By numbers, The Sixers lost to the reigning Eastern Conference Champions by 7 points. But for Sixers fans, there’s a lot to excited about..so much in fact it can almost be regarded as a moral win.
Things started fantastically for the Sixers as the bolted out of the gate to end the first half with a 15 point lead after going on a huge 21-3 run at the end of the first. But again it seemed to be a case of starting strong and then scrapping once the tone of the game sets in and Defense plays a much bigger role.
The biggest positive from the night had to be Jahlil Okafor. Not only did he lead the team with 24 points but the rookie took it to the likes of Kevin Love and Timofey Mozgov from the start. He was physical, he played hard and perhaps more impressively he only turned the ball over once. Like we had said previously, it was something that had hindered his game but to come up against such a strong team, possess great ball security, and pose such a deep Offensive threat was a huge sign of promise.
The only downfall to his game was defensively. Three rebounds is a low, low number for a Center (Mozgov picked up 11) and it’s something that again will come with time and experience. Yes this was slightly disappointing but he also played the lowest amount of minutes since joining the Sixers due to such a high work rate..give the kid time, he put on an exceptional Offensive performance against some of the best tonight.
LeBron James hit a huge milestone at the Wells Fargo which can’t be unnoticed. 25,000 points and the youngest player ever to do so..it has to be appreciated. But his performance on the night was overshadowed by Nerlens Noel. It’s not often you see someone so young match up against Kevin Love and be so dominant, but it happened tonight. Noel ended with 14 points and led the team with 8 rebounds.
Robert Covington made his return to the lineup and was dropped in at the deep end, marking LeBron. Big shot Bob played 22 minutes and went 1-9 shooting on the night, picking up 14 points during his shortened return. Nik Stauskas, the other name who fans were delighted to see shot 15 points in 29 minutes and picked up eight rebounds.
The final two pieces of the puzzle were binary opposites. T.J McConnell exploded in his stint off the bench picking up a HUGE 12 assists. He went 3-4 from the paint but more importantly proved to be a dynamic team player. In just over 20 minutes he picked up 6 points, 7 boards, 12 assists and ran the point beautifully. The audience began to feed off the energy he was producing and it worked both ways. He’s still a long way from being the man the Sixers oh so desperately need but nothing says trust the process like such an eyebrow raising display against the defending champs of the Eastern Conference.
Then…then there was Hollis Thompson. His numbers weren’t too bad but he proved to be very selfish on the court. There were a few scenarios were a pass to Okafor or Canaan would have made so much sense but instead was insistent on finding the net. Still, some big rebounds and nice transitions made up for the lack of ball movement and vision.
Overall, sure LeBron put up 22 points and Kevin Love recorded 14 and 8 rebounds. The same problems of closing games are present but this team has taken great strides to the point where this loss doesn’t feel like a loss. Fans at this point last year would be throwing the “ugh tanking another year” comments around and that’s fine..but look what difference a year makes.
Covington struggled but has been battling injury, Canaan has failed to find consistency and will most likely not be the PG of the future..but the core pieces, the bigs, the new faces, the new system..it flourished. This is an opposition who are among the most feared in the league and the Sixers dealt with them. There were some bumps along the way and it ended in the result many predicted despite beating the spread but you know what?
This is a team who are kicking and screaming, clawing for every inch of court, pushing for every second and using eachother to lift those around them including the fans. No longer is this a group of talented individuals or draft standouts and inconsistencies, this is a TEAM..and not only are they playing like one, but it feels like one. The Sixers may not have taken the win, but they took a huge moral victory and it’s a moral win that will see many fans pumped to the trip to Milwaukee on Wednesday.
photo credit: official NBA twitter, all rights go to the NBA and Photographer)