes' passing – which must've been contagious, because multiple Sixers appeared to be in the passing zone tonight – and partly because of an apparent attitude adjustment, the Sixers attacked the basket at will tonight.
I don't have access to Hoop Data's advanced box score at the moment, but I imagine the Sixers attempted significantly more shots at the rim than they normally do (21 per game). They also scored 46 points in the paint – up 11 from their season average – and attempted 18 free throws. And all this came against the third best defensive team in the league.
Jrue Holiday, in particular, was very impressive with his desire to take the ball to the basket. He attempted five free throws – tied for the second most this season – and seemed to live in the painted area. He finished with 15 points on 12 shots, but missed at least two lay-ups. I can only remember Jrue taking one, maybe two long twos – normally a staple in his game.
All in all, Friday night's smush of the Celtics was a solid win for a variety of reasons. One, the Sixers held on to, and extended their lead in the division. Two, Coach Collins earned his 400th career win. And three, the Sixers now own the tiebreaker with the Celtics, should they finish the season with the same record.
Make the jump for a few random observations.
- Etlon Brand made at least 58 jump shots tonight, or so it seemed. He finished with 20 points on 15 shots and 4steals. Old school Chevy!
- Another ho-hum game for Andre Iguodala: 14 points on 10 shots, 8 assists, 6 rebounds and only 2 turnovers. Paul Pierce got the best of Iguodala's D early on, but wasn't heard from again after his hot streak wore off.
- Good Boss was in effect tonight. Louis Williams dropped 19 points on 13 shots off the bench. He also added 3 assists and 5 rebounds. When Lou has it going, he's one of my favorite players to watch. He's, by far, the most skilled scorer the Sixers have had since Iverson.
- Thaddeus Young had a pretty typical night, 12 points and 9 boards. He was stroking the long two early in the game. He's shooting ~40% from 16-23 this year, probably because most of those shots are wide open and assisted.
- Jodie Meeks was 0-6.
- Evan Turner was pretty much a non-factor the entire game. The highlights of his night were two brilliant drives in which he found Thaddeus Young in traffic for lay-ins. I do like how he can create his own shot whenever.
- Games like tonight are when the Sixers are at their best. Their defense was stellar, as usual, and their offense was as fluid and functional as it's been in quite a while. They got contributions from across the board, and that's when they become a scary team. When they get going, there's a handful of guys who can get hot and carry the team.