Well, I didn't expect that. Then again, not having Anthony Davis or Jrue Holiday probably helped the cause. For the first time this season, the Philadelphia 76ers took a lead and never looked back, to beat the New Orleans Pelicans, 96-81.
The calling card for tonight, much like most of the last month, was the Sixers defense. Furthermore, it was the anchor of the defense that set the tone by putting up arguably his best game of the season.
Coach Brett Brown said it best, "I think we all walk away from this game feeling pretty good about Nerlens Noel".
He ended the night with 17 points on 7-10 shooting, 11 rebounds, 5 blocks, 2 assists and 2 steals. But his stat line only told half the story. From the outset, Noel was making some great plays on both sides of the ball directly or indirectly. He was an absolute eraser in the paint, he clogged up passing lanes, forced a couple turnovers, and was just everywhere.
This is what player development looks like. Nerlens looked lost a lot earlier this season and sometimes played with half the effort, especially when he got frustrated. Recently, however, he's been instinctively making some great plays for the team. Results like tonight just reinforce those instincts.
The Pelicans, on the other hand, played much like they were missing 2 of their best players. In fact, the most effective guy for them was their reserve big man, Alexis Ajinca (16 points on 6-9, 14 rebounds). He and Omer Asik were able to dominate the boards and create many second chance opportunities for the struggling Pelicans offense. Unfortunately, Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, and Ryan Anderson were not able to muster up much against the effective Sixers defense, going 10-34 from the field collectively. This loss dropped the team to 19-20 and possibly another game or half-game out of the 8th spot.
For the Sixers, this was their 8th win of the season, their 4th win of the calendar year, and makes them 4-3 in their last 7 games. Things seem to be slowly coming together for this young team. While they will struggle mightily against playoff and championship contenders, they won't lay down for anyone.
Odds and Ends:
- Michael Carter-Williams didn't put up the prettiest looking stat line, but overall played a really great game. Without Tony Wroten, MCW has been shouldering a lot of the load in setting up the offense. While his jump-shooting still leaves much to be desired, he's been doing so much better working in the paint.
- "Lord" Robert Covington returned tonight after being out with a shoulder injury. While 5-14 isn't a great night for a shooter like him, he still managed to fill his stat line with 18 pts, 6 rebs, 3 assists, 1 steal, and 2 blocks. Arguably the Sixers MVP this season?
- The Larry Drew II era has begun and the Sixers are 1-0. From what I saw, he played pretty well in the half court. I'm not sure he'll be here past his 10-day contract but, if he plays solid like tonight, it's possible, if only for another ball-handler on the team.
- Recently, both Coach Brown and Noel made statements about "passing". I think that message was read loud and clear as the ball was buzzing about tonight and shots were going from good to great. Furthermore, the Sixers limited their turnovers tonight. 22 Assists : 10 TOs? I'll take that every night with this team.
- The Sixers are 2-2 when I have to write the recap. Call me the Damien Wilkins of LB.
- The Sixers make a trip up to DE-TROIT (BASKET-BALL) to face the suddenly hot Pistons tomorrow night at 7:30. Apparently, Josh Smith was the wrench that got caught in that teams' gears because since his departure (and the return of Jodie Meeks!!!) the Pistons look like a playoff team. Okay Stan.