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

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.

Joel Embiid unhappy with how Sixers handled injury updates

Joel Embiid unhappy with how Sixers handled injury updates

CAMDEN, N.J. -- Joel Embiid will miss the next four games and is slated to return March 3 against the Knicks in Philadelphia, so long as he is symptom-free. While Embiid wants to play as soon as possible, he’s just glad there is now a definitive timetable announced.

Prior to Thursday, the team had not announced a specific timeframe.

“I wasn’t too happy with the way it was kind of handled before,” Embiid said. “I saw the day-to-day part. I was told that I was going to miss at least two or three weeks. So I wasn’t happy with the way it was handled.

“I thought keeping my name out there was going to just like literally have people think about me all the time instead of just saying when I was going to be back. So I’m happy that they did that today and they said that I’m out for the next four games.”

Embiid suffered a left knee contusion on Jan. 22 against the Trail Blazers. He sat out three games and returned on Jan. 27 to play the Rockets. He has not played since then, sitting out the last eight games.

An MRI also revealed Embiid has a slight tear in his meniscus, which is not thought to be related to the contusion.

Embiid went through a full practice on Thursday for the first time, he estimated, in four or five weeks. (Wednesday’s practice was not intense.) According to the Sixers, they are encouraged by the progress Embiid showed but do not feel he is game-ready. Team doctors are holding him out the next four games to minimize the risk of aggravating his knee. In order for him to be cleared, Embiid has to be symptom-free.

Embiid had eyed a return on Friday against the Wizards because he was feeling well, he said, but he had some swelling on Thursday.

“No swelling, no pain, nothing,” Embiid said of his criteria to play.

Now the team -- and fans -- can move forward without daily questions of Embiid’s status.

“I think it’s good for everybody,” Brett Brown said. “For you all to understand, the people that buying a ticket to understand, for me as a coach to prepare my team that he’s not going to be here for four more games. I like that clarity. I’m fine with it. Obviously, you want him playing, but the mystery that surrounds that speculation I think is frustrating for people and we understand that.”

Embiid reiterated the patience aspect of the injury, noting he waited two years to rehab his foot and there is no need to rush his knee. Now everyone can be in the loop with his status.

“The end point is basically making sure I’m ready to play instead of just putting me out there,” Embiid said.

In Justin Anderson, Sixers get solid defensive wing who was buried in Dallas

In Justin Anderson, Sixers get solid defensive wing who was buried in Dallas

On the surface, the Nerlens Noel trade doesn't look good.

The Sixers on Thursday traded the third-year big man to the Dallas Mavericks for forward Justin Anderson, center Andrew Bogut and a top-18 protected first-round pick. That first-rounder turns into two second-round picks if it doesn't convey in 2017. Yuck. And double yuck.

The only hope in this trade comes in Anderson. The former first-round pick has the look of a prototypical NBA wing. At 6-foot-6 with a nearly 7-foot wingspan, he has the frame to disrupt passing lanes and the bulk at 228 pounds to muscle up stronger swingmen.

At Virginia, Anderson was a key cog for a team that was ranked as high as No. 2 and earned a 2-seed in the 2015 NCAA Tournament. After that season, Anderson opted to forego his senior year and enter the NBA draft. He was selected 21st overall by the Mavericks in 2015.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett preaches defense and Anderson was one of his finest disciples in that regard. Offensive limitations and being a part of a balanced attack with the Cavaliers caused Anderson's stock to drop. Despite shooting 45 percent from three in his final season, Anderson was considered a streaky shooter and, frankly, that's remained the NBA.

His rookie season was one to forget. The Mavericks were competitive in the Western Conference, finishing as the 6-seed and losing to the Thunder in the first round. Anderson couldn't find his way into Rick Carlisle's rotation. Dallas' never-ending supply of point guards coupled with the sharpshooting duo of Wesley Matthews and Chandler Parsons relegated Anderson to just 11.8 minutes a game his rookie season. In his limited time, he shot 41 percent from the field and 27 percent from three.

Unfortunately, it's been a similar story this season, but with some glimmers of hope. Anderson is still losing minutes to Matthews and also big free-agent acquisition Harrison Barnes, who's having a strong first season with the Mavs. But over a three-game stretch in late January, Anderson averaged 15.7 points and 4.3 rebounds in 20 minutes per game. He also shot 6 of 16 (38 percent) from three during that span.

“I don’t want to sell myself short,” Anderson said to the Star-Telegram during that run. “I still think that I can be a really great player in this league, but I think it’s going to take a lot of hard work.

“I think [the early-season struggles] may be the best thing that’s happened to me in my career. All we can do is wait and just keep working hard, push through it and hopefully one day it’ll all pay off."

The most promising numbers in Anderson's young career are that he's averaging 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks per 36 minutes as a pro. At the very least, Anderson should develop into a solid defensive wing. If he develops offensively, who knows?

Per ESPN's Kevin Pelton, "Noel and Anderson (who just sneaks over the bar) are both among the 21 players in the league who have averaged 2.0 steals per 100 team plays and blocked 2.0 percent of opponent 2-point attempts or better in at least 500 minutes."

It's tough to argue that this trade was a good one for Bryan Colangelo. With that said, Anderson could still turn out to be a decent NBA player. He needs minutes and patience, two things the Sixers can offer in spades.