They say if you don’t learn from your past, you are doomed to repeat it. The 76ers proved tonight that they are not the same team that blew an 18 point lead against Atlanta in early December. Atlanta ended the game that night going on a 22-3 run. Tonight’s game might have been the young team’s best performance of the season so far. They put the pedal to the medal from the start of the game and never looked back. The 76ers sprinted out of the gate. With 2:41 left in the 1st quarter, they led 23-9 and Brand was doing anything he wanted to do offensively. At that point he had outscored the entire Hawks team by himself.
The tone of the game was set in the 1st quarter by point guard Jrue Holiday. It looked as though Hawks Center Zaza Pachuila would glide in for an easy bucket. Just as the 6-11 center went to lay it in, 6-4 Jrue Holiday came out of nowhere to block the shot. This sprung the Sixers on the fast break and Brand eventually finished the play with a bucket at the other end. Shortly after this, Atlanta Coach Larry Drew went to a smaller lineup and brought in former 6th man of the year Jamal Crawford. Collins quickly countered the move by inserting Thaddeus Young into the game.
It didn’t matter what style of game was being played, the Sixers were clearly the superior team on this night. They stretched their lead to 33-15 at the end of the 1st. They didn’t slow down to start the second either, they continued to play suffocating d that allowed them to push the ball. At several different times during the 2nd quarter, they had doubled up the Hawks. They fell just short at doubling the Hawks at the half because of jump shot late in the quarter by Marvin Williams, they led 65-33 at the half. Despite the huge lead, Collins wasn’t going to late his team take their foot off the gas. He said that the team wanted to win the 3rd quarter and they would have if a 3 made by Holiday wasn’t taken away (The shot was later reviewed and it was determined the shot clock at expired). The team coasted to a 117-83 victory. Georgia native Lou Williams lead the team with 20 points off the bench. A major reason for the success was due to the balance in scoring, the team had 6 players who finished the game in double figures and had 10 different players score.
The strong play in the 3rd allowed them to rest some players in the 4th. This was crucial because they play the Magic tomorrow night and are the midst of a 4 games in 5 nights stretch. Jodie Meeks was the only Sixers starter who played more than 30 minutes. Both Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand were not even needed in the 4th. Sixers Center Spencer Hawes only saw 11:36 minutes of game action, he should be well rested for his difficult matchup against Dwight Howard tomorrow night. When the Sixers last played the Magic, it was another game that the Sixers had in their back pocket, only to have it snatched away at the end.
They led by 4 points with just 17 seconds left. Then Magic Guard Jason Richardson was fouled while shooting a three, he hit the three and completed the four point play with the free throw. The Sixers eventually lost in overtime 99-98. After the Magic’s game tonight, Howard was asked about their last game against the Sixers. He laughed and said that tomorrow nights won’t go to overtime. Howard all but guaranteed a victory against the Sixers. We all saw how his mocking of LeBron the other night provided a spark for the Miami Heat, hopefully the Sixers can do the same.
Just like their last game against Atlanta, the game against Orlando on January 19 was a game that they should have won. Tomorrow night’s game will be just another test to see who much this young team has actually learned. You can bet that they will see Howard’s interview and hopefully make his words a reality. But not the way Howard meant them, if they have a chance to bury the Magic late in the game. We can only hope that the Sixers have learned their mistakes and will not let the game go to overtime! They showed a lot of growth tonight and showed what kind of team they can be. It was a completely dominating performance against one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. This was a statement game; they said to the rest of the Eastern Conference that you better come to play when you play the 76ers.