An early Sunday afternoon game, in NYC no less, was set up to be a sloppy affair. The 76ers sure made that assumption look correct as they sloppily tried to chase the Nets throughout the first half.
Then the second half happened. As if a hibernating bear awoke, the Sixers roared back and dominated late to a 105-95 victory, their 10th victory of the year and matching their season total from last year. It’s still early January!
It was truly a tale of two halves as early on Brook Lopez and Justin “Not Lin-Manuel” Hamilton were carrying the Nets into an 11 point first half lead. Lopez was doing his damage from the paint to perimeter netting 18 points from the first two quarters alone. Hamilton, who was apparently drafted with the Sixers pick that was sent to Miami for Arnette Moultrie (Thanks Doug), was somehow schooling Embiid at times with some effort plays.
Thankfully, it seems as if at halftime Brett doused some cold water over the Sixers (we’ll get back to this). They quickly tied the game early in the 3rd on an 11-0 run and managed to outpace the Nets 32-16 by the end of it. One guy that did a lot of that damage was Nik Stauskas, who scored 13 of his 15 points in the 3rd.
Much like in their previous meeting, Lopez’s impact on the game drastically reduced in the 2nd half, only putting in 8 points to finish his afternoon (and in typical fashion, only 2 total boards...woof). In fact the duo of Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel did a great job in the 2nd half working through whatever issues were hurting them in the first half.
Embiid specifically was a steady force today and legitimately did almost every thing in the team’s pursuit of getting back into and ultimately winning the game. His impact on defense is easy to see. But his offense has gotten better as the year has gone on. He’s now directing traffic and getting his team some easy looks due to the amount of attention he draws. In fact, his four assists seems kind of low to me!
Finally, the guy who stood out to me most today was Robert Covington. Look, his shooting is still woeful and he still takes some ill-advised, contested 3s, but he’s been so good defensively that it’s been easier to stomach. His defensive improvement has been so unexpected as he’s been using his athleticism and quick hands to generate so many ball deflections and steals (5 in this game!). Covington took about 3 or 4 uncalled fouls to the head over the course of the game but managed to stay in it until the end. His explosive dunk and dagger 3 at the end of the game were sweet revenge, though.
With this victory, the Sixers are now two and a half games up on the Nets in the lottery watch and are a game out of jumping a few teams to 5th. Don’t look now but the Sixers have won 3 of their last 4 and have been playing better, competitive ball. I’m not saying they can make the playoffs but... I’m also not saying they can’t. It’s a lazy Sunday afternoon, let me day-dream!
Odds & Ends
- Dario Saric had a great game (18 points, 3-6 from 3, 5 boards). He’s been having an up and down season as he continues to adjust to his new position/team/league/country. But games like today give reason for optimism as he improves and diversifies his game a bit. Competent perimeter shooting and gritty paint play is something that any team, especially the Sixers can use. “To play without heart, it’s not welcome in basketball”, Saric said on representing Philly. I just wonder when he’ll finally come over!
- Remember that cold water dousing? Add this entry to the Dario-TJ “feud” (NSFW: Language). (Saric was quick to go to instagram to apologize for his language though. Trust the Friendship, I love this team)
- Nerlens Noel was once more Embiid’s back up. His energy and defense off the bench has been great. He’s also been making some mid-range jumpers that’s been somewhat eyebrow raising. I’m not sure if his increased playing time is just show-casing him for trade, but there’s no doubt that the team is benefiting from his play.
- Sergio Rodriguez returned today. He played 12 minutes and didn’t really stand out that much to me. Glad that he’s back and getting some run (to save us from Point Sauce). However, I can do without how lazily he plays around screens and gets caught in mismatches.
- TJ McConnell, despite missing a ton of shots today (icky 2-11), has been playing really well lately. It looks like the starting job is his to lose. He seems to have a great rapport with his teammates and I think they appreciate his effort and pesky defense.
- Gerald Henderson did veteran stuff.
- Ersan Ilyasova had an up-and-down game (poor overall shooting though). He’s a streaky gunner that is “Professional” in every sense of the word (for better or worse). And while I do appreciate his game, especially how it helps Embiid and the team as a whole, I can’t imagine his long-term role on this team is anything more than a bench stretch 4. That isn’t a bad thing, of course, but this being a contract year kind of gives me some pause while watching his performance.
- Jahlil Okafor got his 2nd straight DNP-CD. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Richaun Holmes also did not play a minute. Ben Simmons was once again with the team on the sidelines (SOON!)
- Another development on this season? Richaun Holmes’s bench celebration game is reaching playoff level.
#SixersWin https://t.co/cJH32nYL5S— max (@MaxRappaport) January 8, 2017
Sixers next play the Knicks on Wednesday at 7 pm from the Wells Fargo Center.