Three weeks ago, in the aftermath of Green Bay Packers backup quarterback Matt Flynn’s record-setting 480 yard, 6 touchdown performance, while armchair quarterbacks were anointing him the next big thing and the stat-inclined Internet commentariat was screaming “small sample size!” at the top of their lungs, Matt Verhei of Football Outsiders made a really interesting point: Matt Flynn might not go on to be a great NFL quarterback, but if he doesn’t, it would be a serious surprise.
The nub was this: performances that great rarely, if ever, come from players that aren’t great themselves. According to FO’s math, Flynn’s performance was the 15th best by a quarterback in a single game since 1993. And occupying 10 of the 14 slots ahead of him are games by future Hall of Famers Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and Ben Roethlisberger. The worst player on the list, Scott Mitchell, threw for 4300 yards and 32 touchdowns in 1995.
So while even the losers get lucky sometimes, they don’t get that lucky.
Which brings us, finally, to the Sixers, who, before Wednesday night’s disappointing loss to the Knicks, ran off a stretch that, while not quite Matt Flynn vs. Detroit level dominant, was pretty close.
I’ll give the numbers the floor here. The 7-6 outscored their opponents by 144 points in their first nine games (a scoring differential of 16 ppg) which, as you might have heard, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, is the third best differential through nine games since 1985. The only two teams to start a season hotter were the ’93-94 Sonics — who finished with 63 wins, the best record in the NBA — and the ’96-97 Bulls — who were coming of a 72 win season and went on to win 69 games and their second straight title. So that’s, to say the least, company that augurs well.
If we widen the net a little, since the NBA/ABA merger streaks of this level of dominance (nine games with a differential of 144 plus) have happened at ANY point in the season a little under 200 times — most recently last season when the Bulls and the Heat, who won 62 and 58 games, both pulled it off (courtesy of Elias). So again, not bad.
And as far as just the Sixers, who have had some pretty good teams themselves (“Third most wins in NBA history!” their newest ad campaign tells us, kinda desperately), go, these first nine games tied the best stretch of nine consecutive games they’ve had at any point in any season since the merger (again, thanks Elias). The team they were tied with? The ’82-83 squad who, if you recall, won 65 and swept the Lakers in the Finals.
Look, I’m not saying the Sixers are team of destiny (I’ll probably save that for another column). What I am saying, or rather the numbers say for me, is this: as of this moment, the Sixers run with a pretty elite historical crowd. And as disappointing as the Knicks game was, a six point road loss, on the third night of a back-to-back-to-back, without Spencer hawes, to a team that’s, at worst, pretty good, doesn’t do anything to change that.