COMMENTARY | Hamstring injuries can be fickle for any athlete in any sport at any level. So when Thad Young returned to the Philadelphia 76ers lineup Sunday night against the New York Knicks after missing six games over three weeks, it would have come as no surprise if he played limited minutes, and in spurts.
Instead, Young played more than 35 minutes in the loss. He scored 11 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and swiped four steals. At one point he played almost an entire quarter without rest. Not exactly what fans, or even he expected.
"Yeah, it did really," he told reporters after the game when asked if he was surprised he played as long as he did. "I felt pretty good. … The only part I was kind of hesitant of was when I hit the floor. You can pull something trying to get back up."
The Sixers need Young to stay up, and in the lineup if they are going to have any chance to make one last run for the playoffs. Without Young's career-high 35.5 minutes per game, the Sixers lost five of six contests as he nursed his hamstring back to health. He might not light up the stat sheet every night, but Young is averaging a team-high 7.4 rebounds and 1.9 blocks and is second on the team in scoring with 14.9 points per game.
His contributions are so significant that when he went down with his injury, head coach Doug Collins said Young "is our most important player."
On Tuesday against the Orlando Magic, Young will test his hamstring again and try to help his team put together something it has lacked during a season-worst five-game losing streak: a complete effort. Against the Knicks, Philly had spurts of success, but were outscored 23-2 over a period of just under 10 minutes. The Knicks also scored the first eight points of the second half to extend their lead to 20. It's that kind of inconsistency that has hurt the Sixers all season, regardless of which lineup is on the floor.
"We've struggled all season long putting together 48 minutes," Collins told reporters Monday morning. "We'll stretch together some really good pieces of the game or whatever, but we have not been able to play a complete game."
Philadelphia (22-32) now sits four games behind the Milwaukee Bucks for the "coveted" eighth and final playoff spot. They have a good shot for a complete game at home tonight against Orlando (15-41). The Magic have lost 28 of their last 31 games and are mired in a 10-game road losing streak, the franchise's worst since 2006. In a 78-61 victory on February 4, the Sixers held the Magic to season lows in points and field-goal percentage (33.8).
Orlando is one of just two teams (Washington) with losing records the Sixers will face over the stretch of their next seven games, which makes tonight's winnable matchup even more important. Young having another solid all-around game is critical for the team to put together the complete game it needs for that to happen, and most likely he'll have to log significant minutes once again.
"It's just about going out there and just getting myself back in sync with the game," Young said about his return. "… I felt pretty good when I caught my second wind."
The Sixers can only hope their "most important player" catches his second wind quickly tonight and that the rest of his teammates get in sync with him.
If they do, it should result in the complete game Collins is looking for, and who knows, could be the start of a new, more desirable streak.
Jon Buzby is an award-winning sportswriter from Delaware and has followed the Sixers since 1976. He contributes regularly to multiple newspapers, magazines and websites. Follow him @JonBuzby on Twitter.