Evan Turner celebrates the Sixers' victory over the Bulls, 107-104, to improve the team to 3-0. (USA Today Images)
"I think the thing that stands out is that it’s a point guard’s league. And I think Michael Carter-Williams is for real."
- Sixers head coach Brett Brown
A quick show of hands of all those who saw the Sixers jumping out to a 3-0 start to the season after games against the Heat, Wizards and Bulls …
Better yet, how many folks snapped off the TV when the Sixers went down by 20 points late in the second quarter and by 18 points midway through the third quarter?
Now, more importantly, how many folks out there can explain how the 76ers can rally in the second half from deficits of double digits against the two-time defending champs, the up-and-coming Wizards and perennial power Bulls?
The 3-0 76ers? After the 107-104 victory over the Bulls at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night (see Instant Replay), only the Sixers and the Indiana Pacers are undefeated in the Eastern Conference, and it marks the first time the Sixers opened a season 3-0 since 2006-07.
How did this happen? The Sixers’ full-game effort and toughness are immeasurable. It also doesn’t hurt to get strong performances from veterans Evan Turner, Thad Young and Spencer Hawes, too.
Turner scored 20 points, is averaging 23 points per game and has thrived in coach Brett Brown’s up-tempo offense.
Hawes has two straight double-doubles after posting 18 points and 11 boards against the Bulls, and is averaging 19.3 points and 11.3 rebounds per game while shooting 64.9 percent from the floor, including 6 for 12 from three-point range.
Hawes also buried a 16-footer with 5.9 seconds left on a behind-the-back bounce pass from Michael Carter-Williams to seal the game (see highlights).
Young hit three three-pointers on Saturday after scoring 29 points on 20 shots with only two of them outside of the paint on Friday night (see 5 observations). Strangely, Young shot 2 for 12 from three-point range over the previous two seasons combined and hadn’t made three in a game since March 2010.
But the biggest reason why the Sixers are 3-0 has been the play of their rookie point guard. Carter-Williams’ performances and stat lines seem to have come from nowhere, at least not based off his numbers in college or during the exhibition season. In fact, Carter-Williams has even surprised Brown, who said before the season began that the rookie was better than he thought.
So what about now?
“He’s better than I thought that I thought a week ago,” Brown said.
The numbers have been extraordinary. Carter-Williams poured in a game-high 26 points with 10 assists and three steals in 37 minutes against MVP Derrick Rose on Saturday. He is also just the third player in NBA history to have two double-doubles in his first three games (Damon Stoudemire and Jamal Tinsley are the others). Carter-Willams is also the first Sixer ever to have at least 60 points, 20 assists and 10 steals three games into a season.
Meanwhile, Rose scored just 13 points on 14 shots and committed eight turnovers.
That’s more turnovers than the rookie has in his first three games.
To do that against Derrick Rose?
“Derrick is a great player,” Carter-Williams said. “He does a lot of great things on the floor, and I was just trying to compete in each and every possession.”
The stats are one thing, but they haven’t been the most impressive part of Carter-Williams’ game through the first three games. The kid is tough and surprisingly so. He rarely makes mental mistakes and has just seven turnovers so far.
“I think the thing that stands out is that it’s a point guard’s league,” Brown said. “And I think Michael Carter-Williams is for real. It sure makes running a team and coaching a team a heck of a lot easier when you have a point guard of his ability.”
Still, explaining the latest inexplicable win is the tricky part. After all, the Sixers trailed by as many as 14 points in the first quarter and were down by 15 at halftime. Worse, the Sixers were getting hammered in the paint. The Bulls went 18 for 22 in the paint and grabbed nine offensive rebounds of the 20 chances available.
It all changed midway through the third quarter. Down by 18 points with 7:51 left in the third, the Sixers closed the quarter with a 25-8 run to get to within a point.
But three minutes into the fourth the Bulls pushed the lead back to nine points. A missed shot and a turnover when the Sixers had a chance to make it a two-possession game, followed by a jumper from Mike Dunleavy looked to be the dagger.
The Sixers had one more run left. Paced by the rookie’s seven points and two assists in the final seven minutes to go with six from Hawes and five from Turner, pushed the Sixers over the top.
The Bulls just couldn’t keep up in the second half.
“We took a breath and they kept going,” Rose said. “Michael Carter-Williams and Evan Turner fired them up.”
And the Sixers have the NBA fired up, too. Sure, it’s only three games, but the young and running Sixers have turned a lot of heads around the league.
According to Brown, the Sixers are taking it all in stride.
“We understood what everyone has said and written about us,” Brown said. “Our guys have put in the day-to-day stuff which has been our message. We just want to put great days [in practice] and I think those days have added up.
“I’m lucky that I found a group that enjoys each other’s company and they enjoy playing with each other. The more that you can win games in really adverse situations, it just keeps building on that feeling.”
The Sixers face the Golden State Warriors on Monday night when — you guessed it — another All-Star point guard comes to town. MCW takes on Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala next.