That's what power forward Elton Brand said after tonight's 103-95 overtime win over the Chicago Bulls: He said, "We had to win this game. It was imperative." While the word "imperative" has a few meanings (I know, I looked it up), the meaning which Brand most likely meant was "necessary." Hard to argue with him. The 76ers were 7-10, on a four-game losing streak, and staring at games against the Los Angeles Lakers and Detroit Pistons. Gulp.
This win won't quiet the critics. It won't end the speculation. It is merely the thinnest of buffers as this team continues to search for its identity. But it was a solid victory.
But, first, the accompanying photo. That is swingman Andre Iguodala working on his jumpshot prior to last night's game. Prophetic of me to take a photo of Iguodala on a night when he finished with 25 points, nine rebounds, and five assists? Perhaps. Maybe I take a photo of Iguodala prior to each game? Just in case?
Sticking on the topic of Iguodala. He has many detractors. Plenty of whom post here. Some others send e-mails. They exist. Perhaps a few will even comment on this blog post -- further proof of their existence. But I feel the need to state again (this, of course, being my personal opinion): Iguodala is the most important player on the court for the Sixers. We hear all the time that the Sixers should trade for a legitimate shooting guard. I don't dispute that that might be the case. I don't dispute that Iguodala is a much better small forward than shooting guard. What I dispute are the claims that he is expendable. (In so far as basketball players are "expendable", Iguodala is not.)
After the game, Iguodala said it might have been the game he felt most comfortable. "Tonight I had the confidence, when I should take a shot, when not to take a shot." He finished the game 11 for 19. At one point, after making a particularly nice shot, I would even say Iguodala regained a touch of swagger. First time I've seen that this season.
Part of Iguodala's strong performance could have been because he spent the majority of his minutes at the small forward. Which leads us to topic No. 2 of this post: Samuel Dalembert.
Dalembert played the first six minutes of each half. And nothing more. He didn't score. Heck, he didn't even take a shot. Before the game, Sixers head coach Maurice Cheeks said, "No, I'm not changing the lineup." He might as well have. A starting lineup including Dalembert -- right now -- exists in name only. The team on the court last night was Andre Miller, Willie Green, Iguodala, Thad Young, and Brand (with Marreese Speights getting Thad's minutes at the end of the game).
Is Dalembert hurt? No. After the game, Cheeks said, "It wasn't anything Sam wasn't doing, I just liked Marreese Speights's game." Which leads us to topic No. 3 of this post: Marreese Speights.
What's not to like about this kid? He played 26 minutes. Scored 11 points. Shot 5 for 9 from the floor. Grabbed eight rebounds. Tipped a number of other balls, keeping them alive. Unlike previous games, when Cheeks had Speights on the bench even after Speights was crucial in keeping the Sixers in the game (okay, okay, I'm so obviously talking about the Orlando Magic game), Speights was on the floor for this one. Which leads us to topic No. 3 of this post, someone who wasn't on the floor: Lou Williams.
Turns out that Williams suffered an abdominal strain in the fourth quarter. He is listed as day-to-day (aren't we all?). But before that, Williams struggled -- as he has done for much of the season. He was 1 for 5 with three turnovers. What is going on with Lou? Before the game he said the Sixers struggles boiled down to one concept: Making Shots. I put that in capitals because Lou said it with such urgency. I don't agree with that (The Sixers were 18.2 percent from the 3-point line tonight and 39.6 percent from the field. Hardly winning numbers. And yet ... victory!). But I do believe, for Lou, Making Shots is -- to steal Brand's word -- imperative. He is a scorer. He isn't a point guard. He isn't a rebounder. He scores the basketball. He needs to be consistent with his jumper to open the slash to the hoop. One affects the other. Which leads us to topic No. 4 of this post: Consistency.
Before and after tonight's game, Cheeks said that's all he wants from his team. He wants consistency. Each question came back to the word "consistency."
It's a tough word to swallow because it isn't concrete. If you're a Sixers fan, you're looking for answers. You want someone to say, "This is what needs to happen: Start so-and-so and get him the basketball," or "Trade for this guy and problem solved." But this word, consistency? It's abstract. What does it mean?
The only point I'll make about that word is that, tonight, it seemed Cheeks allowed his players to find a level of consistency. Too often in this season, it has felt as if no rotation was given a chance to really play together. Tonight, that end unit -- because they were the guys playing the best, regardless of stats or salary -- found something resembling consistency.
Of course, all of this is just a small step forward juxtaposed with a season filled, so far, with struggles. It was a much-needed victory. But it will go the way of the seven previous if Wednesday night against the Lakers looks even remotely like Friday night's loss at the Boston Celtics.
p.s. Thaddeus Young. Four points on 1 for 9 shooting. This is only a post script because it worries me little. He will have games like this.