DECORUM WAS at a minimum at the Wells Fargo Center early yesterday morning, and defense was at a minimum there last night. At least on the part of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The day started with the ever-popular and raucous Wing Bowl, carried out by 94WIP. The night provided a defensive effort that was nearly invisible, carried out at times by 76ers, consistently by Minnesota. Both were fun events, as who doesn't like chicken wings and NBA basketball with little defense? Open shots were more available to the players last night than wings were to the eating contestants in the morning. The fact that there were misses explains why the teams have combined for 18 wins in 75 games.
But the Sixers again played good team basketball, as they assisted on 27 of their 37 baskets in their 103-94 win, the first time they've scored over 96 since Dec. 13. The ball moved crisply, as did players without the ball, and the result was mostly open looks for players in the right spots. And when they needed to defend, they did it very well in the fourth quarter, holding the T-wolves to 17 points on 7-for-21 shooting, while forcing nine turnovers.
"I feel like we're getting better passing," coach Brett Brown said. Twenty-seven assists on 37 made baskets is a good number. I think that our bench came in and held the fort, scoring-wise.
"The bottom line is we played defense in the second half. That's where it starts and stops to me, especially when start talking about post defense and [Nikola] Pekovic. We had 11 steals in that half. A bunch of things, blocked shots, steals, started through our defense."
Michael Carter-Williams continued his string of solid floor games, posting his fifth career triple-double, and third this season, with 17 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds. Luc Mbah a Moute led the team with 18 points, while Robert Covington and Nerlens Noel scored 14 each, and K.J. McDaniels had 11 off the bench. Noel added four steals and six blocks.
The night was bittersweet for former Sixer Thaddeus Young, who finished with 10 points and seven rebounds as his team new team fell to 8-38 in his first return as a visiting player after spending 7 years in a Sixers uniform.
"It was an amazing 7 years here," Young said. "A lot of different things I accomplished during my career here. It's a business, and you have to move on, but I miss this place.
"I gave my blood, sweat and tears, literally, to this program for 7 years. It's definitely a great feeling to be well-received, and it's definitely a great thing to have these fans behind you, because sometimes it can be brutal. But they've always stuck behind me no matter what."
Before the game, Sixers management had three of Young's jerseys framed and sitting in the visitor's locker room waiting for him. As a thank-you, Young's team gave the Sixers pretty much whatever they wanted at the offensive end as they rode a torrid first half 23-for-37 (62.2 percent) to gain their second consecutive victory.
Minnesota's Andrew Wiggins, whom many Sixers fans envisioned in the red, white and blue, was held to 15 points on 7-for-17 shooting, mostly because of the defense of fellow rookies JaKarr Sampson and K.J. McDaniels. Wiggins had averaged 19.4 points over his past 19 games.
"You just make everything difficult for him," Sampson said of guarding Wiggins. "Match his energy. He likes to post up a lot, so I just try to front him in the post. Just pretty much make everything difficult for him. That's my advantage, take my 6-9 frame and playing a guard, they don't like to see that size. The size bothers them. I can stay in front of people like Wiggins, an athletic wing, 6-7, 6-8.
"I always know what I'm going to do - a lot of pressure. Wiggins is a young player, so I want to try to speed him up and try to make him make mistakes, get up in him and use my size for my advantage."
Early in the game, Pekovic, the hulking Minnesota center, was having his way inside, bullying to 16 points in the first half. But he scored only two the rest of the way as his team inexplicably stopped looking for him down low.
"We needed to turn this into a fistfight; we needed to make this physical; we've got to block some shot; we've got to get in lanes and get some steals," Brown said, describing his halftime message. "For them to throw it around the perimeter and drop it into a very big man and expect Nerlens, giving up 50, 60 or whatever amount of pounds, it needed to be done with ball pressure. So if they are going to make a wing-to-a-post feed, it will be 5 feet further out now. Because of that, we were able to get our hands on a lot of balls and generate steals."
Which lent to a pretty good day for sports fans at Broad and Pattison.