Could Philly have a rising superstar in Jodie Meeks?
Early in his postgame press conference on Friday night, Sixers' coach Doug Collins smiled and offered the following:
"Jodie... welcome back."
Those three words pretty much captured the sentiment of every Sixers' fan who watched Friday as Jodie Meeks scored 24 points to lead the 76ers to a 105-99 victory over the Chicago Bulls at the Wells Fargo Center.
Meeks, who had scored a total of 14 points in his last four games prior to last night, was aggressive early, attacking the rim and scoring 10 points in the first quarter. His teammates had some extra bounce in their step as well, eager to avenge the embarrassing 121-76 loss that the Bulls handed to them back on December 21.
However, the Bulls were just as hot at the start, shooting nearly 62 percent in the first quarter and leading the Sixers 30-28 after 12 minutes. Most of the Bulls' damage came from inside as they scored 24 points in the paint in the first quarter alone.
Despite trailing by as many as nine points in the second quarter, the Sixers hung with the Bulls in the first half, finding themselves only behind by two - 56-54 - as the teams headed into the locker room at halftime.
After intermission, the Sixers made their move - they connected on their first nine shots in the third quarter, outscoring the Bulls 32-18 in the period, bolstered by a 12-0 run. As a team, they shot 14-for-18 in the 3rd, with Meeks leading the way with 9 points.
"We've been getting off to a slow start in the third quarter sometimes," said Meeks after the game. "So we tried to get a good warmup [at halftime], and tried to make a statement in the first four minutes of the third quarter. I think we did that."
Recently, there's been some consternation among Sixers' fans regarding the team's starting two-guard spot. Evan Turner appears to be the most logical candidate, but he doesn't shoot nearly well enough. And even when healthy, Andre Iguodala - who is dealing with a nagging injury to his right Achilles' - is more comfortable operating at the 3 position.
Which is why Meeks, a second-year guard out of the University of Kentucky, is currently in the Sixers' starting lineup. And despite the fact that Meeks is the very definition of a "streaky shooter", he will occasionally give you performances such as the one that was on display Friday.
Early on last night, it appeared as though the Sixers' lineup woes were only going to get worse. Small forward Andres Nocioni fractured and dislocated his right middle finger midway through the first quarter. After going back to the locker room and having it taped/reset, he later returned to start the second half.
But despite the broken finger, Nocioni single-handedly - no pun intended - closed the door on the Bulls in the game's final moments. After Lou Williams missed a jumper with 17.9 seconds left and the Sixers leading 102-99, Nocioni grabbed the rebound, was fouled, and knocked down two free throws to effectively put the game away.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the win is that it came despite the fact that the Bulls' stars played remarkably well. All-everything point guard Derrick Rose dazzled the 15,303 in attendance on his way to 27 points and 9 assists.
Carlos Boozer had his way inside, scoring 31 points on 14-for-19 shooting, and chipping in 13 rebounds for good measure. And Luol Deng was extremely active, finishing with 22 points and 5 rebounds.
But despite their scoring prowess, the Bulls had no answer for the Sixers' guards, especially when it came to defending the pick-and-roll. Meeks, Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams combined for 63 points, and routinely had their way with the Bulls' backcourt on the offensive end.
As they head out to Detroit to face the Pistons on Saturday, the Sixers, whose record now stands at 15-21, are now 10-6 this season at the Wells Fargo Center.
To borrow a phrase from Animal Farm, for the Sixers, every win is equal, but some are more equal than others. Especially a win against a team that had run them out of the gym less than three weeks earlier.
"When you get beat by a team by 45 and you come back and are able to win that game, it's a hell of a win," said Collins.