MIAMI – With this being the season of miracles and make-believe, you would think a story about the 76ers' coming back from a 23-point deficit against Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat would be a fairy tale coach Brett Brown could only dream of.
It is the truth, though, as the Sixers limited Miami to 30 points in the second half, including only nine in the fourth quarter and put a lid on Wade then as they won their second consecutive game with an improbable 91-87 win at AmericanAirlines Arena.
After falling behind by 69-46 early in the third quarter, the Sixers won the rest of the game by 45-18, saving their most impressive work for the fourth quarter when Miami shot only 4-for-19, including 0-for-9 from three-point range. After scoring 17 points in 16 minutes in the first half, Wade managed only six points on 2-of-10 shooting in the second.
"We ended up going small, small and really switching a lot of things and trying to speed up the game," Brown said, "to just try and claw and scratch for anything to make some adjustment where you felt like you could do something to get back in the game.
"You credit eight guys who found something extra to steal a fantastic win on the road. It confirms what I have been saying for a while. They put in fantastic days at practice. Incredibly, they stay together, in spite of what our record says. They've come so far and when you can talk to them with fact it catches their ear. It gives them something to show that for all the work we've put in it's actually coming to fruition. We're seeing some results."
The team was down to eight players when it was determined just before the game that Tony Wroten couldn't go because of a knee sprain. With little else to do when his team got down by 23, Brown went with a small lineup, sitting Nerlens Noel and Henry Sims, the only true bigs on the team right now, at the same time. Noel struggled offensively, missing all five of his shots. But he rebounded (10), blocked shots (two) and was a presence around the rim for each minute he played in the second half.
"My energy was a little low to start off, and I missed some shots and I let it get to me," Noel said. "I stuck with it. I knew nobody could stop me on the defensive side, so I just tried to rebound the ball as much as I could."
Earlier in the day, it came out that the Sixers were 11th in the league defensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions). That stat is dear to Brown, as he has preached defense since Day 1 this season. There has been no point in the season his team played better defensively than the final 24 minutes last night.
"They stepped up the pressure," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "We didn't have a lot of answers to the pressure just to get it into something where we could get to the next layers of offense. Once we started turning it over, it became a landslide."
Michael Carter-Williams, forced into 44 minutes of play, had his most controlled game of the season and went for 20 points, six steals, five assists and only three turnovers. Luc Mbah a Moute added 19 points and K.J. McDaniels had 13, many coming from jaw-dropping put-backs. Robert Covington and Jerami Grant added 11 each.
"We just keep fighting," MCW said. "We were just trying to keep the ball in front of us and not give them dribble drives. We were able to turn them over and capitalize off those turnovers."
And because of that, the fairy tale of winning consecutive games to start a seven-game road trip is now a reality.
When the Sixers acquired veteran forward Andrei Kirilenko from the Brooklyn Nets a couple of weeks ago, the thought was that he would be waived and the Sixers would cut ties with him and be satisfied with the second-round pick they also received for Brandon Davies. But the days have passed and Kirilenko has not been waived and reports are that the Sixers will give him time to take care of personal matters, but do want him to try to play for them.
Of course, that could be just so they can unload him and receive something in return. Still, it is all a mystery.
"I've known Andrei for a long time, coached against him in two Olympic games," Brown said. "His international flavor is pretty strong. I had a great conversation with him in Brooklyn, when we first did the deal. It's what his priorities are. We have to walk a line of showing him respect and appreciating his family situation, and everybody hopes that he can come and be a part of us. At the end of the day, I'll leave the rest of that with [general manager] Sam [Hinkie] and management. I personally have a lot of time for Andrei Kirilenko.
"Discussions are being had at money levels. I think I'm not going to be able to reveal too much now. It's fluid, it's moving, and that element of respect in his situation and trying to figure other things out make it a little bit complicated. But the conversation is healthy, it's real and it's moving."