The Sixers looked fantastic in their upset victory. They shared the ball well, and held one of the best and most efficient offenses in the NBA to 39 percent from the floor and only 84 total points—the Hawks’ third-lowest point total in any game this season. On top of that, the Sixers finished on a 10-1 run to secure their eight point victory after being down by as much as 16.
“We got down 16 and found a way to hang around. We found a way to make it close at halftime,” said 76ers head coach Brett Brown. “I think it was a reflection of what the group has shown throughout the year.”
A big part of the 76ers success was the play of rookie center Nerlens Noel. For those of you who don’t remember the name, Noel was a standout defender at Kentucky in 2012-2013, but an ACL tear left questions about how soon he would be able to play in the NBA. The New Orleans Pelicans drafted Noel with the 6th overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, and almost immediately traded him to the 76ers for Jrue Holiday. Noel was supposed to make it back for Christmas last season, but that didn’t work out.
Instead, Noel began his NBA career this season. He hasn’t had the best numbers, but he has shown potential despite the team’s overall poor season.
Noel had a historic night against the Hawks. Noel finished the game with 11 points, a career-high 17 rebounds, and five steals, making him the first rookie since Shaquille O’Neal himself to post numbers like that in a game.
Since the All-Star break, Noel has averaged a double-double in points and rebounds, 2.9 blocks per game, and 2.7 steals per game. If Noel can keep these averages up for the rest of the season, he will go down in history as one of only four players ever to average more than two blocks and two steals per game over a single season.
The 76ers might be 14-49 right now, but at least Noel has shown signs of being able to lead the franchise in the future.