|This Is My KJ McDaniels Oh Face|
Need more? Oh yes, you need more.
Philly dressed eight guys tonight due to trades, injuries, and the last-minute knee injury of PG2 Tony Wroten. They were down by 23 in the third quarter. They have the worst record in the NBA, had not won consecutive games all season, and were, of course, on the road. Play this scenario out 100 times, they might win once. Maybe twice.
So, how did they do it?
Well, to be fair, they never should have been down by that many in the first place. Miami got lucky on a lot of scramble plays in the first half, where the Sixers blocked ten shots and still saw the home team shoot 52% from the field. The sequence would go like this. Miami would drive the paint, Nerlens Noel or KJ McDaniels would send them away with absurd length and athleticism and youthful vigor, and Miami would track down the loose ball and throw in some ridiculous three before the clock ended. Also, Dwyane Wade was hitting a ton of mid-range shots, and the basket had a lid on it for the road team. In the long run, this all evens out, but in the long run, (a) we're all dead, and (b) the Sixers were a road team with three wins and eight guys.
So there was nothing inevitable about this win, or even that it should have been close. Let alone close the game on a 45-18 run, with unrelenting defensive pressure. Miami shot 28% from the field in the second half, and wound up turning it over more than the Sixers, which is damned difficult, really. And it's not as if Miami turtled up with a lead and got caught at the end, as the Sixers got it close by the end of the third, then took the lead halfway through the fourth. Hell, they hit a couple of shots, this one would have been over before the final kill shots.
And sure, maybe Miami just lost concentration with the big lead, or started thinking about the upcoming Christmas Day visit from the prodigal LeBron. Also, the Sixers did get more than a little bit lucky in this one, as none of their players wound up in foul trouble (nice strategy against an 8-man team, Miami!), and any game where PG Michael Carter-Williams is able to hit from behind the arc counts as some kind of miracle, really.
But all of that misses the point. Philly won this game because they were the better team, and deserved to win. PF Robert Covington walked up to the line and hit the clinching free throws as if it weren't anything he shouldn't do all the time, really; no nerves, no wasted time, just cotton both times. They closed out on shooters and made Miami miss, then either got the rebounds or didn't panic when they had to defend second and third shots. Miami may be just a .500 team now, or even worse than that without PF/C Chris Bosh, but we're still talking a home team with a full complement of players, and a healthy Wade.
The win pulls Philly up to 4-23, but 4-2 in their last six road games. They continue the road trip after the holiday with dates in Utah, Golden State, Phoenix and the Clippers, which means they will be very fortunate to get win number 5 before that trip is through. Then it's Cleveland, Milwaukee, and at Brooklyn, and maybe you get one one of those games. The point is that avoiding 9-73, and undeserved history, seems more than likely. (And would have been much more so if they hadn't coughed up that big lead against Memphis at home last weekend, but that way lies whatevs.)
Why is Sixer Fan buying in to this Because you've never seen a more likable bad team. They can't shoot to save their lives, sure, but they root for each other, try like mad on defense, and care. For a team with absolutely no shot at playing "meaningful basketball" for at least a year, they get well and truly pissed at bad officating, and MCW has no idea that he is not, in fact, one of the best PGs in the Association. (He is, of course, not. The West is insane at PG.) Noel has no go-to move or business having confidence on the offensive end. He doesn't shy away from the ball. Covington is flotsam, but less so every day. SF KJ McDaniels is a highlight reel every game (here's the play of the game from tonight, and the aftermath is pictured above), between the insane putback dunks off of garbage on offense, and the raptor-like way he rejects shots from weak-side help. HC Brett Brown pulls guys who make bonehead plays, and PF Jerami Grant actually made a three tonight -- first time in 11 tries. He was 11 and 7 with 3 blocks tonight in 26 minutes, all of those numbers are career highs, and the club was +25 with him on the floor.
Yeah, there's stuff developing here.
Oh, and finally this.
Who would you rather root for right now: the youngest team in NBA history, with strong assets on the horizon and rookies looking better every week...
Or the Knicks, Lakers, Pistons, Celtics, Pacers or Nets?