By this point in the season, Sixers coach Doug Collins was hoping first-round draft pick Arnett Moultrie would not be such a mystery. Already 59 games into his rookie season, there is still a lot we don’t know about Moultrie.
The great unknown, of course, is simple …
Can he play?
In Tuesday night’s 109-101 loss to the Boston Celtics at the Wells Fargo Center (see Instant Replay), Collins gave Moultrie a chance to answer that question. The rookie was the first man off the bench, logging 20 minutes for just the third time this season.
But when the game was on the line in the fourth quarter, Moultrie went to the bench with 7:56 remaining and the Sixers trailing by 15.
Moultrie, as evidenced by the way he got up and down the floor, was gassed.
The veteran Celtics, on the other hand, were not. The Sixers had a chance to cut the deficit to six points with 6:28 left in the game, but a turnover by Dorell Wright led to a three-pointer from Paul Pierce. Following another turnover, Jason Terry nailed another three-pointer to deliver the final dagger.
From there the Celtics coasted to improve to 32-27 this season. The Sixers fell to 23-36 and with 23 games remaining in the season. They trail the Milwaukee Bucks by 7½ games for the last playoff spot in the East.
So with a once-promising season quickly slipping away, Collins gave Moultrie an extended look against the Celtics. As a result, the rookie got plenty of chances to match up against 18-year veteran, Kevin Garnett.
“It’s encouraging to see him growing. It’s a great sign,” Collins said. “I’m very pleased with Arnett and with what he’s doing.”
Moultrie shot 5 for 5 from the field to go with four rebounds. His 10 points accounted for nearly half of the bench’s production on Tuesday night. But more impressively, Moultrie has not missed a shot since the fourth quarter of the Feb. 26 game against the Magic and has hit his last 12 in a row.
With the rookie finally getting some quality playing time by logging minutes in five straight games and six of the last seven, it’s difficult not to wonder what could have been for Moultrie this year.
“I think a lot of it has been frustration, which you hope it would be,” Collins said. “He would probably have been playing like this for us all along if he had a summer. If he had not gotten hurt and he had summer league and come to camp in really good shape and been able to play. So, we’re hoping these last 24 or 25 games he’ll be able to build on this.”
Moultrie sprained his ankle last summer in a pre-draft workout for Sacramento and was behind in fitness and condition when training camp opened in October. In December, the Sixers sent the rookie to their D-League to get some playing time and help with his conditioning. It worked for a little while but when the All-Star break ended, Moultrie had taken a step back.
And to think, it all started with a summertime ankle injury.
“It became a problem because I wasn’t able to do certain things because of my ankle,” Moultrie said. “It’s not a problem any more. I think I’m in good condition now and I’m running the floor and rolling to the basket every chance I get.”
Against the Celtics, Moultrie was a presence in the paint. The longest shot he took was from three feet, which helped the Sixers out-score Boston 64-38 in the paint and 28-16 on second-chance points.
Where the Sixers struggled was containing the Celtics on the perimeter. Led by 22 points from Avery Bradley and 18 from both Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, the Celtics went 11 for 19 from three-point range and went 14 for 31 on mid-range jumpers.
“We had 64 points in the paint, 28 second-chance points and 14 fastbreak points and 20 points on turnovers. You think you can win the game,” Collins said. “Their three-point shooting was the difference tonight.”
The Sixers got double-doubles from Jrue Holiday (18 points, 10 assists) and Thad Young (19 points, 10 boards), while Evan Turner had 18 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. Still, the contributions from Moultrie, especially on running the pick-and-roll and hitting the glass, have been a positive development.
“That’s all it is, a learning experience. There’s been a lot of new stuff I have to adjust to, but I’m just dealing with it,” Moultrie said, noting that he’s been trying to model his game after Thad Young. “I think the hardest part was learning about my ankle and staying in tip-top shape.”
The Sixers return to action on Wednesday night when they open a three-game road trip in Atlanta. On Friday they go to Miami to face the Heat before wrapping it up in Orlando on Sunday night.