25-6 fourth quarter run spurred by the Sixers unsung heroes buried the Atlanta Hawks, narrowing the gap between the fifth and sixth seed to a mere 2.5 games.  Seven Philadelphia 76ers were in double figures Wednesday night, the 20th such time six or more players have scored 10 or more points.  The 7-6 walked off the court to a roaring standing ovation from the hometown faithful and clipped the Hawks 105-100.

The box score is the epitome of Doug Collins basketball.  All five starters in double figures.  Only six turnovers. 10-of-18 from behind the arc and 48 percent from the field.  But more notably it was Thaddeus Young’s overwhelming energy (7-for-12 for 16 points and six rebounds) that ignited the spark which set off the fourth quarter fireworks at Wells Fargo.

The Sixers (37-34) were weirdly in dire need of some defense after nearly three quarters of watching the Hawks play their one-on-one isolation games.  Thad Young was an animal in the fourth quarter, pressuring the paint which forced the Hawks big men to throw up uncomfortable-looking shots.  His block on ’superstar’ Joe Johnson with 5:28 left was one of the more memorable moments of the Sixers season.  This comes from a player whose only true weakness this season has been post defense.

The crucial 14-0 run that changed the whole enchilada began at the end third quarter, on an untested top of the key Lou Williams three pointer from Jimmer-esque range. Williams should be commended for leading Philadelphia in scoring (17) and repeatedly getting to the line when needed (5-of-7). The Philly offensive ambush wasn’t over until the nine minute mark in the fourth when Al Horford scored two his eight points.

This run was carried by the Sixers bench, even on a night where most of the starters were playing well offensively. Lou hit three free throws to begin the quarter, Spencer Hawes nailed a baseline jumper, Andres Nocioni banked home a layup and Thaddeus Young’s soft touch had the 76ers leading 85-80.

Once anything goes wrong for the Hawks, teams sense blood and go in for the kill. And Atlanta curls up like a nerdy school boy getting punched for the first time. After back-to-back excruciating defeats, the Hawks are freefalling from the fifth seed having lost 14-of-21. Even Josh Smith’s 33 points and 12 rebounds were silenced when it mattered down the stretch. That’s one of his best games since December.

By the fourth it was easy to tell that the Sixers had just received three days of rest. Atlanta is a team who is ranked 27th in pace yet they decided to turn up the tempo in the first half, going for 59 points. That’s kind of an odd strategy considering Atlanta’s advantage in the post and the fact that they were playing back-to-back after getting hosed by Chicago. It was just going to be too hard for them to play at the kind of rapid shootout pace especially in Philadelphia. A couple of late three’s towards the end made this game seem closer than what it really was.

We’ve been beaten and brainwashed by nearly every columnist this season that the NBA is a league for star players and the teams that have the most are the only franchises that matter. That’s why I find it extremely ironic that teams like these Sixers, like the Nuggets, like the Spurs, like the Grizzlies are coming on the strongest towards the end of the year, a trend that more often than not leads to inevitable postseason success. In a way these teams should have a chip on their shoulder and I think coaches, in particularly Doug Collins, are embracing this role as an underdog.  

I harped in the recent podcast that I want to see Jrue Holiday score 15 points a game. Now I’m starting to change my mind a little bit. Yes, his 12 point tonight didn’t have a huge impact on the game. The way he controls the tempo and limits turnovers—only two against ATL—is something special for a 20-year-old. Defensively though Kirk Hinrich was having his way with Jrue, spacing himself for four pretty much wide open three’s.

Speaking of triples, how badly did the Sixers rip off the Bucks in the Jodie Meeks trade? Philly gives up Primoz Brezec (now in Russia) and Royal Ivey (averaging 1.7 per game in OKC) for a guy who went 5-of-6 from downtown including the dagger with 3:15 left to put us on top 99-88. Meeks is more essential to this Sixers team than most people realize. Outside of Meeks, three point shooting can be erratic for Doug Collins. Jodie logged a team high 37 minutes (I told you Doug values him high) and is averaging 14.5 point a game in March.

This last paragraph is what you should find most striking about this team: I’m pretty much done with the article and I’ve yet to mention Andre Iguodala or Elton Brand. Both had resourceful evenings too. Brand scored 13 and grabbed 11 boards while Iguodala poured in 16 points, five boards and four assists. The luxury of having such a youthful roster full of quick scorers allows these Sixer veterans to focus on other aspects of basketball. AI9 was able to limit Joe Johnson to only 13 points but Collins needs to be careful. Andre looked awfully gimpy out there.

Philadunkia Notes:

  • Tony Battie (8 minutes, 4 points, 2 boards) was the first player off the bench tonight, a sign of things to come.
  • Evan Turner saw only four minutes of game action tonight. Not sure whether this is a sign of things to come or that Meeks was too hot to take out.
  • The Sixers had one free throw attempt at halftime but finished with 18
  • Spencer Hawes (10 points) has scored in double figures four times in March, the most he’s posted in a month since December.
  • At 4:21 of the 4th Dre drove to the tin and got a nice bucket, but he came up limping badly and our heart stopped for just a second.  It looks like that knee is really hurting.

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