Show your love, Sixer fans; your team continually fights their way up the standings. On Wednesday night, the 76ers overcame a slow start to take down the Atlanta Hawks at the Wells Fargo Center, 105-100. The win pushed the Sixers (37-34) a game and a half ahead of the Knicks for 6th place, and pulled them within two and a half games of 5th seeded Atlanta.
The Hawks, looking to bounce back from an outright drubbing at the hands of the Bulls on Tuesday, came out firing on all cylinders.
Kirk Hinrich set the pace in the 1st quarter with a handful of threes and a few scrappy defensive plays that led to Atlanta buckets on the other end.
One play in particular stood out; diving to the hardwood, Hinrich poked a loose ball ahead that ended up in the hands of Josh Smith for a slam. An agitated Collins immediately burned a timeout.
From there, the Hawks were in the driver’s seat until the end of the 3rd. That’s when, finally, the Sixers found their pick-me-up in the form of the bench brigade.
As Thad Young put it, at that point it was a matter of resiliency.
“We said, ‘Look, it ends here’,” he explained. “We can’t keep letting them do what they want to do, we need to put our foot down.”
Young dropped 16 points on 7 of 12 shooting, but it was really the immeasurable energy he brought during a 14-0 Sixer run to close the 3rd and open the 4th that brought home the win. Amongst a swarm of offensive rebounds, defensive disruptions, and drawing a momentum-swinging charge on Josh Smith, Thad changed Philly’s fortune and they never looked back.
Contests like this one, where your opponent is getting what they want while you seemingly can’t break the proverbial seal; you have to will your way back into the game. Wednesday, Thaddeus and Lou Williams (17 points in 20 minutes) were more than willing to oblige.
Before the 4th, Philly had only attempted one free throw. Lou’s penchant for attacking the defense and getting to the line turned the tables on the FT disparity late – the Sixers took 17 shots from the charity stripe in the final period.
Defensively, Thad pestered a hot-shooting Josh Smith out of his game. Of Smith’s 31 points, he only scored 7 in the 4th, but that includes a questionable goaltending called against Young as well as a meaningless 3-pointer in the final seconds.
Doug Collins described the difference between the defensive effort of the 1st and 2nd halves in one word. “Activity,” he stated emphatically.
After the win, Collins was spotted courtside brandishing the team’s “show ya luv” hand sign (an L formed with the thumb, index, and middle finger extended), which has caught on as a motto for the team of late. The mantra, coined by Lou, fits perfectly around the identity the team has forged this season. Top to bottom, this team fights for each other night in and night out.
Every team needs an X-factor come playoff time; something they have that their opponents lack. Usually, it coincides with the team’s identity as a whole. Teams like the Lakers have crunch-time killers like The Black Mamba to lean on. Veteran squads such as the Celtics or Spurs can reach back to prior championship experience.
The 76ers, compared to most NBA teams, have unrivaled chemistry – every player in the rotation knows their role, and the team works collectively to exploit each others’ strengths.
Against Atlanta, Thad, Lou, and the bench brought the energy. Jodie Meeks sank 4 of 5 from deep. Brand continued to play the model of consistency with 13 and 11. Iguodala, clearly still hobbled from that knee tendinitis, willed his way for 9 4th quarter points.
If the Sixers want to avoid an early playoff exit, they will have to keep up the balanced attack in the post season.
In his post game chat with reporters, Collins’ thoughts on the win were as complimentary as they were brief; “That was one of the most gratifying wins this season, for me…That was damn good basketball.” Show ya luv.