As Lou Williams’ floater in the lane made its way into the hoop, time stood still for Sixers fans in Philadelphia at the Wells Fargo Center.
Take a look around the arena, fans are standing and cheering in the aisles. There is a buzz in the arena that hasn’t been there in years. There was noise, not arena-made noise, but real, actual fan volume. Fans weren’t concerned about getting a free Big-Mac, they didn’t care that hometown boy Kobe Bryant was in town; they wanted a W.
Then the ball hit nylon. The Wells Fargo crowd erupted. I erupted with a fist-pump (well, a couple actually). Then the reality hit with the serenading of the Los Angeles Lakers, once one of the Sixers’ biggest rivals.
While “BEAT LA” was the chant, there was a much easier message to make out that the Sixers had just displayed on the court in their 95-90 victory over those Lakers: We’re Back.
As I watched Lou Williams torch the Lakers in the fourth quarter on Monday night I couldn’t help but be captivated by this team as I watched them on television. I watched when Allen Iverson crossed-up Tyronn Lue and then stepped over him. Last night was the first time since that Iverson-led Finals squad that I was on the edge of my seat.
When Williams’ three-pointer with the game tied at 88-88 with 2:07 left went down I went from fan watching to psycho roommate running around the apartment screaming “Louuuuuuuu,” as most of Sixers Nation was at the same time.
It’s one thing to get excited about wins over the Pistons, Wizards and Hornets, but when you beat teams that will make the playoffs like the Hawks, Lakers and Magic, now that’s something to believe in.
The Sixers are now 18-7, good for third in the East and fourth overall in the NBA. They’re the league’s best defensive team allowing just 86 points per game. They play team defense and share the ball as the fourth best assist team in the league at more than 22 per game. And not to mention they only have one player in the top 50 in the league in scoring (Williams, 15.5 ppg).
Too often in today’s NBA with superstars demanding trades and forcing their way out-of-town, we forget about the team aspect of the game. The Sixers don’t rely on any player on any given night. That’s what makes them such a special and unique team. If Andre Iguodala can’t hit water if he fell out of a boat, he makes plays for other guys, like Jodie Meeks, Williams and Thaddeus Young. When Elton Brand misses a game here and there, rookie Lavoy Allen, a local product of Temple and Pennsbury H.S., comes in and contributes. With Spencer Hawes missing extended time due to various ailments early on, veteran Tony Battie and rookie Nik Vucevic have stepped in and played tough minutes against the likes of the Dwight Howard’s in the league.
Next man up. Know your role, do your job, win as part of a team. Doug Collins, the man at the helm of the NBA’s most resurgent team, knows this all too well.
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together,” wrote Collins on a whiteboard during halftime of a Sixers game earlier this season.
The difference with the 2011-2012 edition of the Philadelphia 76ers, they know how to win and move on to the next game. They beat the teams they’re supposed to beat, going 13-3 against teams without winning records so far this season. They also grew up on the court, where they feature a 20-year-old point guard in Jrue Holiday, where they had a season-low four turnovers Monday against the Lakers. They average only 10 turnovers a game, best in the league by almost four full turnovers. Those create extra possessions for a middle-of-the-pack offense that averages just a shade over 96 points per game.
Collins is the 60-year-old coach who has the keys to one of the youngest teams in the league, one that is figuring out how to win quicker than anyone thought, even himself.
“Last year, I’d be concerned about a hangout after a win like this,” Collins said following a win against Atlanta earlier in the year, “But not this year, I don’t.”
He’s right, because the Sixers are back….finally.