The Philadelphia 76ers defeated the Chicago Bulls 89-82 in Game 4 of the 1-8 first round series, in the process moving to being one win away from making the second round for the first time since 2003. Really, it’s been that long.
And the hero of the game was Spencer Hawes.
No, I’m not joking.
Spencer Hawes is well on his way to becoming this generation’s Samuel Dalembert – the center who played well for a select number of games on the national stage who ultimately earned himself a lot of money almost solely due to the national attention. When Dalembert had a good first round series against the Detroit Pistons (a series lost in 5 games, mind you), Billy King thought it wise to give him a 6 year, $66 million contract. As Yahoo’s top NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted, Hawes is in line for a big pay day as well.
But at this point, I don’t care if it’s a money grab. Hawes has had a tremendous last five quarters. Even his defense was passable today for a while. But most importantly, he hit open jumpers (including that beautifully executed play resulting in a corner three at the end of the second quarter) and even finished at the rim like 3 times. It actually reminded me of the Hawes from early this year, the one that was arguably the best player on one of the best teams, by record and peripherals if not talent, in the entire NBA. It’s quite timely for him and the team, since the rest struggled mightily on the offensive end for the majority of the day.
(I know that Hawes started playing well once Joakim Noah got injured, I know. There’s a causal relationship there. But kudos should be given for stepping up once the opportunity presented itself, right?)
Jrue Holiday had a sterling finish to the game, but his start was forgettable. Of course, it’s a good thing he forgot about it before hitting his two big threes down the stretch. Lou Williams was a complete detriment on the court, being a liability on each end of the court (especially with his defense on C.J. Watson, who couldn’t score unless he saw Lou in front of him). Evan Turner struggled mightily on offense mainly because he couldn’t get anything to fall in near the basket. The shot selection was actually very good, but Omer Asik stood in the way (I’m being very literal here, he affected the shots by just standing in the way – though sometimes he also shifted his body to no call from the officials). Andre Iguodala dazzled the groaning crowd with his puzzling shot selection, though by and large he was more effective offensively than in any prior game in this series. And Elton Brand‘s legs died again.
But Hawes’ 22 points and superb efficiency were enough offense against a team that’s lacking severely in that category. Carlos Boozer was their primary source, having his best game offensively but giving nearly all of it back to Hawes at the other end. Taj Gibson also chipped in at the expense of Thaddeus Young.
The rest of the Bulls struggled because the Sixers defended them fairly well. As poorly as Jrue Holiday performed on offense early, his defense was that good on Rip Hamilton. Rip created nothing like he did in Games 1 and 3, when Jrue wasn’t a primary defender or when he was in foul trouble. Kyle Korver didn’t exist. C.J. Watson, with the help of some beneficial calls, still only scored 17 points on 18 shots, mostly due to Turner’s defensive prowess. Luol Deng still can’t shake Iguodala. And Asik was the non-factor he was expected to be, his lack of skills offsetting his offensive rebounding prowess.
As you may have realized from the “preview” (which I obviously put up in a rush), I was at the game (along with Stephane). The environment was good – the house was essentially full by the second quarter. Pre-game festivities were cool, though the fire provided more warmth than anything else in the arena. Also, THUNDERSTIX. I’m like a little kid in that I took them home with me – I didn’t fail in getting weird looks pretty much the entire way.
What I got most from sitting in the stands, though, was how well the coaches did their jobs today. When Thibodeau made a move, Collins countered. When Collins made a move, Thibodeau countered. Of course, the assistants have a lot to do with all of this. But I find it more difficult to appreciate on television, when I have Twitter up and am checking it during a break in the action or switching the channel to check out the score of the Phillies or whatever. When the Sixers struggled with the pick-and-roll defense, they sent Young in immediately. The Bulls then countered in the same timeout with Gibson, who dominated Young in the post in the first half. When C.J. Watson started hitting shots in the fourth quarter and Turner was on the bench with foul trouble, Collins called a switch for Holiday to cover C.J. Thibs then put Hamilton back in, thinking that Holiday couldn’t cover both, and Collins responded by getting Turner back on the court and risking the foul. These chess matches are things I guess that I couldn’t always see, and seeing the coaches from our angle and how they responded makes me appreciate how difficult their jobs are and how difficult it is to stand out amongst them.
Back to the actual game and series, though, the Sixers win puts them one win away from the second round. I couldn’t imagine this a week ago. Then again, I could when Hawes played like this before, way back in January. Hopefully he can keep the roll going.
Tags: Andre Iguodala C.J. Watson Carlos Boozer Chicago Bulls Elton Brand Evan Turner Joakim Noah Jrue Holiday Kyle Korver Lou Williams Luol Deng Omer Asik Recaps Rip Hamilton Samuel Dalembert Spencer Hawes Taj Gibson Thaddeus Young