You wouldn't think of the Philadelphia 76ers as an especially "clutch" team; that's fairly reasonable, considering they entered Wednesday's action with a 12-25 record, third-worst in the dismal Eastern Conference, and ranking among the league's five worst teams in points scored and allowed per possession. Take a closer look at the numbers, though, and Brett Brown's team actually seems to do pretty well in close contests — according to NBA.com's stat tool, the 76ers entered Tuesday with a 9-8 record in games where the score was within five points in the final five minutes, the league's 13th-best such mark, and have outscored opponents by 18 points in 85 total "clutch" minutes. (The problem, of course, is that the Sixers rarely get that close, having been beaten by double-digits 20 times in their first 37 games.)
Philly's late-game bona fides got a boost during Wednesday night's matchup with the Charlotte Bobcats. After a back-and-forth fourth quarter that featured four lead changes and three ties, with Philly getting big buckets from Evan Turner (11 points in the frame) and Charlotte finding answers in Al Jefferson (eight points) and Ramon Sessions (seven points), a big-time pull-up jumper by Bobcats point guard Kemba Walker knotted things up at 92 with 15.4 seconds remaining. After a 76ers timeout to advance the ball, Turner inbounded to power forward Thaddeus Young, who flipped it to rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams and went to work:
With just under nine seconds remaining, Carter-Williams drove to his right, with Young flashing past the 3-point arc to set a screen on Walker. Both Walker and Josh McRoberts, who was guarding Young, stayed with MCW off the action, leaving Young free on the left wing above the arc. Pick, pop, splash, three-point lead with 3.2 seconds left. Nice and smooth.
After a Bobcats timeout to advance the ball, Walker's tying attempt from the left corner on the other end went awry, and the Sixers came away with a 95-92 win to snap their four-game losing streak. It wasn't a stellar offensive night for Young — 11 points on 4 for 11 shooting, one assist against three turnovers — but if he was going to make just one of his three tries from beyond the arc, it's hard to pick a better time than this.
And it's also, perhaps, indicative of a rediscovered confidence in his stroke that's come with the shift from former Philly head coach Doug Collins' seeming antipathy toward the 3-point shot (especially those taken by Young, whom he preferred to have work closer to the basket) and the free-flowing, pace-and-space, let-it-fly ethos the Sixers have adopted under Brown, who's had Thad (and just about everybody else in red, white and blue) casting away from deep from just about as soon as the preseason started.
Young shot a tick under 42 percent from 3-point range during his lone collegiate year at Georgia Tech. In his first three years as a Sixer, under Maurice Cheeks, Tony DiLeo and Eddie Jordan, he averaged 107 long balls a year and shot a just-south-of-league-average 34.3 percent. In three years under Collins, he went 8 for 34 from deep total; the Sixers' grinding, 3-averse offense all but extinguished the deep shot from his game. As it turns out, though, Young's range was dormant rather than dead; he's now shooting a career-best 39.1 percent from 3-point range this season, with 34 makes in 35 games putting him on pace to blow away his previous career mark for long-range makes in a season (56, back in 2008-09). And that 34th make probably felt pretty good.
Brown wants Young to let it fly, and the more he does, the more confident he is when stepping into a deep one, even with the game on the line. Combine that with the news that 2013 top pick Nerlens Noel might be closer to coming back than anyone thought, and it's a night worth celebrating for the Philly faithful. (Savor the flavor, gang.)
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