Jan 10, 2009, 11:00 AM EDT
The Sixers blew what could've easily been the biggest win of their season last night, letting a double-digit-point lead slip away in the second half for a 119-115 loss to the Phoenix Suns. So why do I feel far better about this game's outcome than I have about any of the team's three actual wins so far this season? Well, it helps that the Suns are the first good team we've even stayed competitive against–at 7-1 now with road wins against three other quality Eastern teams, the Suns can be counted among the league's elite early on, and we certainly gave them all they can handle. But mostly, last night was about promise–the idea that, even if it's still a ways away, we might have a couple legitimately talented players to help the team make the next step.
Mostly, of course, I'm talking about Jrue Holiday. You never want to make too much out of one game, but man did Jrue show us something last night. The Damaja entered midway through the first half, and instantly changed the complexion of the game. He absolutely hounded Suns backup PG Goran Dragic on defense, denying any sort of dribble-drive without leaving space for a pull-up jumper, and the Phoenix offense sputtered as a result. (I barely remember Dragic even getting past the three-point line during that stretch, much less driving to the basket). That defense memorably turned to offense at one point, as Jrue stripped Dragic, dove for the ball, and tossed to Marreese Speights for an easy open-court slam.
But we already knew about the defense with Holiday. What we really wanted to see from our purported point guard of the future was some offense, and Jrue didn't disappoint on that end, either. He scored eight points in the second quarter, two on a tough off-balance fadeaway jumper along the baseline and six on a pair of drained threes–something which we'd really, really like to see more of from our point guards in general (more on that in a minute). Perhaps most encouragingly, in the second half he fed Speights on a beautifully-executed pick-and-roll for an eventual three point play. The only person more pleased by all this than me was Andre Iguodala, whose beaming smile from the bench reflected a man who just received the best gift a swingman could ask for (A Holiday present, perhaps? Oh god, it begins…)
Speaking of Iguodala, he had a hell of a game himself. The improved mid-range game we saw from 'Dre throughout the end of last-season into the playoffs appears to have gotten even better in the off-season, and he was drilling baskets from all over the floor tonight (11/17 for 24 points, with nine big rebounds) and giving us a trademark highlight play (an offensive rebound slammed home) to chew on as well. Similarly impressive was Speights, who seems like he's gotten his sophomore slump out of the way with his lousy end to last season, and has now skipped ahead to the resumption of kicking ass (8-13 for 20 points, and eight boards, all off the bench). Brilliant.
Of course, you can't get an L for the evening and not say at least a couple negative things, so here they are. First, Lou Williams, I don't know any other way to say this: Learn how to hit a fucking open three-ball. There were four or five separate opportunities for Sweet Lou to hit almost completely uncontested threes in the second half, threes which could've kept the Suns at bay and/or swung the momentum back in our favor, and he clanged each and every one of them. If you're wondering why 'Dre only had one assist for the evening, it's not because he wasn't getting guys good looks–most of those open shots were off his drives–but because we couldn't cash in on them. Just unacceptable.
Second, Elton Brand–I think you gotta put the guy on the bench. It kills me to say that, because like it or not, the Brand era still has a long way to go in Philly, but the guy's a mess–even on a good day like tonight, where he got a couple dunks and actually made a putback in traffic, he missed some ridiculously easy short-range looks and got abused by Amar'e Stoudemire at the other end. Eddie Jordan can't keep trotting him out there as one of our five best players when he very clearly isn't (he's getting outplayed by Speights in just about every conceivable measure, minus maybe rebounding) just to justify his albatross of a contract. I don't know what you do with the guy long-term, but I guarantee that ignoring the problem in the short-term isn't going to help.
Anyway, the good definitely outweighed the bad for me with this one, and leaves me curious to see how the Sixers proceed from here. The team gets another crack at the banged-up Nets in Jersey on Wednesday, so here's hoping that tonight's rejuvenation carries over to them actually showing a little life in that matchup. For the first time since the Magic callously slaughtered my buzz on opening night, I'm mildly optimistic.
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