It’s no coincidence that the Sixers’ seven-game losing streak ended when rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams returned from a seven-game absence.
Carter-Williams is what makes the Sixers go and it was proven in the 121-120 overtime victory over the Brooklyn Nets at the Wells Fargo Center Friday night (see Instant Replay).
Posting 15 points, 10 assists and three steals in his first game back, Carter-Williams was the first one to grab Evan Turner after his driving layup bounced on the rim three times before rolling through for the game-winner at the buzzer.
“It felt like it bounced on the rim 150 times,” Turner said. “I got a couple of good rolls. The basketball gods were looking out for me.”
Turner was ready in case the gods had forsaken him, too. If the ball would have rolled off the rim, Turner said (jokingly) that he was, “just thinking of my reaction if it didn't go in, who I was going to punch.”
Yes, that’s what a long losing streak can do to an 8-19 team.
“We needed to get that win for the sanity of the group, keeping our group together, holding hope,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. “For those reasons, as that ball is hanging on a rim and then decides to fall in, for us, given where we are, that is an important win.”
Less of a coincidence is the way players like Turner, Thad Young and Tony Wroten performed with the rookie point guard back in the lineup. With Carter-Williams commanding the ship, there was less of a burden for others to match his production.
As if they could.
“I think he helps Evan and I think he helps everyone,” Brown said about Carter-Williams.
That’s especially the case for Friday night’s hero, Turner. Without the point guard on the floor, Turner shot 38 for 105 (36.2 percent) from the field and scored 13.3 points per game with 12 combined points in the last two epic losses.
But Friday night, Turner was a force, shooting 13 for 22 for a game-high 29 points and 10 rebounds. Turner made his first eight shots to pace the Sixers through the first half, but it was the last two that were the most important.
Turner hit a three-pointer from the corner with 3:12 remaining in overtime to give the Sixers a one-point lead. It was a lead that grew to four points when Young buried a three from the same spot with 2:03 to go.
But four straight misses coupled with a long jumper from Deron Williams and a three-pointer from Paul Pierce left the Sixers down to their last shot.
Afterwards, in the victorious locker room, the Sixers expressed a lot of relief that the losing skid was over. Considering that the team lost to the Nets at the Barclays Center by 36 points just two days after losing by 34 to Portland, Brown thought his team showed a lot of heart.
Maybe heart was all the Sixers had left.
Take Young, for example. It hasn’t been the easiest week for the seven-year veteran. After practices and shootaround, Young has patiently and cordially fielded questions about his future in Philadelphia and trade rumors that seemingly pop up out of thin air (see story).
Despite this, Young has been the model of professionalism. Always a straight shooter, Young didn’t shy away from the questions. More importantly, Young didn’t let it affect his performance on the floor, either. Maybe some players would have been bothered by the off-court distractions, but Young has been able to leave that stuff behind.
Against the Nets, Young scored 25 points on 11 for 18 shooting with three three-pointers, six rebounds, four assists, three steals and a blocked shot.
Trade that guy?
“Like I told you, at the end of the day I don’t let that stuff affect me or the way I play,” Young said. “I just hoop. This is what I’m paid to do. I’m paid to do a job and provide a service and this is what I’m going to do. Any stories that come up about trades and stuff don’t bother me. I don’t pay attention to it, I just play and that’s what I’m going to continue to do. I play my butt off.”
Young won’t find any argument from Brown, who asked his veteran to guard point guard Deron Williams as well as seven-footer Brook Lopez in the post.
“How about Thaddeus Young? That was a performance,” Brown said. “That’s who he is.”
And maybe with Carter-Williams back in the lineup, the Sixers showed who they are on Friday night? After all, the Sixers are 1-10 without the rookie point guard and 7-9 with him.
The Sixers kick off a six-game road trip Saturday night in Milwaukee. After the game, the team returns home for a week before heading off to Phoenix and Los Angeles.