In the absence of a go-to player, the Sixers have relied on collective effort and lockdown defense to earn wins. Their 89-69 win over the Detroit Pistons was another chapter in an increasingly familiar story.
After jumping out to a completely bonkers 24-4 lead in the first, the game was fairly back and forth for the rest of the evening. Unlike some other games in which the Sixers let big leads slip, this one never felt that close. They won all but the second quarter (a 21-20 frame for Detroit) and closed the game on a big run to seal the deal.
The balanced effort, if you'd let Brett Brown tell it, was led by Michael Carter-Williams. Brown has made clear how important he thinks the point is on any team, let alone a talent-strapped unit like his.
"Michael was a point guard tonight," Brown said. "His presence on the court and the size, when he gets a small guard in his pocket, that's a special quality for a young point guard."
His performance was a little more erratic than the stat line will give him credit for -- he was lucky to have a few bad passes bounce into friendly arms -- but MCW was mostly content to facilitate and keep the offense humming. He got plenty of assists on his own, managing a near triple double with 14 points, 10 assists and 9 rebounds, but more importantly he was making the correct plays, trusting that his teammates would in turn do the same.
On a team filled with young players, it's encouraging when they realize that they're better off trusting the guys around them to make the right decisions, rather than defaulting to hero ball. It showed in the point distribution; through three quarters the team's leading scorer was Robert Covington with 13, flanked by three other players in double digits.
The Pistons played their own part in the victory, missing a fair amount of open shots and finishing a ghastly 2-20 from beyond the arc. Sixers killer Kyle Singler putting up a goose egg wasn't even the most confounding stat of the night; Jodie Meeks somehow shot almost as many free throws (11) as the Sixers entire team (12). I'm still not sure if that's a typo looking at the box score.
In any case, the organization must feel a small tinge of validation beating the guy who openly mocked the Sixers for the second time this season. Progress comes in fits and starts, but you can see it in crisper rotations and willingness to defer to the guys next to them. While people sit around whining about culture and losing habits, Brett Brown and the players are building something to be proud of.
Odds & Ends
- Nerlens Noel had some issues dealing with Greg Monroe in the paint, but he managed to impact the game without standing out in any singular area. He had 4+ points, boards, assists and steals to go with a couple blocks. As a weak-side defender, he was an absolute menace. When Joel Embiid is healthy and taking on the bigger post assignments, I have a feeling we'll see Noel's true potential.
- The crowd, even for a Wednesday night Sixers game, seemed strangely empty. A small shame that the team played so well on a night where not many people showed up to cheer them on.
- Jerami Grant did some cool things:
- JaKarr Sampson put up 13 and eight boards on 83 percent shooting. He was a +26 for the evening, and has to be in the running for sentimental favorite now that Wroten is on the shelf. Continues to contribute in different ways and make smart cuts off the ball, despite numerous glaring deficiencies
- Buzzkill of the night goes to Hollis Thompson. I know that the team was working to alter his shot for a quicker release, and at this point I'm questioning why they messed with it. He missed all six from downtown and was a big reason the Sixers bench unit hemorrhaged points. Hard to know what to make of his regression from deep, but it's troubling.
- Ending on a personal note, this was the first game I've recapped for Liberty Ballers that ended in a win. Stan Van Gundy has always been one of those arm-flailing, scream-til-you're-hoarse coaches that I absolutely detest, which was only amplified by his Sixers bashing. Nothing brings me more joy than watching him eat his words, and it wouldn't have been possible if Dave didn't ask to swap coverage with me for tonight's game. #blessed