Many of the 17,771 fans in attendance Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center likely purchased their tickets (at heavily marked-up prices) well in advance of last weeks announcement that superstar LeBron James would miss two weeks because of his strained left knee.
That disappointment only grew when it was announced yesterday that Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving would remain in Cleveland due to lower back tightness. The Cavaliers Big Three had been reduced to one, taking much of the luster out of the Cavaliers only visit to Philadelphia.
After watching the Sixers come back from a 17 point second-half deficit to rally for their first win at the Wells Fargo Center this season, few Sixers fans left South Philadelphia disappointed.
"We can't be more grateful for their support. They deserve it," Brett Brown said about the fans after the game. "Their patience needs to be rewarded, and the win tonight makes us feel like we gave something back."
The comeback was largely fueled by Brown's pair of inconsistent point guards.
Michael Carter-Williams and Tony Wroten combined to score 18 points on 8-12 shooting from the field during the Sixers 35 point fourth quarter, while also combining for 8 assists and 0 turnovers. The 0 turnovers were particularly impressive for a duo that is 1st and 2nd in the league in turnovers per game, respectively. Of the 15 field goals the Sixers made during their 35 point fourth quarter explosion, only 1 of them didn't involve Carter-Williams or Wroten either making the shot or getting the assist in the play.
Michael Carter-Williams finished the night with 18 points on 8-19 shooting from the field, with 13 assists to only 1 turnover. Wroten scored 20 points on 8-18 shooting to go along with 8 assists on the night.
The biggest shot of the night fell on Tony Wroten's shoulders. But only after Michael Carter-Williams recognized the mismatch and redirected the play.
After Matthew Dellavedova gave the Sixers a gift by missing two free throws, the Sixers were down 92-91 with just under 19 seconds left to play. Head coach Brett Brown diagrammed a play designed to get the ball into Michael Carter-Williams' hands. Carter-Williams, on the other hand, had other ideas.
Carter-Williams received the inbounds pass, then shook off a pick being set by Henry Sims. Instead, Carter-Williams dribbled to his left, setting up a "flip and follow" play that delivered the ball to Tony Wroten, a play that they had been working on in practice.
With the ball in his hands, Wroten came off of a pick by Henry Sims and was matched up 1-on-1 with Joe Harris. Wroten used a stutter to his right to setup a strong drive to Wroten's dominant left-hand.
The Cavaliers other wings pinched down, and Kevin Love gave a token show, but the Cavs, who rank 23rd in the league in blocked shots and give up the 4th highest field goal percentage within 3 feet of the basket, never stood a chance.
"It was designed for me to come off the pick and roll and explore my options. I knew in the back of my head, when Tony and I were doing the little flip and follow, that he scored about 2 or 3 times in a row [earlier in the game]," Carter-Williams said. "It was a great play by [Tony]. He was getting to the rim all night. It was just pretty unbelievable."
"Coach drew up a play, but Mike [Carter-Williams] came to me at the last minute and switched it up a little bit," Wroten said after the game of his game winning shot. "That's the kind of pressure I want."
(MCW and Wroten discussing changes to the play before Wroten hits the game-winning shot).
"I missed the free throw before that so it was in the back of my mind that I can't be the reason why we lose," Wroten would go on to say. "It would have killed me coming home, being at home by myself thinking about 'I should have done this, I should have done that'."
Sixers head coach Brett Brown never doubted Wroten's confidence.
"Tony's not going to die wondering, we all know that," Brown said, referring to Wroten being timid. "You would far prefer to have that ready, fire, aim mentality than being scared or cautious.
"Now, there are times when I wished he was 27 and would make just some simple passes," Brown continued. "But I'll tell you what, that kid wears his heart on his sleeve. He's got a motor."
The game, and specifically that moment, were a rare moment triumph for a two point-guard pairing that has struggled to find its rhythm. The Sixers have a -16 Net Rating when the two are on the court together. The change in Wroten's shot distribution is particularly drastic, with Wroten getting nearly 64% of his field goal attempts within 5 feet of the basket when Carter-Williams is on the bench, but only 50.5% of his attempts near the hoop when he shares the court with Michael Carter-Williams.
"We've had ups and downs trying to find our rhythm together," Carter-Williams said after the game. "It's not anything personal, I love playing with Tony on the court, and vice versa. We're trying to work things out, of where we need the ball and in what situations. I think tonight we did great. I think we took a big step,"
The Cavs had a chance to win the game with 9.1 seconds remaining. After Robert Covington played good ball-denial defense on Kevin Love, Matthrew Dellavedova used a Tristan Thompson screen to get into the lane, but Michael Carter-Williams recovered nicely and forced the miss. Kevin Love had chance at a tip-in before Wroten capped off the night by tipping the ball out to the three point line. A pair of Robert Covington free throws sealed the win for the Sixers.
It may have come when the short-handed Cavaliers, already without LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, also missed Dion Waiters, Lou Amundson, and Alex Kirk, all of whom were pulled due to their involvement in the Cleveland-NY-Oklahoma City three team deal that was completed last night. But the Sixers don't care. For a team that hadn't won on their home floor in 14 tries this season, last night was a special night.
The final play
The first thing that jumps out on this play is Robert Covington.
4 of the Cavaliers 5 defensive players swarm Wroten when he begins to drive. The one defender who doesn't? Robert Covington's man. Sure, Wroten ended up driving left and away from Covington, but he gave an initial jab step to the right that could have very easily drawn some movement had they not respected Covington's shot so much. Even so, a non-shooter out there and Covington's man could rotate baseline to help Kevin Love out on Henry Sims, allowing Love to give a better effort contesting the shot. But James Jones never moves off of Covington.
Odds and Ends
- Furkan Aldemir had his best game of the season for the Sixers despite not taking a shot. Aldemir collected 10 rebounds in 19 minutes of play, and also made some nice passes. So far Aldemir has been as-advertised on the glass: both his offensive rebounding rate of 17.9% and his defensive rebounding rate of 29.7% lead the Sixers by a considerable margin (Drew Gordon has the 2nd highest offensive rebounding rate at 10.3, and Malcolm Thomas is 2nd on the defensive glass at 26.5%, with Nerlens Noel the closest regular at 19.8%).
- After a brief, few game stretch where he struggled with his efficiency, Robert Covington had his second consecutive good game, connecting on 4-9 shooting (4-7 from three point range, 4-5 from the line) for an efficient 16 points in 39 minutes of play.
- K.J. McDaniels had the kind of offensive game he sorely needed. K.J. hadn't scored more than 7 points in any of his previous 4 games and had only reached double figures in 2 of his previous 10 games, but he connected on 5-8 from the field (2-3 from three) to contribute 12 points to go along with his 3 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 blocks.
- The Sixers won the game despite attempting 7 less free throws, making 4 less three pointers, having a worse offensive rebounding rate (21.1% to 27.1%), and committing 6 more turnovers.
Brett Brown post game press conference