By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
Philadelphia 114, Milwaukee 109 – Box Score
4.5 games. That’s all that separate the Philadelphia 76ers from the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference after they won their 9th game in their last 12 tries Wednesday night. It feels like we need to seriously pay attention to that situation now because this team is starting to win games it has no business winning.
Against Milwaukee, they were on the road on the second night of a back-to-back facing a supposed up-and-coming squad. Those are games teams are supposed to lose even if their best player isn’t sitting out again. But conventional thinking almost has to be discarded right now because Philadelphia is playing with confidence as high as the cats fans are raising across Sixers nation after each win.
The Sixers dug themselves an early hole, due partially for having no answer all evening long for the throwback bullyball game of Greg Monroe. Moose had 11 points in the opening frame and finished with a game-high 28 points and 9 rebounds (6 offensive). Then, trailing by 10 in the second quarter, the Sixers suddenly went on a huge run for the second night in a row. They clamped down on the defensive end, the outside shots started falling, and Philadelphia ended the half on a massive 31-7 run to take command of the game.
Milwaukee surged back behind continued dominance from Monroe and timely buckets from Jabari Parker (20 points). That was until, Nerlens Noel, often maligned for a lack of offensive game came through on back-to-back possessions. First, with the Sixers down 1, he was fouled down low and calmly sank both clutch free throws (Noel is over 70% at the line this year!), putting Philadelphia back ahead. Then, after a Monroe alley-oop pass to Giannis Antetokounmpo went amiss, TJ McConnell (13 assists) found Noel for an open jumper at the end of the shot clock, which he canned.
Hey Bryan Colangelo, channel your inner Teddy KGB and pay the man his money.
The Greek Freak, whose line of 17 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists, and 4 steals looks awesome, tried to play hero ball and tie the game himself. However, the Sixers had done a good job all game of allowing him to use the weakest part of his game (the outside shot) to his own detriment. Like all 6 of his three-point attempts before, Antetokounmpo’s 7th one also clanked off iron, and Ersan Ilyasova free throws (17 points) would seal the deal.
Once again without Embiid, the Sixers relied on positive contributions up and down the roster. Noel was excellent in his second start of the season, recording his first double-double on the year with 16 points and 13 rebounds. Ersan helped the floor spacing going 3-5 from three and chipping in 9 rebounds. Robert Covington struggled with turnovers but had a few key buckets in the fourth quarter and brought his usual dominant defensive game (2 steals and 3 blocks).
Gerald Henderson was excellent in scoring a team-high 20 points on 7-11 shooting; he even hit a Jordan-esque fallaway baseline jumper out of a post-up in the closing minutes of the game. Finally, Dario Saric chipped in with 17 points off the bench, most of his points coming by abusing Mirza Teletovic in the painted area.
What more can be said right now? At home, the Wells Fargo Center is rocking like no time since Allen Iverson left. The Sixers are stepping up on the road with tough wins even without Joel Embiid. The fan base is invigorated and getting national attention for silly pet antics. It’s a good time to be a Sixers fan. I only wish Sam Hinkie was alive to see it.