You could see this loss coming all the way from Saturday night, when Lou Williams went down with his strained right hamstring. After that, the Sixers made the move to bring in guard Antonio Daniels on a 10-day contract. And then this morning we hear that Elton Brand hasn't just been playing with a sore left hand, he's been playing with a fractured left hand (at least, a hand with a small fracture in it), joining Andre Iguodala on the wounded list. Given the Boston Celtics' savvy, and given the game was being played at TD Garden, it just seemed like the Sixers were entering this game a little too off balance for the focus needed to beat the Celtics on their home floor.
You could see all of those elements collide at the start of the third quarter: 0 for 9 with 3 turnovers in 5 minutes, 41 seconds of scoreless basket. Although the Sixers would cut the lead to 4 before it blew up again, this was pretty much the game. The Sixers went from down 54-50 at halftime to down 63-50.
More than just this singular loss, the importance of tonight's game rested on the shoulders of rookie Evan Turner. Lou is out for the remainder of the regular season -- at least. He's hopeful he'll be back for the playoffs, but there's no guarantee he'll be ready in time. Without Lou's backup minutes, and without his ability to score, the Sixers are severely compromised. Perhaps the most important piece of the team's attack was the play of Lou and Thaddeus Young off the bench. Although Daniels is a solid insurance policy against foul trouble, his play is not going to fill the gap left by Lou. Only Turner can do that. It's just been so long since we've seen him play with the necessary offensive aggression.
Finally, we saw it again. Against the Celtics, Turner scored a game-high 21 points on 9 for 14 shooting from the floor. You could say the difference between Turner tonight and Turner the previous three weeks was "he had the ball in his hands," but it was more than that. From the moment he checked into the game, he seemed on a mission to attack offensively. It was almost as if he couldn't wait for the pass to get to him, he was already cutting a path to the rim. Maybe all Turner needed was a definite role: please score. Sixers coach Doug Collins has said multiple times this season that he's told Turner to rebound and play defense and find his offense within the sets. And for the previous month, we've basically seen just that: a guy whose minutes were almost always empty, who just seemed to pass the ball into the post and then cut through to the weak side.
Maybe the silver lining of Lou's injury won't be that Lou himself gets a chance to rest his legs, but that Turner can find himself before the playoffs. There were a number of plays tonight where, if the same play had happened in a previous game, Turner would almost certainly have been blocked. There was one particular second-half drive when Turner's focus as he drove the right lane against Kevin Garnett was so intense there was really no doubt that he'd finish the drive. He hung up just a little bit longer, lofted his shot just a little higher, and scored over Garnett.
(ET's take on his game tonight: "I just wanted to come in and be aggressive,” Turner said. “I knew we were short bodies so I didn’t have to worry about coming out or anything like that. So I knew to attack … I was able to play with the ball, so I was able to get a rhythm.")
The appeal of playing Andres Nocioni is, on one level, understandable. He's older, he can shoot the three, and he doesn't need to possess the ball for an extended time in order to score. On the other hand, he's not your No. 2 draft pick, he's not a very good defender, and there really is no future upside.
Evan Turner has to play -- and, more importantly, he has to play like he did tonight -- if the Sixers are going to patch together a rotation and a game plan without Lou Williams.
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