Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Kobe Gets The History, Sixers Get The Win

Tonight in Philly, it was looking like another case of Old And Lots Of Money Established Talent pulling rank on the most adorable NBA team on the planet, your Philadelphia 76ers. Philadelphia's least-favorite son, Kobe Bean Bryant, had 24 points at the half in front of a sellout crowd to move past Shaq in the record books of all-time scorers. Lots of people came wearing Laker gear, the road bigs were playing 2-to-1 rebound volleyball, and LA's very senior varsity looked like they had their road legs and snarl to them.

But then a funny thing happened. The Sixers... just wouldn't go away. Like a pro version of a classic John Cheyney Temple team, they just refused to turn the ball over (4 in 48 minutes, unreal), and kept generating their own (16 for the Lakers, or just about what usually happens). So despite the 55-30 rebound problem, they took the same number of shots -- 81. They defended without fouling, with only Spencer Hawes having more than two on the night, so the usual LA advantage at the line wasn't there. Which meant that the team's startling transformation into effective three-point shooting could be a defining factor.

And then in the fourth quarter, with the greatest closer in the game getting increasingly frustrated by the fly on Kobe man-to-man job of Andre Iguodala, it was the Sixers' own Lou Williams with the daggers. The Sixers' back-up unconscionable gunner had 14 of his team-high 24 in the fourth, and when it was all over, it was a 95-90 win for the now 17-8 Sixers. Just another night at the office for the Littlest Team That Does.

Watching this team is unlike any NBA team you've ever seen. They move the ball like a dream without turning it over. No one plays selfishly. They routinely turn teams into powder when they go to the bench. The defense is downright infectious, and when the clock runs down, they don't panic and go for Hero Moments. Williams is the leading scorer at 15.1, and he doesn't even start or play more than 26 minutes a game. At this writing, six men average double figures, with two more (Evan Turner and Jodie Meeks) within a big night of joining the party. They are fourth in the league in steals, and no one gets even 2 a game of them; it's just up and down the entire roster. They make the most field goals in the league, because they just don't turn it over. It's like watching some kind of freaky college team, honestly.

And so long as they aren't playing Miami, they just keep on winning. I have no idea how much longer it's going to last, but tonight was awesome on every level. From the full house screaming Beat LA to Bryant forcing shots in the clutch as his teammates sagged, from Williams dusting Derek Fisher to Hawes finally stepping up and getting boards late, and coach Doug Collins grinning like a proud grandfather at all of it. Just special.

Now let's see if the ride continues this Wednesday against the similarly old money Spurs. That game won't have history, a sellout crowd, or any road fans in the building. It'll also probably be a harder game to win. But at this point, with this team, I fear no opponent. (Except, of course, Miami. Dammit.)

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