Sixers Unable To Contain Cousins, Still Beat Sacramento 122-119
John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports
No Embiid, No Problem... Sort Of.
DeMarcus Cousins flat out went off tonight, but your Seventy-Sixers still managed to pull out the win over a Kings team that still posed a major matchup problem without Rudy Gay or Omri Casspi. With the win, they finished the month of January with more wins in a month than they've had since Andre Iguodala was the player wearing #9 for the Sixers. They also scored forty-two points in the third quarter -the most they have since MCW was running the point in Philadelphia. It was a solid win that came as a result of the strong play of the same players you'd expect it from at this point.
Entirely because of the point guard play of TJ McConnell, the Sixers started off this game atrocious offensively. His first play was a horrible pass down low to Ersan that was stolen by Sacramento. On his second possession, he dribbled around his teammates and bricked an ill-advised jumper. The Sixers didn't score until they got out on the fastbreak, and what does TJ do on that play? He makes a pass so awful that it almost sends Ersan out of bounds but "The Professional" yet again bailed his team out by hitting the three anyway.
The Sixers' next two points came as a result of a just ridiculous play by Robert Covington. After deflecting the ball on the perimeter, he hustled to get in position to grab it out of the air then make a literally perfect cross-court pass to hit Ersan in stride for the layup attempt as he was falling out if bounds! It's exactly what we've come to expect from RoCo at this point but that doesn't make it any less amazing.
On the next play, TJ yet again overdribbled then made an atrocious pass back to Dario on the perimeter that Dario had to save from going out of bounds. If not for Okafor going to work and making his usual impressive moves to score down low, the Sixers wouldn't have scored more than five points in the first with TJ on the court. That's not even mentioning the fact that the vast majority of points the Kings scored with him on the court was because he flat out didn't bother to guard the opposing point guard -as usual.
Then Sergio came in and yet again got the offense completely in rhythm like the actual point guard he is. However, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how huge Saric was in the first. First Saric hits a nice little mid-range jumper, then has a very nice dribble-drive left to finish with the layup, followed by a similar one to the right. He also had a nice quick flip shot after rebounding a missed three, similar to one Nerlens would have in the same quarter.
On the Sixers' first play of the second quarter, Nik Stauskas made a perfect pass to find Nerlens Noel for the dunk. However, TJ would continue his atrocious play on both ends and dug his team even deeper into a hole. Luckily, Jah, Ersan, and even Nik Stauskas -who drilled a big three off of a bad pass from TJ- stepped up and scored a bit.
However, it was Sergio coming into the game and yet again getting the offense completely in rhythm that got the Sixers back into this game. The whole offense was running in much better rhythm and would score more points in the short time Sergio was in than during the much longer time that TJ was. We all know that's par for the course though, as the more times TJ touches the ball, the less chance the Sixers have of winning a game.
The Sixers had not only no answer for Cousins but also for Willie Caulie-Stein, who was by far the biggest reason the Kings still killed the Sixers' defense when Cousins wasn't on the floor. Nerlens couldn't handle either -because he isn't a Center-, and nobody could stop Cousins. If Brett Brown doesn't start Jah, the Sixers lose this game. Period.
Robert Covington was awful offensively to start this game. Not only was he ice cold -partially because he was playing with TJ- but he was also completely hesitant. There was one play where he stole the ball and got out into transition then decided to turn around to the left and defer to TJ -and traveled. He did this because Cousins and a Kings guard were back on defense in the right side of the paint. The problem with his decision is he's the kind of player who can easily split those two defenders and either score or draw the foul -or both. When Covington is in a mindset to take over a game, there are very few obstacles he can't get past in order to score -as we've all seen time and time again.
However, Covington was active defensively -while often having to guard two of the quickest point guards in the league-, and did all of the little things we've come to expect from him. He had a difficult matchup guarding a guy in Garrett Temple who is basically a point guard with average speed but whose smaller stature poses a major problem for larger defenders. When Covington finally did splash a three off a bad pass from TJ, the crowd cheered louder than they had all night to that point. In fact, nobody got louder cheers when he scored tonight than Covington. It was great to see the people who have been flocking to The Center this season finally embracing a guy who's been one of the team's best and most important players since his first year in Philadelphia.
What really got Covington going was two plays down low. First Dario Saric found him on an unbelievable pass from the perimeter that went through two defenders and hit him perfectly on the cut to the hoop. The second was when he made a strong drive to the hoop, splitting three defenders to the finish the difficult layup for the and-one. After those plays, Covington was clearly playing with much more confidence offensively and proceeded to score twelve points in the third quarter alone -two off of just ridiculous feeds from Saric. He tried to repay the favor to Saric later with a great pass over the defense to find him down low but Cousins was standing in the way so Dario had to pass it instead. He also threw a perfect full-court inbounds pass to hit Gerald Henderson in stride for an easy dunk with seconds left in the third.
Speaking of Saric, he picked up right where he left off in the third but it was Nik Stauskas and Okafor who really kept the Sixers scoring to start the third. Stauskas hit multiple threes and Okafor went to work a bit to end up with fifteen by the time he took a well-deserved seat on the bench. Okafor had a crazy nice stepback jumper from just inside the arc where he held the ball out in his ridiculously huge hands then took it away from his defender then stepped back and nailed the wet jumper in his face. Okafor had just a really solid game after starting off a little out of rhythm and having to adjust to his defensive matchup.
Nerlens Noel was also big, playing a lot stronger down low in the third, scoring and drawing fouls, and even hitting a midrange jumper to give the Sixers their first lead. He was active on both ends of the floor and gave the Sixers most of what we've come to expect from him.
However, tonight's game was another coming out party for Dario Saric. He looked like the forward tht he is offensively, with multiple strong dribble-drives into the paint and some nice moves. Where Saric really impressed though was with his passing. He had some just ridiculous passes that were perfectly on point, including one behind his back like what Arvydas Sabonis used to do back in the day. His going off -and Covington's scoring in all kinds of ways- was the biggest reason the Sixers stayed in this game while TJ played like ass on both ends as usual. Saric was really the only constant tonight other than Okafor.
As you'd expect at this point, Gerald Henderson and Ersan also had some very timely offense.
Ersan didn't have quite the game he had last night but he had some very nice, timely plays. One of those was off of a dumb shot TJ bricked, where he caught the rebound then smoothly hit the bank shot as he was fading back like we've seen him do many times. The other was while on the receiving end of the amazing pass Covington threw while falling out of bounds. He also had multiple huge steals in addition to the little things he did throughout the game. He also got maybe the biggest rebound of the game, getting fouled with less than thirty seconds to go and his team up five.
Nik Stauskas had his second straight strong game offensively, hitting four threes and scoring in multiple different ways to finish with sixteen points. He also had some nice hustle plays defensively in addition to the excellent job he always does as a facilitator.
However, it was Henderson who was huge for his team down the stretch. He hit multiple timely fadeaway jumpers -one over a defender- and was on the receiving end of Covington's perfect full court inbounds pass with seconds left in the third that he caught in stride and finished with a dunk. He also sank six huge free throws at the end of the game after the Kings repeatedly got within three points or less. His passing wasn't as on-target as usual but Henderson had yet another solid game.
Probably the biggest thing that happened in this game was Cousins fouling out with around a minute left to play. He was unstoppable from literally anywhere on the court tonight, was drawing foul after foul -including five on Nerlens- and in all honesty probably would've won the game for his team had he stayed in. Not only him but also Willie Caulie-Stein were absolutely killing the Sixers' defense all game, and Kosta Koufos even had some nice baskets early. The Sixers caught a huge break with him fouling out. Even still, the Kings could've sent the game to overtime had Afflalo not bricked a wide open corner three at the buzzer.
TJ yet again almost cost his team the game was atrocious play on both ends but Robert Covington and Dario Saric especially just wouldn't let their team lose tonight. Saric was looking more and more like the player he's been in international and Euroleague play, and this isn't even half of what he can do offensively. If you think the kid isn't a star, you're clueless.
Strong performances from Jah, Ersan, Henderson, and Nik Stauskas helped their team withstand the barrage from Cousins and the rest of the Kings -which happened mostly due to zero defense at the point guard position- and the Sixers made the plays at the end to seal the victory.
What's crazy is really only Saric -and to an extent Jah- showed a good amount of what he can do offensively. The rest of the aforementioned players just found ways to score, whether on the perimeter or in the paint. This team still hasn't consistently played at its highest level, so don't be surprised when they rack up even more wins if they do.