1. Forgetting about (Friday) night
The first 18 minutes reminded me of horrible basketball again. The fans seemed restless with the Sixers falling behind the Hawks by nearly double digits, the bench unable to bring any energy to the table. Then everyone woke up from a collective slumber. It was weird how the switch seemingly turned on midway through the second, but it did. Regardless, it was good to see a strong second half effort after what amounted to a pretty bad first half showing.
2. Iguodala on Joe Johnson; Holiday on Jeff Teague
I focused mainly on the defensive end of the matchup, because I figured if the Sixers can contain these two players they can almost waltz to a victory. Combined, Joe Johnson and Jeff Teague had 23 points on 9-21 from the floor, with Johnson hitting several shots he had no business taking. Moreover, in his 45 minutes (in the seventh game in nine nights, for heaven’s sake), Johnson only put up 13 shots. On average, Johnson would be expected to take 20 shots during a 45 minute period. Now consider his team was shorthanded and had few shot takers – the Sixers, especially Andre Iguodala, did a great job forcing other players to take shots over Johnson, Many of Johnson’s made shots were also heavily contested by one or more Sixers – his talent and some luck helped him finish 7-13 overall.
Iguodala, meanwhile, finished with 18 points, including 3 made three pointers, on 12 shots, plus 8 rebounds, and 4 assists in 43 minutes. Considering his averages, I’d argue that Iguodala yet again won this matchup. Yes, it’s concerning coming off a rest period for knee trouble that Andre played 43 minutes, but Collins had no choice but to play him that long – the Hawks went to Joe Johnson as soon as Andre stepped off the court as the primary offensive option.
In the point guard clash, Teague took just 8 shots on the night, going 2-8, while Jrue Holiday had a slightly better game, with 8 boards and 5 assists helping to make up for an inefficient 9 points on 11 shots.
Job well done, Andre and Jrue.
3. Begging Josh Smith to take jumpers
Okay, so this completely backfired and exploded in my face. Hey, I was only playing the numbers. I didn’t expect Josh Smith to have his best shooting night of the season, making several long jumpers, 80% of his free throws, and a 24-foot three without getting a piece of the rim. Smoove came into the game shooting 31% on jumpers, as I alluded to in the preview. He left a bit better than that. In fact, with a jumper that consistently fell tonight, he looked like an impossible cover 1-on-1. Luckily for the Sixers, they threw double teams at Smoove without the Hawks capitalizing too much- with their injuries, Atlanta didn’t have the personnel to make the Sixers regret sending help, with Tracy McGrady and Vladimir Radmanovic, among others, out for the game.
One More Thing: Elton Brand Dropping Dimes
Elton Brand reached a season high when he hit 22 points – he finished with 25, along with 10 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 blocks. – in what would become his best game of the season by far. Brand isn’t unfamiliar with high scoring totals; one season, he nearly averaged 25. This year, his scoring is down to just 13 per 36 minutes. On Saturday night, he hopped into the Hot Tub Time Machine and brought a classic Brand game back.
But the most impressive part to me of his entire outing came with around 5 minutes left in the game. The Hawks knew Elton was killing them inside, so they sent a second player to assist Marvin Williams in coverage. Depending on the position of the other Sixers, either Kirk Hinrich or Johnson went to help. Brand made them pay – he patiently waited until a clear opportunity for an open shot came around for one of his teammates and, instead of forcing the issue (re: attempting to score over the double team) like he typically tries to, Elton passed the ball to the open shooters, namely Holiday and Iguodala. Both converted. But even if they didn’t, they were two open shots that the Sixers struggle to obtain during end-of-game situations. Elton Brand won’t always command a double team, and he usually won’t. No one on this current Sixers squad has that ability. But he took advantage when he received favorable coverage, getting himself and his teammates good shots. And that is how the Sixers won.