Before the game, Brett Brown gave reporters a nugget of information that was a source of frustration for the Sixers second year head coach.
The Sixers, in terms of points per possession, have the best defense in the league in the second half. In the first quarter, however, that ranking inexplicably drops to 26th.
Note: the natural reaction to that is to say that teams, who are up big on the Sixers, take their foot off the gas. While that may happen in select circumstances, the other teams with records similar to the Sixers rank towards the bottom of the league in 2nd half defense, with the Knicks (5th worst), Wolves (2nd worst) and Lakers (worst) all not able to take advantage of the supposed lackadaisical play by their opponents. Also, if you look at the Sixers defensive rating in high-leverage "clutch" situations (last 5 minutes of the game, 5 point differential or less) the Sixers still have a top-10 defense in these situations.
|Defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions)|
|1st quarter||106.6 (26th)|
|2nd half||98.2 (1st)|
* Clutch is defined as the last 5 minutes of a game, neither team up by more than 5 points. Stats from nba.com
"When you have facts that you can use as ammunition, as motivation [it helps]," Sixers head coach Brett Brown said after the game. "We feel like if we can just zoom in and start games well, who knows what can happen. I thought defensively we locked in and started the game well."
Playing against the Detroit Pistons certainly helped, as the Pistons have the 5th worst offense in the league over the past 10 games. Still, for a team that has so consistently struggled defensively to start games the Sixers performance last night (92.3 defensive rating in the first quarter and 79.7 in the first half) was a good sign.
"Coach is like 'Bring that second half energy to the first half', and I thought that was huge for us getting the lead," Starting point guard Ish Smith said after the game. "We just kind of played with it the whole game."
The Sixers defense was once again anchored by Nerlens Noel who, despite only playing 22 minutes on the night, was challenged 13 times at the rim by Detroit, holding the Pistons to 38.5% shooting when challenged. In the 22 minutes that Noel played last night the Pistons shot only 36.4% on field goal attempts in the restricted area. They shot 45.5% when Noel was on the bench.
Noel played only 22 minutes on the night because he left in the third quarter with a foot contusion. After the game, Brown said that he could have brought Noel back into the game if he needed to, and that he expects Noel will be available for Friday's game against the Knicks.
"Guys like [Noel], Drummond, Tyson Chandler, it's scary when you come into that paint," Ish Smith said after the game. "That kind of presence just gives you a whole new dimension, and it gives coach a new toy to play with. He can do any kind of defense he wants knowing that Nerlens is back there to protect the rim."
Smith was the other star of the night, contributing 15 points (6-12 shooting), 8 assists, and 3 steals. Smith is averaging 14.6 points and 6.4 assists in 27 minutes per night over his last 5 games.
"He comes with a package of big personality, big charisma, and he's got an elite NBA skill in speed," Brown said about Smith after the game. "There is an athleticism in him that catches me, and I think others, off-guard.
"He most definitely is [giving us more than we expected]," Brown admitted.
Ish Smith feels the same.
"I think I'm giving more than I expected," Smith joked. "You just want to relish the opportunity. I've been blessed to be on 4 or 5 playoff teams. Now I'm really getting the chance to play. It's a good fit.
"The team is unbelievable. You couldn't tell that we've only won 16 games if you've been in our locker room. That energy alone kind of gets me going every day," Smith continued.
Jason Richardson returns to form
Jason Richardson's offense has been a struggle ever since the 34 year old dropped 29 on Oklahoma City on March 4th.
In the next 4 games Richardson shot only 16.2% from the field, missing all 16 of his three pointers during that span.
During their off-day on Tuesday, Richardson told Brett Brown not to feel obligated to start him.
"He came to me yesterday and he goes 'I want you to know I don't want you to feel like you have to start me. I will do whatever you want me to do'," Brown told reporters. "He felt like he wasn't helping the team. I just have a lot of continued respect for him. For him to talk to me and look at me and say what he said, it's just another example of how he lives his life and how he acts.
"He doesn't go away. He puts in time, he wants to fix it, and fix it he did. He came in and had a great game tonight," Brown continued.
Richardson scored 14 points on 4-7 shooting, including 3-5 from three point range, to go along with 5 rebounds and 2 assists in 24 minutes of play.
"I had to make sure of that. I just had to let him know that. I feel like there were other guys that were playing well, playing better than me," Richardson said about his meeting with coach Brown.
"Tired legs, over-thinking, putting too much pressure on myself. You can name a lot of things. I'm a perfectionist," Richardson said about his struggles. "I've been out for 2 years. I'm still not keeping that in perspective that hey, your legs aren't going to be there. No matter how many games you play you still missed 2 years of basketball."
While Richardson is his own biggest critic, his second biggest critic also resides in his house.
"I'm on the phone and he's like 'Mom, mom, I want to talk to dad'," Richardson said, telling a story about his 5 year old son when he was in the middle of a slump during his Orlando days. "So I get him on the phone and he's like 'Dad, you're chilling like a popsicle. You're in there playing and just chillin like a popsicle. That's all."
His son, he says, decided that he wanted to go to Florida by the time he was 5 years old.
"Why is that, son?" Richardson asked 'Well, they won a lot of national championships and a lot of guys went to the NBA from there. So I'm going to Florida."
Sixers honor Robert Wilson III
Before the game, the Sixers hosted the family of Robert Wilson III, the Philadelphia police officer who lost his life as a result of injuries sustained during an armed robbery.
Wilson's sons, aged 10 and 1, were both in attendance, and had the chance to interact with players and coaches before the game.
"You look at that kid and he's all wide-eyed and fired up to be here, and to see him interact with our team and to see the team interact with him, that's a heartfelt moment," Brett Brown said.
"It was definitely important to me. I was raised by a police officer," Sixers guard Jason Richardson, whose uncle was a police officer, told reporters. "They put their life on the line. What officer Wilson did was very heroic. He saved a lot of lives in that store that night. We just wanted to tell his family, especially his sons, that their dad was a hero, and we thank him for that."