Game Recap | Breakthrough Month Ends With Another Team Win
PHILADELPHIA, PA - Had Monday’s game been played November 30th, as originally planned, who knows how things would have turned out?
Back then, the 76ers were still very much in the infant stages of their early collective development, laying claim to just four victories, and in the throes of what would end up becoming an eight-game losing streak.
Due to a postponement, however, the Sixers’ lone home match-up of the season against the Sacramento Kings was pushed back two months to the date, exactly. The timing proved fortuitous, allowing the team to put on full display just how far it’s come.
A winning month reached a winning end Monday, as the Sixers’ explosive second-half fueled a 122-119 victory at The Center.
With time expiring, Arron Afflalo got an open look at a corner 3-point attempt, but the shot clanked off the front rim.
The Sixers’ win capped a resurgent month in which they generated a 10-5 record. Seven of their January triumphs were earned in South Philadelphia, the last three without the services of Rookie of the Year frontrunner Joel Embiid, who was missing again Monday due to a left knee contusion.
“You know, it’s funny,” said Brett Brown, who led the Sixers’ to their winningest month since January of 2012, when the club posted a 13-4 mark. “The mood in the coaches’ room was very somber. We didn’t handle the end of the game like we need to, and stuff that we’ve really, I think, improved a lot at in managing how to close that game out.”
The fourth-year head coach was referring to the late scare that Sacramento gave the Sixers, which held a seven-point, 120-113, advantage with 18.8 seconds to go. The Kings hit a 3-pointer, the Sixers committed a turnover, Sacramento nailed another three, and suddenly, with 5.7 seconds left, the lead was down to a mere point.
The Kings’ scramble in the closing moments of Monday’s clash threatened to spoil one of the Sixers’ most potent halves in recent history. Nevertheless, the home squad survived. Of the 11 wins the Sixers posted in their last 16 games, six have been determined by five points or less.
“The different types of play, both good and bad, is a part of youth,” Brown said. “But, in general, you walk out of the month of January very proud of our group. It has been an excellent month of January.”
Robert Covington led the way for the Sixers with 23 points (8-16 fg, 4-11 3fg) and 10 rebounds, his second consecutive 20-point, 10-rebound outing (he had two in his career prior to Sunday). Dario Saric paced a strong bench effort with 17 points (8-11 fg, 1-3 3fg), five rebounds, and career-best six assists.
In reviewing the twists and turns from Monday’s game, circumstances changed dramatically in the second half. The Sixers scored 74 points between the third and fourth quarters, representing their highest-scoring half since a 75-point outburst in the first half of a February 7th, 1994 pairing with Charlotte. The last time the Sixers scored 74 second-half points was January 13th, 1993, when they also hung 74 points on Golden State following intermission.
“We always talk about getting greedy,” said Nik Stauskas, whose 16 points against the team that drafted him eighth overall in 2014 stood as his second-highest total of the year. “We want to be as perfect as we can possibly be. It’s a goal for us just being able to win that game, because even at the beginning of this year, we would seem to lose those kinds of games. The fact that we were able to hold on is great.”
The Sixers got off to a somewhat bumpy start Monday, perhaps due to having played one time zone away the previous night in a 121-108 loss to Chicago. They trailed 35-21 through 12 minutes of play, and saw their deficit rise to 16 points midway through the second quarter.
DeMarcus Cousins’ fingerprints were all over the Kings’ auspicious start. The big man, headed to his third straight All-Star Game this winter, poured in 18-points in the first period, en route to a powerful showing highlighted by 46 points (11-16 fg, 4-6 3fg, 20-22 ft), 15 rebounds, and eight assists.
Throughout the evening, the Sixers attempted to use multiple defenders - Ersan Ilyasova, Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel, Dario Saric among them - to contain Cousins.
“He is one of the most unusual defensive assignments in this league, cause he kind of does it all,” Brown said. “He makes his free throws, he’s a moose on the boards. He’s just a handful, a real handful.”
In the end, the person who ultimately put the lid on Cousins was himself. He fouled out with 58.5 left, after having supplied the Kings with a string of 14 straight points.
During the opening stages of Monday’s second half, Sacramento managed to maintain a comfortable cushion, but a slicing, driving finger roll from Robert Covington, set-up by T.J. McConnell, seemed to get the home team going.
From there, with McConnell back to the premiere facilitating form he exhibited for most of the month, the Sixers proceeded to outscore Sacramento 26-12 over the final seven minutes of the third quarter to carry a 90-85 lead into the fourth. The Sixers burst for 42 points in the third, their most in a quarter this season.
Nerlens Noel, who scored 12 points Monday, surfaced as a key, energizing contributor during this stretch. He called upon his increasingly dependable mid-range jump shot to lock the score at 78-78, and shortly thereafter, Saric fed the back-up center for a dunk that sent the Sixers in front for the first time, 80-78.
Saric resurfaced at a timely juncture in the fourth quarter, too, unknotting a tie with a lay-up.
A day after he and the reserve corps were kept in check for 15 points against the Bulls, the second-unit proved pivotal in Monday’s victory.
“I always try and play with energy off the bench,” Saric said. “Sometimes players have good days, sometimes they have bad days. It’s hard to say how much energy we needed. We shared the ball all over, especially into the post with Jahlil [Okafor]. Everybody can score outside, inside, we try to share the ball and move inside, outside. We always believe we can come back. We play with each other hard, and I am very proud of this team.”
Filling in for Embiid (left knee contusion) as the Sixers’ starting center, Okafor manufactured 15 points (5-11 fg, 5-6 ft) and four rebounds in 21 minutes. He was one of seven players to finish in double-figures.
One of the Sixers who didn’t fall into this category was McConnell. He, however, handed out 11 assists, his fifth outing of 10-plus dimes in six games.
The Sixers’ balanced, well-rounded effort Monday only further reinforced to Brown that true, legitimate progress is being made over the course of the franchise’s most successful spurt in five years.
“I think one of the things I’m most proud of with the 10-5 record in the month of January is that it was done in a lot of different ways,” he said. “We were able to win with a bunch of different people with a bunch of different line-ups in some different ways. I think it was truly a team month. I thought the contributions from the team were strong.”
Certainly, the Sixers of present demonstrated once again they’ve come a long ways in the span of 60 days.
The phenomenon has now reached center court scoreboard heights.
— Philadelphia 76ers (@Sixers) January 31, 2017
The Sixers’ four-games-in-five-nights stretch continues Wednesday in Dallas. Despite carrying a bumpy 17-30 mark into Monday's home match-up against Cleveland, the Mavericks had been making progress recently, winning six of their last nine games.