It was the third night of the Sixers grand experiment. As tests go for these sorts of things, it was fairly significant.
On Monday, Doug Collins started Andre Iguodala, Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner together for the first time all season. It did not go well. The Sixers lost to the Bucks. On Wednesday, Collins started that same lineup. It went much better. The Sixers beat the Celtics, after which Collins publicly committed to keeping that trio together for the remainder of the season to see what that unit can or cant do. And then, on Friday night, the Jazz came to town.
If you havent seen much of Utah this year, heres a quick summary: the Jazz are big and physical, and if you look at some of them the wrong way or even the right way -- you might get an elbow to the ribs. Which is what concerned Collins. Starting the HIT Squad (Holiday, Iguoadala and Turner patent pending) means having less size coming off the bench. Lou Williams and Jodie Meeks are nice enough players, but they are not large or mean or likely to intimidate anyone.
My biggest concern with the starting lineup has nothing to do with philosophical changes or anything like that, Collins said. Its that we have two small guys coming off the bench now. So Ive got to really manage that now. Ive got to keep my eye on it. I might have to take Dre or Evan out a little bit earlier than I would, so that if they go to the bench with a Gordon Heyward and a CJ Miles, I can match-up and have some size back there with them.
Thats exactly what happened. Collins went to the bench early -- partly to get the offense going, partly to avoid size mismatches. It worked. The Sixers beat the Jazz, 104-91. Perhaps more impressive, Holiday, Iguolada and Turner combined for 42 points, 22 rebounds and 20 assists.
The fast break transition game is really good, Iguodala said about the new(ish) starting lineup. And we have so many creators on the floor. It makes the game stress free. Were just letting the game flow.
There were some concerns about that about how the lineup change might affect the flow of the offense. Initially against the Jazz, it looked like Holiday might be a little lost in his new role. He started slowly against, posting just five points in the first half. Then he found a nice groove and finished with 16 points and four assists.
My college experience, I didnt play point guard, Holiday said. I know how to play off the point a lot better. And its fun playing with Evan. He goes out there and he does his thing. He can really play. It makes it a lot easier. I dont have to dribble the ball and handle the ball all the time. We know Dre can do that. But with Evan there, I can come off screens and kind of play like a two guard.
So that was one question how Holiday might adapt. Which brings us back to the other question, the one that seemed to concern Collins the most: how would the new-look Sixers respond on the glass and in the paint?
The last time the Sixers won back-to-back games was almost a month ago when they beat the Cavaliers and the Bobcats on February 11 and 13. That wasnt exactly tough competition. Pulling off two straight wins against the Celtics and Jazz obviously meant a lot more, particularly because Boston and Utah dish out as many bruises as assists.
If youve watched the Sixers this year, you know that rebounding and post play havent exactly been difficult at times. For Collinss crew to acquit itself against the thump-and-bump Jazz (the Sixers won the rebounding battle, 46-42) was an encouraging sign, especially when, as the head coach noted, the bench complexion was altered when he decided to tinker with the starting rotation. It certainly didnt hurt that Thaddeus Young, the senior member of the backup brigade, had an excellent game. Young who recovered nicely from an illness that made him feel like he had been mugged and that kept him out of commission for the Celtics game had 21 points and six rebounds.
The big thing about it is we beat a power basketball team, Collins said. This was a very nice win.
E-mail John Gonzalez at firstname.lastname@example.org