If you count yourself among the Sixers fans waiting for their young bigs to put it all together, tonight was your night. Thanks to the best performance of Jahlil Okafor's young career and a box-filling effort from Nerlens Noel, the Sixers squeaked by the Nets in a 103-98 victory.
Where do you even begin with Okafor? He answered the primary questions raised about his game, snatching 17 rebounds and displaying superlative effort all night. Okafor created several extra possessions down the stretch, including one particularly inspiring dive out of bounds for his 14th rebound of the game. Thad Young gave him some problems on the defensive end early in the second half, but he did nearly everything you could have asked him for on that end.
Noel was no slouch either, as he threatened to become a member of the 5X5 club until an awkward fall sent him on a brief trip to the locker room in the third. He was running a little gingerly when he first reentered the game, but his activity level and offensive efficiency never wavered en route to 18 points, four rebounds, four steals, three blocks and two assists. Noel's assist numbers don't do justice to his passing tonight -- he made several excellent cross-court passes to open shooters who couldn't get jumpers to fall.
The duo ended up playing together for the stretch run, which was a necessary but tough decision on Brett Brown's part. Okafor and Noel both played some of their best ball with their counterpart on the bench, so it would have been understandable to stick with that in crunch time. Things did bog down in the closing moments, though I'd argue it was the right decision regardless of the result; based on merit, they both deserved to play, and testing/building their compatibility is crucial to the franchise's long-term plans.
With Ish Smith on the shelf, T.J. McConnell turned in an excellent performance of his own, shooting 70 percent from the field and coming up with a number of big plays when the Sixers needed them. He was cool, calm and relentless as usual, leading to Okafor dubbing him "the heart and soul of this team" post-game.
Not a lot to quibble with individually or collectively. The Sixers were able to hang on in a tight one despite the Nets being in the bonus for the final 7:20 of game time, with the young guns retaining composure and playing sound basketball.
- The Sixers didn't miss a free throw until late in the fourth quarter, ending at 17-22 from the charity stripe when it was all said and done. May have been the most surprising part of the performance, truthfully
- Kendall Marshall got some real, non-garbage minutes tonight, and he was pretty dreadful. Hard to tell if he's not in sync with the guys or just bad, but he showed why he's been buried in the rotation
- Noel flashed a few nice moves on the offensive end tonight, including a nice drop step on a layup that didn't fall in the first half. Progress!
- Covington had another tough night shooting, but he hit the three that gave them the lead for good and made a heads up pass to Noel to push the lead to three shortly after. Showed up when it mattered most