Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Night Shift Puts in Work for the Sixers

Two nights ago, the Sixers did something that is damn near impossible to do: They won a game in which they were outrebounded by an astounding 55-30 margin. And they did so with Kobe Bryant putting forth an other-worldly scoring display in the first half, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol each notching double-doubles and tearing the Sixers apart inside, and the Lakers pulling down an absurd 21 offensive rebounds.

Yet when the final buzzer sounded, it read 76ers 95, Lakers 90, improving Philadelphia to 18-7 on the season to remain as a top 3 seed in the East. How did they manage to pull out a victory when they were outrebounded so badly and the three-headed monster of Kobe, Bynum and Gasol managed to put up a combined 64 points? Because their bench completely dominated, outscoring their L.A. counterparts 49-16. Hell, Lou Williams, who out-clutched Kobe in the fourth quarter and propelled the Sixers to victory with his team-high 24 points, had 8 more himself than the entire Lakers' bench.

Of course, this is nothing new for the Sixers. The second-unit, affectionately known as the "Night Shift," has been a driving force behind Philadelphia's remarkable success so far this season. Sixth man Lou Williams leads the Sixers in scoring at 15.5 per game, and he was the man in the fourth quarter Monday night. Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner are players who would be starting on a whole hell of a lot of NBA teams, and they both are integral parts of this team's makeup. And rookie big men Nik Vucevic and Lavoy Allen have surprised everyone with their play, proving they belong and sliding seamlessly into any role coach Doug Collins asked of them, whether it be spot starter, second-unit duty or even some time on the bench.

Combined, this quintet, not to mention the steady professionalism and quality minutes of veteran Tony Battie, has given the Sixers one of, if not the, best benches in the entire NBA. As it stands, only the Mavericks and Nuggets get more points from their backups than the Sixers, and only by the slimmest of margins. And when you factor in the all-around versatility of the Night Shift, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better second unit in the league.

Thanks to the play of guys like Williams, Young, Turner and the rookie bigs, it allows the starters to focus on a true team concept. Having Lou, Thad and Evan come in to carry the offense allowed Andre to completely shut down Kobe in the second half after it looked like Bryant might go for 50 during his 24-point first half. Having Lou and Turner as backup ball handlers allows Jrue Holiday to remain fresh and focus more on his defense. And having Vucevic and Allen playing at a high level lets players like Spencer Hawes and Elton Brand either get longer breathers or get healthy as they mend from injury.

The Night Shift has been fantastic all season long, and these high-quality subs are a major reason that the Sixers are so fun to watch and quickly winning this city over. They displayed just how potent they can be on Monday night, and if you've been paying attention, they've been doing it all season long.

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