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Cavs Drop Sixers, But Team Shows Promise

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3rd Quarter run was too much for the Sixers to overcome

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Nerlens is insane. The dude is one of the most fun players I've ever seen, and he just gets better every month. He had another strong showing last night, putting up a stupid line of 18 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists, 5 STEALS, and 2 blocks. Like, what? How does he do this all the time?

Last night's game brought Nerlens' season totals to over 70 points, 55 rebounds, 10 steals, and 10 blocks. Only 5 others have managed to accrue such a stat-line in the first five games of the season: Anthony Davis, Al Horford, Kevin Garnett, Hakeem Olajuwon, and David Robinson.

Obviously, this is a small sample with an arbitrary cutoff, but that's great company all the same.

Nerlens was awesome (and is always awesome because he's just the best), but it wasn't enough to beat the favorites in the East. Despite the loss, it was a good showing that this team should be proud of. Despite getting off to bad starts to each half, the Sixers, true to form, never gave up, clawing back to take the lead by the end of the first half, and providing a final score that was not embarrassing by any means.

LeBron came out strong to start the second half, and he proved to just be too much for the Sixers, scoring 13 points in 5 minutes and spotting the Cavs a 14 point lead. He was firing on all cylinders for that stretch, and better players than Jerami Grant have failed to contain LBJ when he gets like that. In a related story, watching Stauskas try to defend LeBron in that stretch was endearing. The dude had no shot whatsoever, but at least he gave good effort!

Isaiah Canaan finally had a good showing last night, perhaps sowing a little goodwill from this fan base. I know some have speculated that the signing of Phil Pressey with the injury exception means the writing is on the wall for Canaan, but I disagree, and this game showed why. The guy can just flat-out shoot, and if he can channel that effectively, he will be a really useful player. His best case scenario is as a Sixers-version of Patty Mills, and last night he reminded us how great that can be. Canaan's shooting was one of the main drivers in bringing the team back from an 18 point deficit.

It's frustrating that the Sixers haven't won yet this year. But they've been right there in the last three games, and we're beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel. This team has an identity, and you can see the talent beginning to coalesce around it. One more trip to the high lottery, and this team will look like a real team. The players are believing it, too. Even after a 5th straight loss to start the season, they held their heads up.

Some other thoughts:

  • Jerami Grant has struggled on offense, but he has played some absolutely killer D so far this year. He didn't stand a chance against LeBron in the 3rd quarter, but he played him really well throughout the game. Jerami doesn't bite on any fakes, he's gotten strong enough to handle most 4's, and his length bothers almost any shot. He looks really solid on that side of the ball.
  • That said, it's becoming clearer and clearer that his long-term position is going to be at the 4, not the 3. He just doesn't have the ball skills to succeed at the perimeter, but he has just enough to act as a potential "playmaking 4." The difference in offensive production merely by having a perimeter threat at that position is huge. And while his 3-pointers have been bad this year, the FT% is much improved through 5 games at 76%. The 3's will tick up eventually.
  • After a calamitous pre-season, Okafor is beginning to look like the player we knew he would be coming out of college. That means the good and the bad. He has demonstrated a consistent ability to score against all teams, tallying an additional 18 points on 8-17 shooting, but his defense is starting to become a glaring wart. He just struggles so much in space, even in a conservative scheme, and his help defense has never developed to the point where he knows where to be. Now that scoring is no longer a concern (again, that pre-season was BRUTAL), this is what I'll be watching with him going forward.
  • Timofey Mozgov was the main beneficiary of Okafor's poor D, scoring an easy 13 points on 7 shots. His rolls were consistently unimpeded, and he was happy to convert.
  • Okafor's defense: not good. Okafor's play when doubled: pretty good! He's understanding much better how to handle double teams, and it's an encouraging sign for the team.
  • The wings really need to figure out how to play with Okafor, though. While he has been putting it together more, the off-ball movement on post-ups has been really bad. He rarely has an easy outlet, and it's an issue that Brett Brown should work on fixing immediately.
  • Nik Stauskas is going to be a real player. His shooting percentages still aren't great, but his shot is just so effing pretty. And his work as a secondary ball handler has been a revelation on a Sixers team bereft of skilled perimeter players. His spin dribble into a drive was beautiful. I want more.
  • Mike Levin dubbed Richaun Holmes DUNK GUY this week. I am 100% on board. He is the DUNK GUY, and it will be so fun as he tries to dunk everything.
  • Tristan Thompson is not good. He has never been good. He has one skill and somehow managed to turn it into $82 million. Mind boggling.
  • McConnell continues to impress. He came back to earth a bit last night, but he continued to excel at the things he does well. I think he's a legitimate backup on this team going forward. McConnell - Noel pick and rolls are the single best plays this offense has. Also, this happened, and it was awesome:

  • Speaking of PnR's, I'm not sure why the Sixers run so few of them. It's the foundation of every modern NBA offense, but you can count the number of times they happen in a game for this team. I'd love to see more of it going forward now that we have a point guard capable of running it. Between Nerlens, Jerami, and Richie Holmes, we've got some bigs with lots of potential as roll guys, and I want that to begin to get mined.
  • I miss Christian Wood. Come back, Christian Wood.
  • Lastly, did I mention that Nerlens is awesome? No? Well, he did this:

And he did more awesome things. I think my favorite moment was late in the second quarter when he blocked a shot, grabbed the loose ball, dribbled coast-to-coast, and made a pretty little dish to Holmes for a slam. What a player.

Until next time, guys.