Saturday, November 9, 2013

I Think I Love These Sixers

Unexpected Smiling
Last night in Philadelphia, the Sixers beat the Cavs in the Andrew Bynum Returns Game. Philly Fan came out in relative force to boo the hell out of the returning object lesson in why injury-prone big men are toxic regardless of their supposed talent level, and they got everything they could have asked for. In that the Cavs took the lead early, put Bynum in, and watched the new Sixers slowly but surely whittle that lead away to nothing, with the defense turning up the screws. With the win, they went to 4-2, stopped a two-game losing streak, and gave us all one more feel-good moment in a season that wasn't really supposed to have any.

Tonight in Cleveland, we all knew what was going to happen -- Kyrie Irving was going to dominate Michael Carter-Williams and snap out of his funk, the Cavs were going to win the back end of the back to back, and everyone involved was going to shrug and remind themselves that, well, this team is paper-thin and tanking. And if you look at the end result, where the Cavs won by 2, you would have said that the house money won out. But that's where watching the game helps.

In that the game took two overtime periods, and was something like an opera. By Wagner.

These Sixers fought like hell. They took the early lead, with Thaddeus Young having the hot hand early, Evan Turner contributing another of those across-the-board games that is making me start to wonder if maybe he just needed time to acclimate to the NBA to be a plus player, and the bench giving them good energy. They even lead by 10 after the third.

But the Cavs won, all right. They did it with Irving having to play to the absolute zenith of his ability, with Dion Waiters hitting some absurd nonsense, and Jarrett Jack playing above his percentages, if not his rep. (Jack also got away with a monster dive for a critical turnover in the second overtime. I guess that's what being a cagey vet is all about.) They did it despite the Sixers coming back from down 7 with 95 seconds left in the first overtime, with Dub and Turner exerting their will to force a tie again with 8.7 seconds left. (By the way, if Turner keeps this up for another half a season, he's going to an All-Star Game and will actually start getting some whistles.)

Oh, and Dub hit a freaking All Star three to tie the game again in the second overtime, before Irving finally made the game winner.

In short, the Cavs won by escaping the road team, not dominating them. If you watched just these two games, and knew nothing about how the personnel had been constructed, or how the Cavs had won multiple lotteries, or that the Sixers had moved their best player from last year's team for future considerations only, you would have no idea which club was the up and coming playoff contender, and which one was setting up to build something great in next year's draft. And you'd also bet the Sixers to win a best of seven playoff series.

Are they a true contender? Of course not. They turn the ball over like it's made of butter, don't have that Star Guy to win late with the refs, and will be a lot worse later in the year, once they have any kind of injury of ineffectiveness with the starters. (The Cavs, by the way, will be a lot better, if only because having so many high lottery picks means that they are going to luck their way into a bench at some point.) If and when MC Dub hits the rookie wall, they are going to go on an extended losing streak, and it's hard to see how the Sixers will have the same energy and fire in the midst of, say, a long winter road trip through the killing fields of Texas and California. Finally, just because they've moved the ball and listened to coach Brett Brown for seven games, it's not a given they will do it for the next 75.

But for heaven's sake... this is most fun this team has been to watch in years. Guys are vibrating on this bench, they are so into it. They have no idea that they are supposed to be bad, so they aren't. Everybody rebounds, everybody runs, everybody defends. They are at least a half dozen things that no one thought they would be. And there is no better season to watch, excluding a championship, of course, than the year that's supposed to be terrible and isn't.

And if this is tanking... why the hell didn't they do it a long, long time ago?

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