One of the calling cards of a Doug Collins' Sixers team is that his best players may not actually be in the starting five.
Fans like to argue about whether Jodie Meeks should be starting over Evan Turner, but Collins will tell you repeatedly that the players on the floor when the ball is first tossed into the air aren't necessarily the five best the team has to offer. You've seen glimpses of that truth the past few games when the Sixers have gotten out to very slow starts. Doug Collins knows on any given night that his sixth, seventh, or eighth guy could be his best player. The Pacers apparently knew this coming into the game, too, so their game plan was to "dominate the Sixers' second unit."
How do we know that? Let's just say the Sixers had a man on the inside.
According to Lou Williams and Thaddeus Young, prior to first tip the Sixers were made aware that the Pacers scouting report game plan was to win the battle of the second units. That didn't work out so well for a Pacers team who was already without Danny Granger due to illness and lost Tyler Hansbrough midway through the game after getting poked in the eye. The Pacers' plan to shutdown the second unit also motived Lou Williams and his bench partners. You will not hold LouWill in check. Oh. No. You. Won't. (4-11 shooting)
"I think it really got us juiced up. We did get a hot tip that they wanted to dominate the game with the second unit," Thaddeus Young said after the 96-86 victory. "Me, Lou, Evan, Nik, we come out and just play. We play great off each other and we've been doing this for a while, so we don't let that get into our heads or anything like that."
Thaddeus Young was brilliant on both ends of the floor, but specifically on the defensive end, taking four charges and deflecting another five balls -- a stat Coach Collins loves to keep. Thad also made six of seven shots for 12 points, pulled down 8 boards, and added 2 assists to only 1 turnover. But his defense was inspired. The Sixers held the Pacers to just 37% from the floor.
"People are going to have to start talking about him for All Defensive Team," Collins said of Young. "He blows up every screen and roll, he absolutely gets out there, hedges, gets back. His speed and quickness is amazing."
Thad getting it done off the bench is nothing new for the Sixers, but the contribution they got from rookie Nikola Vucevic was a welcomed surprise. On a night when Spencer Hawes wasn't feeling well, the rookie stepped in and the team didn't really seem to miss a beat. Vucevic finished the night with 11 points, 8 boards and hit a big three pointer along the way. The fans at the Wells Fargo Center are really enjoying the extended "Vuuuuuuuuu" chants as well.
He's amazed the Sixers fans early in the season but has he amazed Coach Collins with his production??
"No. I fell in love with him the first time I saw him," Collins said. "He just plays in a nice rhythm out there. We've got two big guys in Spencer and Nik that both have good ball skills."
While the starters once again looked sluggish to start the night out, the bench came in and gave them a nice spark, pushing them to a slim lead after the first quarter. That momentum carried on into the second, and they pushed the lead to double digits. It remained there for most of the third before the Pacers made their push in the fourth when they finally got some shots to fall.
It was not all pretty for Doug's boys tonight, however, as they were sloppy with the ball at times, giving it away 18 times, but they won the points-off-turnovers battle 24 to 12 -- a stat Doug Collins said you can almost always point to in determining who the Sixers beat.
One of the uglier themes of last season was the Sixers' inability to close out games, but every time the Pacers cut a double-digit lead in the fourth to about six points tonight, the Sixers answered. Jrue Holiday hit a pull up three. Thad Young hit a running hook in the lane. Dre hits one of his ridiculously tough fadeaways. Spencer Hawes took a charge. The Sixers are maturing and finding ways to hold on to their leads.
Lou Williams, perhaps the team's best "closer," was asked if they're now a team that can finish opponents off on the regular.
"It's a work in progress," he said.
Progressing in the right direction, that's for sure.