We've got to start with Nerlens.
This was a game that Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, and Ryan Anderson combined to win by themselves, and it was a pretty miserable watch for a good portion of the first half. But I just couldn't help being thrilled that we have Nerlens Noel.
Nerlens put up a stat-line of 24 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, and a blocked shot, while admittedly committing 4 turnovers. He shot 10-15 from the field and shot 80% from the free throw line, and he was good for a couple of standard Nerlens highlight dunks.
Nerlens puttin' that thing back where it belongs. (CSN) https://t.co/ftaLr2eugj— Philadelphia 76ers (@Sixers) February 20, 2016
24 points is a season high for Noel, and tonight, more than any other showed off how far his offensive game has come. He didn't just slam home 'oops from Ish, but scored in a variety of ways - he hit an elbow jumper in the first half, knocked down his free throws, nailed a couple of hooks over Davis, and even showed off a runner on occasion. I do think that eventually, Noel's going to have to play a smaller role in the offense if it's going to be efficient, but if he can rely on these aspects of his game more consistently going forward, then Brett Brown's development will have been a success.
Most impressive was his disruptive defense, especially in the 4th quarter against Anthony Davis. When Nerlens entered the game with 1:30 left in the third quarter, Davis was in the middle of a dominating night. He was sitting above 30 points and scoring at will against Jerami, Jah, and Covington. He barely scored for the rest of the game, ending with 34 points. Nerlens was clearly relishing the matchup with Davis, as the two traded baskets for a few possessions in the first half, and he had tweeted about it before the game:
Hyped to get back on the court tonight! See you soon AD #Wildcats #GoSixers pic.twitter.com/CAW1mTSA0I— Nerlens Noel (@NerlensNoel3) February 19, 2016
It's games like these where the constant back-and-forth and comparisons between Noel and Okafor make me sad about what the season could have been. Having a center who can affect the game in all the ways Noel did tonight is special. I wish we could spend more time appreciating him for that than arguing over whether it is more valuable than what Okafor can do. Because it is so much fun.
As for the rest of the game, it was a story of two halves for the Sixers, as well as a story of the Pelicans' stars being a cut above anything the Sixers could bring to the table. Davis, Holiday, and Anderson combined for 84 of New Orleans' 121 points, and none of the Sixers' defenders could keep them in check. Davis abused Jerami Grant and forced Okafor to basically sit out the first half, Anderson shot over anyone who was thrown at him, and Holiday went right past all three Sixers' point guards.
The first half was a disaster for the Sixers. They trailed by as many as 22 points, and were down 16 at the break. The biggest problem was taking care of the ball; the Sixers committed 15 first half turnovers, which led to 23 fast break points and 71 overall in the half for the Pelicans. In the second half, they only committed 3 turnovers, preventing the Pelicans from having any runouts, which allowed them to chisel the lead down to 1 point at the beginning of the 4th quarter.
The Sixers' comeback started at the end of the half, when they scored 4 quick points with less than a second remaining, to bring what had been a 20-point lead down to a more manageable 16.
While a pair of Isaiah Canaan three's brought the Sixers within 94-93 at the beginning of the 4th quarter, a quick 7-0 by the Pelicans created a cushion that the Sixers couldn't overcome for the rest of the game. Still, for an outing that started out so miserably, it wound up being an enjoyable evening of Sixers-y basketball.
- Jah had a really terrible start, going 0-3 with 3 fouls and a turnover in his first 6 minutes. He couldn't match up with Davis's speed and length, and it showed. However, in the second half, he came out matched up with Asik, and he vindicated himself, scoring 14 quick points on 5-6 shooting in the third quarter alone. Unfortunately, he picked up a few more dumb fouls, fouling out of the game with 6:11 to go on a reach 94 feet from his basket. The NOLA broadcast crew spent a nice chunk of the third quarter gushing over him, which was pretty fun, though.
- Nik (rocks!) had another quietly decent game. He's now shooting 44% on all 3FGA's in 2016, and continues to show a some handling and passing chops. There's a player in there somewhere, it's just not clear when he'll come out.
- Of course, his defense is still terrible. He's trying, but his footspeed is really problematic. At one point in the second quarter, he switched onto Holiday, and Jrue immediately drove past him for a layup. When real players realize they're matched up with Stauskas, they go at him hard every time.
- Kendall Marshall lives! TJ McConnell had a really hard time coping with the ball pressure from Toney Douglas and Norris Cole. Marshall came in and scored a season high 9 points with 3 assists and no turnovers, including back-to-back 3's to pull the Sixers within 3 points at the end of the third quarter. This was closer to the type of play we expected from Marshall when he was Hinkie's "splurge" summer signing.
- Pelicans' starting lineup: Norris Cole - Bryce Dejean-Jones - Dante Cunningham - Anthony Davis - Omer Asik. What an absolute disaster of a roster.
the dangers of trying to win now https://t.co/WoZVNFbEMM— Matt Carey (@RealMattCarey) February 20, 2016