There it is. The win. The win for which we were all waiting: The one that makes a statement.
Sure, the Pistons aren’t the Lakers or the Celtics. Sure, they’re struggling with adding Allen Iverson into the mix. Sure, at one point the 76ers were down 15 points – late in the third quarter.
This is – by far – the best win of the season for the Sixers, who are now 9-11.
There is one glaring problem, though: What about Elton Brand? Is it odd that the best performance of the season came with Brand in a different city, sidelined with a strained right hamstring?
Yeah, it kind of is, isn’t it?
But let’s get to this specific game. How did they win?
They won because of Donyell Marshall. I didn’t qualify that, either. I didn’t say, “They won in large part because of Donyell Marshall.” No. I truly believe that if Marshall had not played, the Sixers would not have won this game.
He scored eight points – all in the fourth quarter – including the eventual game-winning 3-pointer with 41 seconds left. That’s been missing from the Sixers arsenal, hasn’t it? Someone able to hit a killer 3-pointer?
Here is how that play works. Marshall sets on on-ball screen for Lou Williams (whom we’ll speak of later in this post). Williams brings his defender and Marshall’s defender with him. Marshall rolls away from the play, out to the 3-point line. Williams passes to Marshall. Marshall makes 3-pointer. I call that play "Pick-and-roll out for a 3-pointer." Clever, I know.
Why haven’t we seen this all season? Because Marshall has been in this league a decade and a half. It’s a long season. But, now, I think we will be seeing more of this Marshall guy.
Okay, onto Williams. He scored 16 points. He made 8 of 9 free throws, many of which were crucial late in the game. I’ll be the first to admit we have been on Lou’s case here – low shooting percentage, not enough passing, etc., etc. But he played well tonight. His speed in the open court really pressured the Pistons late in the game.
I still think his shot isn’t quite where he would like it, but he was weapon No. 2 for the Sixers tonight … the “X-factor” so to speak (for anyone who read my pre-game post).
Now, here is the best part of tonight’s win: Head coach Maurice Cheeks. He nailed the rotation tonight. Absolutely nailed it. The guys he had on the court at the end of the third quarter were perfect for the situation. I have to admit I looked on the court and saw Williams, Green, Reggie Evans, Donyell Marshall, and, I believe, Thaddeus Young, and I was worried.
But this group started to roll. They cut a 15-point Pistons lead to six. And here’s the clincher … then Cheeks went away from that rotation. He put Andre Miller and Andre Iguodala back into the game for the last six-seven minutes.
And it was the right call.
Since we are so quick to point out what didn’t work, let’s own it: Mo Cheeks coached a heck of a game.
Back to Elton Brand.
Will the Sixers return to previous form (struggling) if Brand is in the lineup against the New Jersey Nets on Saturday night?
Honestly. I’m not sure. That should be interesting.