To be fair, not even the Sixers saw this coming. Especially coach Brett Brown.
Nine games into a season in which the roster was quickly cobbled together with no active players older than 25 and a coach who wasn’t hired until August, and the Sixers are 5-4 following a thrilling 123-117 overtime victory over the high-scoring Houston Rockets on Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center (see Instant Replay).
The Sixers pulled it off thanks to a triple-double from guard Tony Wroten (18 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds) in his first NBA start and a career-high 36 points from James Anderson, who hit six three-pointers and shot 12 for 16. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Wroten is the first player since the league kept track of triple-doubles (1970-71) to get a triple-double in his first career start.
Anderson and Wroten?
It was that duo that saved the game for the Sixers with seconds left in regulation. With the Sixers down by three points after a pair of foul shots from Patrick Beverley, Wroten told Anderson to be ready for a pass in the corner. But when the Rockets forced Wroten into the far corner and Anderson strayed away from the opposite one, it appeared as if the Sixers were trapped.
But Wroten turned, leapt and fired a two-handed pass over the top of the defense. Amazingly, Anderson caught the pass, squared up and rose for the game-tying 25-footer from the top of the three-point circle.
After the game, Wroten said he noticed that Jeremy Lin was face-guarding Anderson so he thought if he put the pass high enough, Anderson could come down with it.
“Out of the timeout I told him, ‘I’m going to come off the screen and I’m going to hit you in the corner,’” Wroten explained. “But he wasn’t open, so I kept probing and ran out of options. But he was hot, so I just threw it up to him and it’s fortunate for him to make that.”
Anderson said the toughest part of the play was catching the ball. Once he got his hands on it, Anderson knew he’d have a clean look at the hoop.
“Tony told me he was going to look for me, but I was in the wrong spot,” Anderson said. “Somehow he still found me and I was just fortunate to get a shot up.”
Anderson went into the game with 55 points for the season and was shooting 9 for 27 on three-pointers. He also had garnered a tag that he was player that was good at a lot of things but great at nothing. Still, Brown, who was with the Spurs when the team drafted Anderson, said it was just a matter of time for him to find his stroke.
“We drafted him with the idea that he was a scorer. He was an athletic wing,” Brown said. “Maybe he was a shooter, maybe he was a driver, maybe he was a good offensive rebounder. He was all those things, but he was a scorer and to see all the different ways he scored tonight, that’s the way he was at Oklahoma State and that’s why he was drafted.”
The Sixers were fortunate Anderson’s shot went in. From that point, the team committed just one more turnover and hit 11 out of 12 foul shots to slip past the Rockets. The catch and the shot saved the day.
The pass? It worked out, too.
So coach, this 5-4 start to the season with victories over Miami, Chicago and Houston is kind of surprising … right?
“Yes,” Brown said.
Or is it?
OK, a win over the back-to-back NBA champion Miami Heat was a stunner and so was the come-from-behind victory over the Bulls in the second game of a back-to-back. But to beat the Rockets without rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams in a game in which Lin set a floor record with nine three-pointers and the Sixers committed seven turnovers in the fourth quarter … that’s pushing it.
But there it is. The young Sixers have shown a late-game tenacity and toughness that belies their age. It seems as when the action gets more heated and the margin for error is paper thin, the Sixers pull together even tighter.
How can a team that has been together a little more than a month have such great chemistry?
“I feel proud of them in regard to their competitive spirit,” Brown said. “I think when you just throw people together -- some players, a coach, a team -- we have no right to have an inherent chemistry or comradery. We’ve just sort of been introduced the past few months. So to manufacture anything like that and think that’s how it happens is very naïve. And I think there are signs that the group trusts each other and enjoys playing with each other and has each other’s back. We’re not going to roll over.”
Down by 10 points with nine minutes left in regulation, the Sixers tightened up on defense and didn’t roll over. Though Lin made those nine three-pointers for 34 points to go with 12 assists in a spot start for James Harden (out with a sore foot), the Sixers forced him to turn it over eight times.
Meanwhile, three Rockets had double-doubles, one by Dwight Howard, who had 23 points, 15 rebounds, six assists and six blocked shots. On top of all of that, the Rockets attempted just five long two-pointers and made 15 three-pointers.
And yet the Sixers had all the answers when it mattered most.
Next, the Sixers hit the road for three games in four days. They open the trip in Atlanta on Friday followed by a game in New Orleans on Saturday. The trip ends on Monday in Dallas before the Sixers come home to face the Raptors next Wednesday.