So That Happened: Sixers Win (?) Game Three After Battling Back in Fourth

So That Happened: Sixers Win (?) Game Three After Battling Back in Fourth

"If there ever a time for the Sixers to win one BS, low-scoring close game..." tweeted
friend of the blog Where is Ben Rivera with about five minutes left in
this game. Indeed, recent history—including the last time the Bulls
played at the Wells Fargo Center—suggested that, injuries to Chicago
stars Derrick Rose and (now) Joakim Noah be damned, the Sixers were not
gonna find a way to take this game. Down 14 early in the fourth, they
would battle back, cut it to three or four, miss a couple crucial
jumpers or blow a couple key stops, and lose in unnecessarily
heartbreaking fashion. It's been the same story for as long as we can
remember as Sixers fans.

Yet, either due to genuine team
evolution or some working principle of how you Can't Lose 'Em All, the
Sixers did indeed find a way to take and hold the lead in this one. Jrue
Holiday (17 points, six rebounds, six assists) and Evan Turner (16 points, nine rebounds) were given the reins down the stretch and they
responded, scoring or assisting on 13 of the team's final 15 points in
the last five minutes, including going seven of eight form the line in
the final 90 seconds to seal the deal. Spencer Hawes also rebounded from
a tough start to the second half to finish with a team-high 21 points
and nine boards, and Philly was able to scratch out the W in an ugly
79-74 slugfest that not a lot of people outside of the City of Brotherly
Love are gonna have fond memories of watching.

Through
three-plus quarters, the outlook on this one was not good. The Sixers'
guards were playing solidly, if unspectacularly, but the frontcourt was a
total no-show. Through three quarters, the big-man rotation of Thaddeus
Young, Spencer Hawes, Elton Brand and Lavoy Allen were shooting a
combined 4-24, with the Old Schol Chevy Brand in particularly picking a
bad time to suffer engine failure, ending the game with 0 points (0-5
FG) and just two boards. Worse, they got killed by the Bulls on
the boards, resulting in a stretch of consecutive offensive rebounds in
the third and fourth that actually inspired boos from the WFC. Spencer
Hawes, while technically doing the best of the bench with his nine
points and six rebounds, had missed a series of good-look jumpers and
absurdly easy layups early in the half, leading me to wonder if Coach
Collins was gonna put him in the sleeper hold after yanking him to the
bench, and just have one of the assistants wake him up when the game
ended.

But the Sixers somehow managed to stay tough, and both
the shots and the offensive boards started to dry up for the Bulls after
Rip Hamilton's pull-up three put them up 14 with ten to go. Hawes
started converting on his chippies and jumpers, Jrue and Lou Williams
made plays, and all of a sudden, the team was back in the game. The team
defense just got tighter and tighter as the exhausted and undermanned
Bulls went totally cold, and suddenly, the team was up 72-71 with 90
seconds left and a chance to actually win this damn thing, for once.

What
happened next can be explained by a number of factors. For one
thing—and I feel this has to be acknowledged—they got a lot of help from
the refs, who had called a tight game the whole way, and whistled a
number of borderline calls on Chicago that I personally didn't toally
agree with. But this was systematic of the fact that the Sixers were
attacking the basket—especially Jrue and Evan, the duo of whom Coach
Collins finally entrusted with ball-handling and play-making
responsibilities down the stretch. The two forced the issue time and
time again, most notably when Evan Turner went down among the trees on
the clinching possession, rebounding his own miss twice and eventually
getting the foul call, in a play that Collins would later deem the "play
of the year" for the Sixers, calling Turner a "big-game player" in
turn.

It's hard to overstate just how encouraging this final
stretch was for the Sixers. At a certain point it occurred to me that I
didn't really even care if the Sixers won or lost—well, I cared, of
course, but I realized it wasn't the most important thing—because I was
just so glad that Collins finally handed the keys to the team over to
his two young bonafides, and so glad that they were rewarding his faith.
Lou wasn't even out there for the final stretch once Evan checked back
in, and after bricking an open three with 2:54 left that would've put
the team up two and brought the house down—as emblematic of 'Dre's
late-game futility as a shot could be—he was not asked to contribute on
offense again. This is Evan and Jrue's team now—finally—and that's far more important a development for this team than anything that could happen in this series.

So
hey, speaking of this series—it does bear mentioning that we're up 2-1
on the hurting Bulls now, with a chance to take a commanding 3-1 series
lead at the WFC again this Sunday. But as positive as things may seem at
the moment, and as much as we want to start eyeing the Celtics/Hawks
series to see who would make a more favorable second-hand matchup for
this team, let me remind you that this is not the first time we've been
in this situation as an underdog—we took similar leads against both
Orlando and Detroit, then proceeded to lose the next three games to
each. Now, this seems different, with the Bulls' best (and possibly
their second-best) player injured, and the Sixers clicking in some
importantw ays, but just because it seems different doesn't mean that it is different. Let's talk about that again after Game Four, shall we?

And
a final note, about that second-best Bulls player and the injury he
suffered tonight: You're probably going to hear a lot of crap over the
upcoming days about the way the Sixers fans reacted when Joakim Noah
brutally twisted his ankle on Andre Iguodala's foot in the open court,
and we cheered as he writhed on the floor in pain, booing when he
finally got back up. And we'll deserve most of it—it was a classless act
on the part of the WFC crowd, and names like "Michael Irvin" and "Santa
Claus" will be not wrongly invoked. But let's also keep in mind that
Noah is a historical NBA irritant, someone who takes pride in getting
under the skin of opponents and their fans, and while such methods are
All In the Game as far as the NBA is concerned...well, sometimes people
are going to take joy in your misery. No disrespect, and frankly, any
Sixer fan who doesn't have a great deal of admiration for how he hobbled
back onto that court after his injury and managed to hit a couple free
throws and a jumper before limping back off is simply out they damn
mind.

1:00 tip from Wells Fargo this Sunday for Game Four. Still
a ton of questions to be answered, still a whole lot undecided in this
series, but even if we lose the next three games, tonight was progress
in this team's evolution that can and should not be ignored. It might
not mean we're any closer to contending, but it means we're a lot closer
to understanding who we are as a team, and where to go from here, and
at this stage in the 76ers' development, that's nearly as important. Go
Jrue and Evan, go Coach Collins, go you marvelous bastard 76ers.

If you hate the Nerlens Noel trade, you value him more than Sixers do

If you hate the Nerlens Noel trade, you value him more than Sixers do

I'll make the Nerlens Noel trade simple for you.

The Sixers don't think he's worth the money he'll be offered after the season.

He's a restricted free agent, and the Sixers don't anticipate matching the offer he'll receive, so they got what they could instead of letting him walk and getting nothing.

"I've often said I wouldn't make a bad deal," Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said Friday, "but yesterday I made the best deal that was available to us."

Mavericks president Donnie Nelson put himself in Colangelo's shoes, telling ESPN that the Sixers were in "an extremely difficult situation" and "did the best they could with the situation they had." He added that it was "hard for us" to give up Justin Anderson, whom he called "the critical piece."

Nevertheless, if you're fixated on the "bad deal" part of Colangelo's quote -- and judging from the reaction in our newsroom Thursday and on Twitter and on our site, plenty of you should be -- then you have a higher opinion of Noel than the Sixers do. 

And that's the point of contention. 

Maybe Nerlens turns out to be Dennis Rodman 2.0. 

If that's the case, Bryan Colangelo will be ripped like Larry Brown has been for choosing Larry Hughes over Paul Pierce (it will never end). The move will be grouped with Moses Malone for Jeff Ruland and Cliff Robinson, and the No. 1 pick (Brad Dougherty) for Roy Hinson. 

(Sixers fans would have broken Twitter had it existed in 1986. If your Sixer fandom survived those trades, then this one barely should elicit a shrug.)  

But Noel also may just be the next Samuel Dalembert.

It will take some time to answer that question, but critics of this trade are also asking about the timing of the deal.

Why not trade Noel earlier? If they weren't sold on him, they could have dealt him last year when free agency wasn't on the horizon and they had more leverage. 

Remember, circumstances were different at the end of last season. Joel Embiid had yet to play. Noel and Jahlil Okafor were their insurance policies -- and Okafor was recovering from a knee injury too. 

"We were plugging in Nerlens Noel as our starting center at that point," Colangelo said. "There was no other way around because the unknowns related to both Joel and Jahlil."

Plus, when Colangelo arrived last April, there were only two games left in the regular season.

"When I was brought in, he was already basically an RFA," Colangelo said. 

Then why not wait until after this season and possibly retain Noel at a decent price? Colangelo didn't want to take the chance.

"Him being a restricted free agent certainly affected how people approached that type of player," he said. "It was more or less the case with every conversation I had that that concern about what that contract might look like in the future was certainly a factor in people's apprehension to move forward."

Perhaps the biggest conclusion to draw from the deal is this: The fact that the Sixers traded Noel -- and were clearly also willing to trade Okafor -- is a sign of their confidence in Embiid's potential, and more importantly, his durability.

"That Joel has emerged as a transformational type of player, it certainly made the decision to possibly move Nerlens that much easier," Colangelo said.

The Sixers clearly are confident that Embiid will not be the next Greg Oden and will recover to be the player who -- as a rookie -- is averaging nearly a point a minute. 

Risky? Certainly. Crazy? We'll find out. 

That said, the Sixers are also asking you to remember Richaun Holmes, who, as Colangelo put it was "in the shadows last year as an emerging backup."

And he's still emerging. Holmes has shown promise on both ends of the floor and is more polished and versatile offensively than Noel. Let's see what the kid can do. Maybe he'll find a home backing up Saric at the four and Embiid at the five.

Speaking of backups, the Sixers clearly weren't satisfied with the offers for Okafor, who unlike Noel isn't facing free agency. So they held onto him. Good move; he's too young to give away. 

Now it's up to the coaching staff to convince Okafor that the best way to earn a starting spot anywhere is to play defense and actually hustle after a rebound or two. 

The coaching staff's other priority is Justin Anderson, the key piece in the Noel deal. Anderson gives the Sixers another solid wing defender to go with Robert Covington. But -- like Covington this season -- he's struggled from three. Anderson recently has shown signs of being the player worthy of the 21st pick in 2015. Brown and company must help him rediscover his shot and become the next Jae Crowder

But back to the beginning. Regardless of your opinion of Noel, remember this: The keystones of this team are Embiid and Ben Simmons. If they recover from their respective injuries and live up to expectations, then this team should -- with its wealth of assets and cap room -- be in position to complete "The Process". 

If not, then there's probably nothing Nerlens Noel could have done about it anyway.

Process behind Sixers’ Nerlens Noel trade as bad as deal itself

Process behind Sixers’ Nerlens Noel trade as bad as deal itself

As recently as December, Bryan Colangelo insisted the Sixers would not trade one of their centers just for the sake of clearing up the logjam in the club’s frontcourt. “I will not make a bad deal for this organization,” the general manager said.

What changed in the past two months?

On Thursday, Colangelo sent Nerlens Noel to the Dallas Mavericks for a conditional first-round draft choice that in all likelihood will become a pair of second-round picks; Justin Anderson, a second-year prospect with nowhere near Noel’s upside; and Andrew Bogut, who may never even wear a Sixers uniform (perhaps the best case scenario, in all honesty). This is an objectively bad deal for the Sixers!

Sure, there are numerous explanations for the disappointing return on Noel. The NBA is well aware the Sixers have too many centers, so Colangelo was bargaining from a position of weakness. The Sacramento Kings didn’t do the Sixers any favors, either, by woefully short-changing themselves in the DeMarcus Cousins swap. And Noel will be a restricted free agent come July, creating the kind of uncertainty that tends to hurt value.

Yet none of those excuses justifies Colangelo’s decision, and the reason is very simple. There was absolutely nothing compelling the Sixers to make this move right now.

If Noel wasn’t gone at the trade deadline, then what? They risked losing him in free agency and winding up with nothing in return.

First, to that argument, the return the Sixers did get on Noel feels like nothing. Even a top-18 protected pick isn’t much of an asset to the franchise at this point, while two seconds are essentially meaningless. Bogut is, too, for that matter. Anderson is not without some promise, although his ceiling probably isn’t as high as Noel’s floor.

Nothing the Sixers accomplished here is going to help the team win a championship.

Of course, the fear that Noel would walk away and leave the Sixers with empty pockets is built on something of a faulty premise to begin with. That was only one potential outcome.

One possibility was also to make an actual attempt to re-sign Noel long-term. Another possibility was matching an offer sheet if those efforts ultimately failed. Another outcome still was a tepid market forcing him to accept the Sixers’ one-year qualifying offer.

By doing literally any of those things, the Sixers could have traded Noel at a later date. Even if Colangelo already determined the 22-year-old was not going to be part of the future, he could have waited to see if a better offer would materialize at a later date.

Any number of components would have changed over time. The Sixers could’ve dumped Jhalil Okafor, creating room in their frontcourt and restoring the organization’s bargaining power in the process. The market would’ve had a chance to reset after the disastrous Cousins trade made moving bigs for any semblance of value next to impossible. By merely holding on to Noel, the Sixers could’ve created the perception they just may want to keep him around, allowing the front office to raise the asking price.

An injury to a key player could've driven up Noel's value for a desperate team. His own development might've made him a more attractive piece around the league. Who knows, maybe Colangelo would've come to appreciate Noel's role with the Sixers in the meantime — just saying.

Would there be risks involved with that approach?

Not any greater than the risk of getting fleeced.

There’s little doubt that if Noel went on to sign an offer sheet in July and the Sixers didn’t match, the organization would be facing backlash as a result of that turn of events as well. While it’s a little difficult to accept that could’ve transpired, we can’t pretend the scenario didn’t exist.

Regardless, trading Noel for this package feels like a give-up move on the part of Colangelo. It seems like exactly the thing he promised he wouldn’t do, which was move one of the Sixers’ centers purely because they have too many.

To make matters worse, the timing of all of this suggests Colangelo allowed the trade deadline and Noel’s status as an impending restricted free agent to dictate his decision-making, which is a sin far greater than simply making a bad deal.

That’s the sign of a bad process.