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Sixers Blow Out Magic, Somehow Only Win By 5

Jan 30, 2012, 10:22 PM EDT

The Sixers nearly let an 18-point lead slip away late, but still secured the win against the free-falling Orlando Magic.

Well, it’s not quite the feel-good win that it was looking like with
two-and-a-half to go, but it’s a win nonetheless, and during a stretch
such as this, we’ll certainly take it. In many ways, the Sixers caught
the Magic at the right time—whether you want to attribute it to a
team-wide slump or just a general lack of heart or effort, the Magic
were just straight missing shots tonight (again), including a 1-18
shooting stretch and a nine-point third quarter that had Enrico and I
wondering if the Magic weren’t about to break their franchise low of 56
points in a game—set about a week ago in Boston.

But then a weird thing happened—the Magic’s garbage time unit started to
surge against the Sixers. All of a sudden, the treys that were clanking
all night starting dropping, including a Glenn “Big Baby” Davis
28-footer that must rank among the more unlikely buckets of the season,
and for two-and-a-half minutes, the Magic could do no wrong on offense.
The Sixers said bye-bye to their streak of winning home games by ten
points or more as Orlando cut the lead to single digits, forcing the
Sixers to make free throws (always an interesting proposition with Andre
Iguodala and Evan Turner) and taking a couple months of Coach Doug
Collins’ life. A J.J. Redick three at the buzzer cut the lead to 74-69
as time ran out, resulting in a five-point win that, while never really
in question as of the third quarter, still felt more head-scratching
than victorious.

Much credit must go to the Sixers’ defense for shutting down the
Magic—Orlando missed a couple open shots, but mostly their threes (on
which they were 7-22 for the game) were taken on the run, off quick
releases, and/or late in the shot clock, thanks to the scrambling Sixers
D. (Special credit as always must go to ‘Dre—opposing small forward
Hedo Turkoglu, having his best season in years, was kept to three points
on 1-9 shooting.)

The defense on Dwight was doubly impressive, considering the Sixers only
had one real center on the roster tonight, Dwight’s old teammate Tony
Battie. Tony, Lavoy and especially Elton Brand did a good job of not
giving up anything easy to D-12, forcing him to make legit basketball
moves and/or knock down foul shots to score his points. Sometimes he
did, sometimes he didn’t, but his success rate was kept at a sustainably
low level, so that the Sixers weren’t forced to double, and could stay
glued to their knockdown shooters. It was about as well as the team
could expect to play the league’s most dominant big man, especially with
Spencer Hawes still out and Nik Vucevic an emergency valve on the
bench.

Meanwhile, it wasn’t a pretty game for the Ballers on offense—only two
Sixers shot 50% or higher, the 3-5 Battie and the 4-7 Evan Turner—but
they got the job done in a grind-it-out game, with Brand keeping the
team afloat early and Lou coming alive at just the right time in the
third to get the team a little separation. You never want to shoot 38%
for a game, but in the slow-down, half-court style that both teams were
playing here, it wasn’t completely unseemly either, and at the least,
the team never stopped moving the ball, ending with 22 assists to the
Magic’s 11.

So what do make of those final two-and-a-half minutes, then? Well,
ultimately it was sort of a moot point, since the Magic never really got
into striking distance of the Sixers before the clock ran out. But it
was a little disconcerting to see Collins hollering at the young guys on
the sidelines during timeouts for letting Orlando chip away at what
should have been an unimpeachable lead, and actually making him sweat it
out a little. This might have been a time for DC to show a little
patience with his young team, to remain firm but understanding that the
game was, for all intents and purposes, out of reach for the Magic, and
that the Sixers phoning in the last few after playing impossibly hard
for 46 might not be the biggest crime in basketball. If the team starts
to tune Collins out in a year or two—as his teams have historically done
around that time period—we’ll look back on games like tonight as early
warning signs.

Ultimately, though, despite whatever the final score says, the Sixers
were the significantly better team tonight at the Wells Fargo Center,
and we now start the toughest stretch of the season with a one-game
handicap. Next up will be a much tougher challenge: The Chicago Bulls,
they of the best record in the East, on Wednesday night. It’ll be the
toughest opponent the Ballers have faced at home thusfar, and will be
another chance for that “statement win” the team has yet to secure this
year. In the meantime, Philly is 15-6, and 4-1 against other Eastern
Conference teams who would be in the playoffs if the post-season started
today. If they’re still considered unproven at this point, they’re
certainly one of the greatest unproven basketball teams in all of 21st
century hoops.