Before tipoff, Doug Collins was hoping he wouldn’t have to turn to his bench as early as he’s had to in recent games. However, the NBA’s highest scoring subs would not be denied the opportunity to leave their fingerprints on yet another big Philadelphia win.
Amongst a heap of turnovers and a Monta Ellis-led charge late in regulation, the Sixers overcame the Golden State Warriors in overtime, 125-117.
The trio of Evan Turner, Thad Young, and Lou Williams combined for 59 points off the pine to pace the Sixers through a back and forth contest. In what may prove to be his breakout performance of the year, Turner poured in a team-high 20 points and pulled down 7 big rebounds, including a few hard-fought offensive boards that drew a standing ovation from the home crowd.
More importantly, it was the fact he saved his best for last; netting 8 points in overtime. His final dunk gave Andre Iguodala, who had some big shots down the stretch as well, enough assists for his second straight triple-double (15-11-10). “That’s what I’m built for, to be there late in the game,” Turner said in the locker room afterwards. His coach concurred.
“Evan was our ace of spades today…I thought [he] made some great plays for us at the end of the game,” Collins said of the rookie.
When asked about his continued progress over the course of the season, Collins added, “I think Evan is growing by leaps and bounds.” To even the casual observer, Turner’s confidence on the court is palpable. Credit goes both to Collins for recognizing it tonight, and to Turner for seizing the opportunity. It remains to be seen if Turner will emerge as more of a factor for Philadelphia with 20 games left on the schedule.
Anyone who has been following Philadelphia since opening night would agree the Sixers squad that started the season probably wouldn’t have survived Golden State’s late charge. Monta Ellis turned in a red-hot, 18-point 4th quarter that included a couple back-breaking threes to force the extra session. Before, the Sixers may have folded under the pressure and given away the game in overtime.
Now, though, the team is markedly different to watch in the final two minutes of tight games. Turner exemplified the new attitude in the 4th quarter with a hard charging dunk that brought the crowd to its feet, as well as a play where he found an open Meeks for a 3 that tied the game at 100. Collins summed it up as a collective change in their state of mind; “They feel like they’re going to win now.” This upturn an attitude is vital for a team that wants to make the push from also-ran into legitimate contender.
Even among the impressive bench performance and some big time shots in the clutch from Iguodala, Turner, and Meeks, there is still room for concern in Philly. Namely, the fact that the Sixers almost cost themselves the game; blowing an 18 point lead.
Duped by the Warriors into playing at their breakneck pace, the Sixers committed 22 turnovers in a sloppy contest. Heading into the playoffs, it would be nice to see the Sixers impose their will on lesser opponents on their home floor. While the playoffs are played at a much more deliberate pace than the Warriors’ free-wheeling, Nellie-ball brand of basketball, the fact that Philadelphia let them dictate the pace of the game is disconcerting.
Also, although the Sixers reap the benefits of a strong bench, the starters were outscored 19-6 by Golden State’s starters to begin the first and third quarters. Championship caliber opponents will pounce at the chance to build early leads come playoff time, and the Sixers can ill-afford to give as much ground as they did tonight.
Statistically speaking, the Sixers have the easiest post-All-Star break schedule in the league. Save for a few matchups with top-flight contenders (including Oklahoma City and Boston this week), their schedule grants them a huge opportunity to establish a rhythm headed into the playoffs. As they stare down the barrel of a top-heavy Eastern playoff picture, Collins and crew will have to continue to build on their confidence and chemistry to make any legitimate noise in the postseason.
With each win, even ones that are closer than they would have liked, they continue to head in the right direction.