A borderline heroic effort from the bench powered the Sixers to a road win tonight, with a new career high for Dario Saric helping the team overcome a rough night for their starters. Strong efforts from Saric and Nerlens Noel kept Philadelphia in the game, and they found a way to push past the Magic in the final moments and earn a 112-111 win.
Saric led the way on the scoring front (24) for the Sixers, connecting consistently from downtown and lumbering into the paint early and often. Ersan Ilysaova was misfiring all night, so the Sixers needed him to step up in a big way. He answered the bell not just as a scorer, but in doing the dirty work.
The Homie scored on putbacks, free-throw rebounds, and had several important makes through contact in crunch time. This was a night Brown’s assertion he would be a real Rookie of the Year candidate in a non-Embiid world really rang true. Saric is doing a little bit of everything right now, and he is coming into his own as a leader of the second unit. 24 and eight boards is a line he can be proud of, and his energy was crucial in a back-to-back situation.
I’d be remiss if we left out CRUNCH-TIME SUPERSTAR T.J. McConnell and his game-winning shot:
Timothy John McConnell you are a legend. pic.twitter.com/DoMZcMu4wA— Jake Hyman (@RealJakeHyman) February 10, 2017
On the other side of things, the Magic scored 10 of their first 12 points of the game in the paint, and defensive lapses in judgment popped up all throughout the evening. Coverage of Elfrid Payton in particular was mystifying; whether it was Nik Stauskas on him or Jahlil Okafor tasked with staying in front of him on a switch, the Sixers coverage was too tight, and it allowed him to get into the paint all too frequently.
Noel’s entrance midway through the first quarter helped stop the bleeding early — and often did at other junctures during the game — which was nice to see. He has struggled to put it together as of late, but his defensive performance in the first half was reminiscent of some of his highest peaks during the 2014-15 season. He forced several turnovers in the first quarter from big men and guards alike, showing off the hands that made him a fan favorite early in his tenure.
And tell me when you’ve heard this before: Robert Covington didn’t do much offensively in this one, but he was aggressive on the boards and found a way to make an impact. He grabbed four offensive rebounds in the first half alone! One of those came on a missed Saric free throw, which ended up back in The Homie’s hands for a made three, turning it into a four-point possession.
Those are the plays we came to expect from the Sixers during their hot stretch in January. Sure, Embiid’s play was the driving force behind their success, but a lot of little things were going right for the supporting cast as well. With the roster in the shape it’s in, the Sixers have a thin margin for error. The difference between a win and a loss can come down to something small as a few extra rebound tips for second-chance points, or a couple forced turnovers on defense.
Tonight, they didn’t have their best from top to bottom, but they all pitched in to get it done.
What Stood Out
Double technicals are a joke
Let’s just get this out there — the officiating was absolutely brutal tonight. The Sixers did well to play through it, but they were on the end of a number of questionable calls throughout the game.
One particular sequence in the fourth featured a dust-up between Noel and Serge Ibaka, with the latter punching backwards at Noel on a rebound. When Noel reacted accordingly — are you supposed to enjoy getting punched in the face — officials deemed that enough to award the pair double technicals. Either call something on Ibaka or nothing at all.
Stop running crunch-time plays for Ilysaova
Xylon wrote a good piece the other day talking about why the Sixers should consider moving on from Ilyasova sooner rather than later, and tonight was a good example of why you can and should do so. On nights Ilyasova doesn’t have the shot going, he’s not offering a whole hell of a lot to a basketball team, and I’d argue even on his best day he makes life difficult for a guy like Okafor, who is still trying to solve his own defensive issues.
There’s absolutely no excuse for the heinous shot he took with :15 left after catching an inbounds pass. This is at least the third time this season Ilysaova took a highly-contested shot in a one-possession game with lots of time left, and it’s becoming clear he has no awareness in these situations. If that’s the case, he should not be trusted to be in the lineup at all, let alone taking the final shot.