Limited to just nine players due to the absences of Nerlens Noel and Malcolm Thomas, the 76ers would have been excused if the East-leading Bulls ran them out of the gym tonight. Undermanned as they were, the Sixers managed to hang tough against Chicago, falling 118-115 in a game they could have easily won.
Thanks to solid contributions all around and new career highs from Hollis Thompson (21) and Tony Wroten (31), the hometown boys were able to scrap and claw their way into a contest that looked lost in the third quarter. Contrary to many of the team's performances of late, the Sixers decided to stink it up in the third frame rather than in crunch time. The final quarter saw the Sixers outscore the Bulls by 13, with Chris Johnson's desperation heave leaving the team just short of overtime.
What impressed me the most this evening was Brett Brown's team adjusting to their lineup fluctuation without missing a beat. The Sixers essentially ran out four wing players and Henry Sims to start the night, combatting the Bulls size advantage by swarming ball-handlers with length and activity. It backfired a fair amount and led to too many open looks for Chicago, but part of that can be attributed to the inexperience of the roster.
This is a team on the verge of breaking through, provided they get their full lineup together for a game. Despite a massive size discrepancy, they outrebounded and outscored the Bulls in the paint. That they play so hard each night is a testament to the character of Coach Brown and his players, and while the bouts of ineptitude can be tough to watch, that fire is encouraging in the short and long term alike.
Some extended notes on the evening:
- Brandon Davies continues to be a valued presence on this team. As I mentioned in tonight's preview, I've been as vocal as anyone about his inclusion on the roster, but the guy shows up to play every night. One thing that has impressed me a ton so far is his ability to hit cutters and open shooters with passes. He's gained stature for knocking down his shots, but he made a number of slick passes and fostered better ball movement when he was in the game.
- Henry Sims played what was probably his best game in a Sixers uniform. Had he done nothing more than shoot 70 percent from the field, it would have been a marked improvement, but he was excellent as the lone big dealing with Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah up front. Sims struggled with some foul trouble in the first half, but generally did a good job of contesting shots and throwing his body around without being reckless. He ended the night with the team's best plus-minus (+17), a good summation of his work on both ends.
- Alexey Shved is starting to give me flashbacks of Evan Turner with his bouts of overdribbling, and I'm not a fan of it. Will be interesting to see how he figures into the rotation after Michael Carter-Williams returns.
- I don't know what his long-term role is with the team, but as Rich mentioned today, Wroten is a bundle of pure excitement. He only turned the ball over twice -- a big factor in the team staying in this one -- and sprinkled in some ridiculous acrobatics between his repeated drives to the bucket.
- Officiating came up in the game thread, and while I agree they have been on the short end of the officiating at times, they have to take advantage of their opportunities when they get there. Shved missed a duo before the first half buzzer that would have protected a halftime lead, and Thompson missed a pair right as the deficit was cut to single digits in the fourth. YGTMYFT.
Tons of silver linings to take from this one, and the biggest one of all didn't even take the court. Joel Embiid is back with his teammates, and the joy with which he tweets does not appear to have left him in the wake of family tragedy.
Never stop dancing, Jojo.