The Sixers celebrate during their 109-102 road victory over the Wizards. (AP)
WASHINGTON -- It doesn’t make much sense.
Typically when a team built like the 76ers plays the way it did for the first two-and-a-half quarters, it loses by 20. Especially on the road. After all, the Sixers missed their first nine three-pointers and 14 of their first 15. They went a horrid 7 for 14 from the foul line and their rookie point guard committed two turnovers in the first two minutes of the game.
Add in the fact that lightning-quick point guard John Wall scored 15 points in the first quarter and 23 in the first half, and it was easy to understand how the Sixers trailed by 14 points after the first 30 minutes of the game.
But what’s equally as easy to understand is how the Sixers pulled off the 109-102 victory over the Washington Wizards at the Verizon Center on Friday night (see Instant Replay). Sometimes when a team doesn’t know it’s supposed to lose games, a funny thing happens.
“Our guys don’t know what they don’t know and they keep playing,” rookie head coach Brett Brown said. “That’s how I want to keep it.”
The Sixers, a team most basketball experts picked to finish the season with the worst record in the NBA, are 2-0. Better yet, the Sixers are 2-0 for the first time since the 2006-07 season, shortly before they traded Allen Iverson to the Denver Nuggets.
To get to 2-0, the Sixers beat the two-time defending champion Miami Heat at home and then rallied on the road to beat the Wizards. Taken at face value, it’s tough to figure out which win was most impressive.
“It’s only two, but we sure are happy,” Brown said. “I think it was a similar way tonight versus the way we won against Miami. It’s the group’s ability to stay together and run and run and run and run late in the games. It helps us find a way to win by getting great defensive efforts and then running out of it.”
Perhaps a cynic would say, “Geez, these guys can’t even tank the right way.” But a closer examination of the final 18 minutes of the victory of the Wizards helps bring things into focus.
For starters, the Sixers got 74 points in the paint and attempted 54 shots from up close. They also got 20 fast-break points and 18 second-chance points off nine offensive rebounds.
How committed were the Sixers to running and getting shots in the paint? Try this for instance: Thad Young led all scorers with 29 points on 14 for 20 shooting and attempted just two shots from longer than 13 feet. Guard Evan Turner followed up his 26-point performance against Miami with 23 against the Wizards, made two shots from outside the paint and attempted just three shots longer than 14 feet.
The outside shooting came from point guard Michael Carter-Williams, who followed up his epic NBA debut with 14 points and five assists, and seven-footer Spencer Hawes, who scored 16 points with 14 rebounds and five assists.
According to Brown, the Sixers were able to rally for the victory because of the commitment to getting those shots from close.
“We want to attack and attack. We want to get to the rim,” Brown said. “It’s not all about firing up threes, because if you look at our three-point shooting percentage, you say, ‘Oh, they’re 6 for 23 and they only shot 14 free throws and made seven. How do you win a game like that?’ So we did a good job continuing to run, and I was especially proud that they were able to run late in the game.”
While the Sixers ran and ran and ran, they were able to put the clamps on Wall, who was on his way to a huge game.
“The start John Wall got off to put us in a bad position,” Hawes said. “But we might have held him to [three points] in the second half and if you can do that, that gives you a good chance.”
The scheme on Wall wasn’t anything elaborate, Turner said. The game plan against a player with Wall’s speed and creativity is to get back on defense as quickly as possible and hope it’s good enough.
So after going 9 for 13 for 23 points in the first half, the Sixers kept Wall to 1 for 6 in the final half.
“We built a wall in front of him and he took a lot of shots to get going,” Turner said. “Sometimes you use them all up. That’s pretty much it. We competed and limited second-chance opportunities and that’s about it.”
There’s not much more to it than that, says Turner.
Meanwhile, don’t expect too many parties or celebrations over winning the first two games of the season. As Brown said, the Sixers are beyond that. Plus, they don't have much time to enjoy it. While the Sixers overcame the Wizards, the Bulls were waiting in Philadelphia for Saturday night's game at the Wells Fargo Center.
“We get it. We know where we’re at,” Brown said. “It’s only two games and we’re going to enjoy it, but we’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing and try to make it better in the simple little world we live in.”