For the crowd taking the longview on Sixers basketball, their 89-84 loss to the Golden State Warriors checked just about every box. Sam Hinkie came and chatted with the broadcast crew, Nerlens Noel turned in a steady two-way effort, and the Sixers gamely hung in against the West's best team.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr promised renewed focus from his guys after a lackadaisical effort against the New York Knicks, but the Sixers did their best to get Golden State out of their comfort zone. When the MCW-less Sixers were able to hold on to the basketball, they did a great job of digging in on D and bothering Golden State shooters. ESPN's Ethan Strauss watches the Warriors as much as anyone, and he took note in the first half of alterations to Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson's shooting:
Philly's length has been a factor in GSW missing all these 3s. Klay and Curry leaned on at least a couple of them— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) February 10, 2015
Unfortunately, the second half turned into a turnover extravaganza for long stretches, giving the Warriors way too many chances at easy buckets in transition. Tim Frazier has responded gamely to being thrown into the mix midstream, but the lack of primary ball-handlers is apparent when Michael Carter-Williams doesn't play.
And yet the Warriors couldn't crack 90 points, despite 27 turnovers from the home side. Think about that for a second -- the Sixers contained the best offense (and team) in basketball despite actively making it harder for themselves to do so. It is a testament to so many things -- the coaching staff, the players and the overall philosophy -- that they continue to scrap their way back into games, despite working through hordes of mistakes.
Part of that speaks to a point that Hinkie addressed during his interview with Marc Zumoff and Malik Rose. Asked about the team's improvement defensively over the last few months, the architect of the rebuild made sure to declare that it was no accident. "I want us to bring in players who care on both ends of the floor, that's very important to me."
Caring is 75 percent of the battle right now. The Warriors should have punished the Sixers more for running around like chickens with their heads cut off, but that's a jarring sight for teams heading into the All-Star Break. These are the doldrums of the season for the better teams, who are just trying to save their strength for the playoffs. The best thing you can say about this Sixers team is that they are annoying as hell to deal with.
It all starts with the man in the middle, Nerlens Noel. He started the game on fire scoring six points out of the gate, and he showed no hesitation to mix it up with Andrew Bogut inside. He got bumped, pulled on and knocked around and kept coming, altering a ton of shots and making life difficult for every Warrior who came to the rim. It's exciting to think about how many shots he'll be able to block when Embiid is taking the bigger matchups and allowing Nerlens to crash from the weak side.
After all the worrying about the rebuild turning the franchise into a rudderless vessel, it's clear the Sixers have carved out an identity that the organization and the fans can be proud of. This team makes their opponent fight for everything they get.
Odds and Ends
- JaKarr Sampson continues to do a little bit of everything to contribute, making me look like a fool for lampooning him early in the season. The wild swings between highlight plays and head-scratchers are starting to fade a bit, and the guy is willing to take on whatever role the staff asks of him. Watching him put Stephen Curry in the spin cycle in the second half was freaking spectacular.
- Erratic night from Frazier, who matched his seven assists with seven turnovers. Hard to blame the guy given the circumstances, but that's a killer in a game that ended so close.
- K.J. McDaniels had one of the highlight plays of the season (Noel's reaction is tremendous):