Big Macs, Comebacks and All-Stars: Jrue Holiday, Thad Young and the Best Sixers Win of the Season

Big Macs, Comebacks and All-Stars: Jrue Holiday, Thad Young and the Best Sixers Win of the Season
January 18, 2013, 5:39 pm
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Hands up if you saw this coming. With the Sixers trailing 60-43 at
half—yes, they gave up 60 points to the friggin' Raptors in 24 minutes
of basketball—you'd be forgiven for giving up on this one (as I was
seriously tempted to do) and finding something more purposeful and less
character-building to do with your Friday night. After all, the Sixers
haven't exactly been known for big comebacks this season—generally, when
they're down, they stay down, and the game's basically over halfway
through the fourth quarter. But it wasn't so in this one, and the reason
why has two names: Jrue Holiday and Thaddeus Young.

First, the
bad stuff. The Sixers couldn't have been much more aimless on defense in
the first half, rotating abysmally and constantly letting shooters like
Alan Anderson and Terrence Ross lose them on picks. The Sixers gave up
countless open shots, always a step behind, and the Raptors didn't miss,
hitting seven of their first ten threes. On offense, the Sixers
suffered their typical half-court malaise in the first quarter, and
though things picked up a bit for them in the second, it looked like the
Raps had already sped too far ahead to be caught.

But the
Sixers started to chop into that lead into the third, seemingly finding a
new gear on defense and managing to stay with the shooters and not get
killed on the boards in the process. Meanwhile, the Sixers started
finding a groove on offense, and though neither of them were the game's
co-MVPs, Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen deserve a lot of credit tonight for
jump-starting the team with a couple nice hookups for easy baskets in
the third, Evan finishing with seven assists and Lavoy with a dozen
points. The Sixers chopped the lead down to single digits and in the
fourth even took a brief one-point lead one a Spencer Hawes putback.

A
Toronto counter-run seemed inevitable, and finally came a couple
minutes into the fourth, where the Raps hit a couple tough
shots—including a Lowry three to beat the shot clock that he chucked up
hoping just to draw iron—to extend the lead back out to ten. The Sixers
were still playing well, and four straight Thad buckets (most on Jrue
assists) made it a game again, but a failed Jrue-Thad hookup—where Jrue
lobbed up an oop for Thad off a pick-and-roll, but the forward didn't
recognize the lob in time and fumbled it out—looked to seal the game for
the Sixers, down four with a minute to go. A Thad dunk on the next
possession cut it to two with ten seconds to go, but it appeared to be
too little, too late.

Then things got interesting. Anderson hit a
pair of FTs for the Raps, but Spence got a quick two back on the other
end, resetting the situation with six seconds to go. The Raps failed to
inbound the ball and called a TO to regroup, then struggled a second
time inbound the ball, eventually throwing the ball away. (You could say
Nick Young fouled on that inbounds, but I wouldn't, and luckily the ref
didn't.) Then Jrue took the ball to the hoop with serious purpose,
laying it in and drawing contact, but not getting a whistle for the
and-one. Overtime.

The OT-forcing lay-in would only be the
beginning for Jrue, who was already having a remarkable game to that
point (more on that later). From there, all he did was score all 12
Sixer points in the OT period, including a steal and fast-break dunk to
kick off the quarter, and a long three to immediately answer a three hit
by Jose Calderon at the other end, effectively putting the game out of
reach for the Raps, who would only score five points in the OT, seven
less than Jrue notched on his lonesome. Final Score: Sixers 108, Raptors
101.

The numbers for Jrue in this one are obviously remarkable.
33 points (tied for a career high) on sparkling 13-23 shooting, with 14
assists (one off a career high, and all before OT) to go with just
three turnovers, along with five boards, three steals, and fine defense
on dynamic opposing PG Kyle Lowry, who scored just 11 on the game on
3-11 shooting, with one of those makes coming on that prayer three in
the fourth. Taken in tandem with the 30 and nine he put up against
Houston on Saturday and the 29 and 11 he went for Tuesday in the loss to
New Orleans, I don't think it'd be any kind of exaggeration to say Jrue
is playing the best ball of his career—and some of the best ball in the
league—in the last week.

But beyond the numbers, The Damaja did
something tonight that I can't remember ever seeing a Sixer do quite
like this in the post-Iverson era: He straight-up took over when the
team needed him most. He did it mostly in the second half with his
passing, setting up his shooters and finding Thad in all his sweet
spots, and obviously he did it at the end of regulation and in overtime
with his scoring, which he can do better than all but a handful of lead
guards in the league. By game's end, he was running out of ways to
impress. Anybody Eastern Conference coach who watched tonight's game and
still doesn't believe Jrue Holiday is an All-Star is not my friend.

All
that said, the Sixers still don't get anywhere close tonight without
Thaddeus Young. Thad was basically the only Sixer putting ball in basket
in the fourth quarter, finishing around the hoop and with the jumper
and just playing with tremendous energy, scrapping his way to 14
rebounds and a couple loose balls, also registering three steals and a
block. The days when Thad's ability to become a satisfactory starting
power forward seem very much behind us now, and though he may never be
an All-Star, he can absolutely be the fourth best player on a really,
really good team.

Sixers CEO Adam Aron called this win the
biggest of the year for the Sixers, and sad as that is to say about an
overtime W against a division-worst team at home, he's right. The Sixers
very badly needed something to turn the momentum of their season
around, and in more practical terms, they needed to not fall eight games
(!!) under .500, and if the Sixers somehow do manage to scrape their
way back into the playoff race, you'll have to look back at tonight's
win as the jumping off point for the reversal of the team's fortunes.
And if not, hopefully it at least secured our franchise point guard his
first All-Star appearance.

The high will likely be short-lived,
as the Sixers face the West-owning Spurs on Monday. But Sixer fans will
at least get the weekend to savor this one, the first truly feel-good
win for the team in 2013.

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