HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — No Andrew Bynum, no problem for the Philadelphia 76ers.
Faced with the challenge of remaining among the Eastern Conference’s playoff elite without their prized offseason acquisition (whose bone bruises and bowling exploits are getting more attention than his game these days), the Sixers have stayed in the mix thanks to their veteran coach, Doug Collins, and a scrappy bunch led somewhat surprisingly by a rising star in point guard Jrue Holiday.
Holiday is leading the Sixers in scoring (18.6 ppg) and assists (8.6) and is one of the more underrated defenders at his position in the league. The youngest player in the league when he was drafted out of UCLA, his ascent will be crucial to the Sixers’ cause as this season wears on.
Because so much of what this team was supposed to be and do this season was based on Bynum and his status, professed by some, as the “new” best big man in the Eastern Conference. The Sixers traded away All-Star swingman Andre Iguodala to get him and had plans to build their team around the soon-to-be free-agent big man for at least this season.
Instead, Collins has been forced to dig into his deep bag of coaching tricks and craft a scheme for a team that doesn’t have a true anchor. He did it again Sunday in the Sixers’ win over Cleveland, mixing and matching until he found the right combination on the floor to get the desired results.
He admitted as much to Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News after outfoxing the Cavaliers:
“For me, I’m going to go to the store and mix-and-match and try to pick up some things that match a little bit. On a particular night I pull a play out of my tail late in the game. Sometimes you just got to do that. That’s what they pay me to do. But at the end of the day we got enough stops to beat them. We have got to be a bit smoother on the offensive end. We’re making things way, way too hard on ourselves.
“I told our guys that their starting team is the fourth-leading scoring starting team in the NBA and they’re No. 1 plus-minus. We could not allow their bench to come in and put them in a position to win the game.”
Collins’ bench was the one that provided the scoring with 34 points, including 14 from Spencer Hawes and 13 from Nick Young, who left in the second half due to dizziness. Evan Turner had a terrific all-around game with 19 points, nine assists and six rebounds and Jrue Holiday scored 14 points and dealt nine assists,while limiting [Kyrie] Irving to nine points, nearly 16 below his average.
Never was Holiday’s defense more impressive than late in the fourth quarter. With the Sixers clinging to a 77-73 advantage, Irving got an isolation play at the top of the key to the left of the basket where he crossed over repeatedly, tried stop-and-goes, went left, then right, then left. Holiday got deked out of his spot in front of Irving and the Duke product missed a forced runner to the left of the basket. Hawes then hit a 16-footer with 3 minutes remaining to give the Sixers a comfortable cushion.
A 6-4 record after 10 games wouldn’t normally be much to crow about. But in a much-improved Atlantic Division that has the New York Knicks (7-1), Brooklyn Nets (6-2) and the Sixers ahead of a Boston Celtics team that played in the Eastern Conference finals last season, you know Collins is well aware that there is no time to waste if Philly is to keep pace in the postseason chase.
Without any assurance that Bynum will return sooner rather than later, and that will he come back in the sort of shape and with the game that can immediately elevate this team, Collins will have to stick to his wizard routine for the foreseeable future.
Right now, that seems like the Sixers’ best chance to stay in the thick of things this season.