FOR THE MOST PART, this is what coach Doug Collins was looking for from his Andrew Bynum-less team.
He envisioned his point guard, Jrue Holiday, to be the facilitator of the offense, with the ball in his hands the majority of the time, scoring and assisting. He saw Evan Turner forming with Holiday a devastating one-two punch with young legs who could carry the team on most nights. He believed that energetic Thaddeus Young could outhustle and outquick the bigger, stronger matchups he sees each and every game and somehow find a way to get baskets in the paint. He knew he needed some shooting from Jason Richardson and a strong all-around showing from Spencer Hawes off the bench.
Monday at the Wells Fargo Center, Collins got all that from those players as the 76ers scratched out a 104-97 win over the Detroit Pistons.
Holiday once again was the horse on whose back the team climbed, scoring 21 of his game-high 25 points in the second half as the Sixers overcame a three-point halftime deficit. While talk around the team and the league during the early season has been about whether Holiday might be an All-Star sometime soon, his recent play is legitimizing the argument.
But more than that, Collins and his team now know they have a player, and leader, who they can rely on to pull them through. It may never have been more evident than during a sequence in the fourth quarter when, with 1 minute, 22 seconds left and his team leading by three, Holiday missed two free throws. But after a miss by Detroit, Holiday calmly nailed a 19-footer with 39.9 seconds remaining to seal the team's 12th victory in 21 games.
"I don't know what it was, but he got in a nice rhythm and made all the right reads on the pick-and-roll," Collins said. "I was really proud of Jrue. You always worry about a guy when he goes to the line and misses a couple of free throws, how he's going to respond, and he came down and hit a huge jump shot. To be a top-flight NBA point guard, you've got to do that. The beauty of Jrue is he can shoot the ball. And he's got a strong body so he can get in there and take a bump."
Drawing bumps is something the Pistons specialize in, and they did it very well again, getting to the foul line 33 times and making 28. But for each successful trip into the paint by the Pistons, the Sixers had an answer, either on midrange shots by Turner (18 points on 8-for-13 shooting and 11 rebounds), or quick hitters in the lane by Young (20 points, 9-for-13), or a hustle play by Hawes that helped him collect 15 points and eight rebounds.
For a team that has been searching for the past couple of seasons for a player to take and make big shots at the end of games, it seems to be finding more than one.
"It's definitely expected between Jrue and Evan, and sometimes me," Young said. "We're the guys that have to go out there and be key for us each and every night. If we don't have good games, it's going to be hard for us to win games."
But they were able to pull this one out, despite making just 12 of their 23 free throws and at times getting blitzed to the basket by Brandon Knight (22 points) and Rodney Stuckey (19). The reason for the victory was, for the most part, a total team effort. Which was aided tremendously by a 17-0 run that spanned the end of the second quarter and beginning of the third.
"That's the name of the game. The NBA is all about runs," Hawes said. "It's trying to limit the number of them the other team makes and how much each one is for. You know against a quality NBA team you're never going to be up for that long during a game."
While the blueprint for the win had to be close to what Collins envisioned without Bynum in the middle, the plans weren't completely as detailed.
"I'd like a couple more pieces to that blueprint," Collins said. "We have to get a couple of other guys playing better."
Monday he had enough.