Head coach Doug Collins has the Sixers rolling. Sorta.
Maybe they received a pre-game pep talk from Mariano Rivera. Perhaps coach Doug Collins spliced the game film with clips from Glengarry Glen Ross. In any case, the Sixers have become pretty adept at closing games, doing so again last night in their 88-79 victory over the visiting Portland Trailblazers.
Elton Brand led the Sixers with 18 points; it was the team's fourth victory over the Blazers in their last five meetings. But more importantly, it was the second straight win for Doug Collins' squad -- the first time they've won back-to-back games all season.
"It means a lot," said Brand when asked about the Sixers' second victory in as many games. "It doesn't sound like much, but it means a lot."
The Sixers started the game on fire, shooting 12-for-17 (70.6 percent) from the field in the 1st quarter. However, they weren't able to pull away from the Blazers early, and went into halftime leading by one, 47-46.
In a refrain that's been all too familiar this season, the third quarter nearly sealed the Sixers' fate. Right after intermission, the Blazers ripped off a 9-1 run to take an 8-point lead. For a while there, it seemed as though the most exciting part last night's game would be the fact that the rapper Bow Wow sat courtside, rooting on his childhood friend Lou Williams.
"We can't keep digging these six and eight point holes and trying to get ourselves out of them," said Collins when asked about the Sixers' struggles in the 3rd quarter.
But in the middle of the 3rd quarter, something clicked. The defensive intensity picked up, limiting the Blazers to 37% shooting for the game. Even more impressively, LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy were held to a total of 4 points in the final two quarters after scoring a combined 26 points in the first half.
A 17-4 run near the end of the game iced the victory for the Sixers, who picked up their first win this season by less than 10 points. With the victory, they're now 4-4 at the Wells Fargo Center and 5-13 overall.
All is not peaches and cream down on South Broad, however. The team won despite its usual difficulties containing the other team's post players. Aldridge and Marcus Camby combined for 22 rebounds, nine of which came off of the offensive glass.
Tuesday's game also marked the fourth straight subpar performance for rookie guard Evan Turner, who only managed 1 point on 0-for-4 shooting. In his past four games, he's scored a total of 7 points on 2-for-14 shooting.
It should be noted that his minutes have seen a sharp decline with the emergence of Jodie Meeks (who appears to have nailed down one of the guard spots in Collins's crunch time lineup) and the return of Andre Iguodala from his Achilles' injury.
Speaking of Iguodala, he only managed 4 shots in nearly 42 minutes of action, finishing with 7 points and 7 rebounds. In comparison, Thaddeus Young played about half as many minutes and took twice as many shots. While it's hard to find fault with most teams after a win - especially in a campaign where there haven't been that many - it still seems odd that your franchise player would be so removed from the offense.
Criticism aside, this is the type of win that can give a young team a much needed boost of confidence going forward. As Elton Brand himself said, it may not sound like much, but it definitely means a lot.