Hey, I asked pre-game if we could just enjoy a basketball game without rushing to draft conclusions four months into NBA careers, and we did it. Lineup decisions provoked a few aneurysms from fans and Ish Smith etched his name in the history books for all of the wrong reasons, but all things considered, this was the most entertaining game of basketball the Sixers have played all year. Some observations:
- Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel didn't play much together, but both played to their strengths and turned in awesome performances. Okafor went 10-for-17 from the field for 20 points in 25 minutes, facing up, pulling up from mid-range with ease and sonning with hesitations dribble-drives in transition.
Meanwhile, Nerlens sliced up New York's pick-and-roll defense with his sidekick Ish Smith yet again. He went 8-for-14, good for 18 points and 13 boards. Seriously though guys, Ish's lob-tossing ability is CP3 esque.
- If it weren't clear already, Robert Covington is back. His numbers at a glance don't quite paint the proper picture - he struggled from the field as a whole, but his stout defense on Carmelo Anthony kept the Sixers in the game. 'Melo is a notorious Sixers killer (who isn't at this point), and Covington was holding his own against the classic high-post jab-stepping and step-backs 'Melo kills so many wings with (he used to even torch Iguodala, if you'll recall) and mostly forcing him into tough shots. Plus, 3-for-7 from deep ain't too shabby, and when he's on, that shot is so, so pretty, High, quick and virtually un-blockable.
- Hollis Thompson is so Hollis Thompson that it hurts. I can't think of a better microcosm of one Sixer's career than Hollis Thompson missing three consecutive free throws after getting fouled teeing up from the corner, then coming down and hitting a contested, go-ahead three in rhythm from the same corner the next play. All things considered, he was a +3 in 40 minutes of a six-point loss, but egad. What a bizarre player.
- Back to Okafor and Noel. For context, I'm as big of an Okafor critic as you'll find on these Internet streets, and I'll kill Brett for sticking with Canaan in crunch-time until I'm in the grave. But as Brown pointed out himself post-game, the Ish-Nerlens combo was really rolling during the fourth quarter and most of overtime. Okafor's scoring punch would've helped, but he clearly wanted to avoid compromising space for two bigs and Noel was clicking until really the last couple of minutes. He went with what had worked most of the game, and it's completely defensible. That doesn't mean it's the decision I would've made, but this isn't some sort of disparaging of Jahlil Okafor's ability to play basketball either. I think it's an indictment of a) chemistry/momentum, and b) just how hard it is to play someone in crunch-time who needs the ball to be effective, can't protect the rim and can't be relied on to crash the glass when it matters most. With the previous lineup clicking on all cylinders for most of the latter end of the game, Brown sided with continuity. He's certainly made worse decisions.