By David F. Cohen
If you’re a Sixers fan this season you have to take the small victories where you can.
Especially since the team has none.
But Saturday’s 91-83 loss to the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, which sent Philly to a record of 0-13, included a performance that is the hint of good things to come.
Rookie Nerlens Noel had his best game as a pro, scoring 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting to go along with 12 rebounds, two assists, a block, and a steal. Robert Covington scored a career-high 14 points, all of which came in the fourth quarter, and the team battled back from a 21-point deficit to make the Knicks sweat down the stretch.
“To come into [Madison Square Garden] and get down that margin and find a way to get back in it and make it competitive, I was proud of our young guys for it,” said Sixers head coach Brett Brown. “That was [Noel’s] most complete game. He played big minutes… and I thought that he was very, very good.”
The 6-11 Noel led the Sixers in scoring and rebounding in a game-high 39 minutes of action. The performance came one night after the rookie big man attempted just one shot and finished with three points and five rebounds in a 122-96 loss to Phoenix at home.
“I just stayed confident and believed in myself through those games of not performing to how I thought I could have,” he said. “[I] feel like my legs are under me now after not playing basketball for so long, and I’m really starting to feel like my timing’s a lot better.”
The Knicks built a commanding lead at the start of the second half, holding Philly to just seven points in the opening 10 minutes of the third quarter. An eight-point spurt over the final two minutes of the frame brought the Sixers’ point total in the third to a more respectable 15 points, but the damage had already been done, and the Knicks entered the fourth up 71-54.
The Sixers were able to work their way back into the game, eventually cutting the deficit to single digits after a three-pointer by newcomer Covington made it 80-71 with just over six minutes left. Moments later, Carmello Anthony responded with a three of his own to extend New York’s lead back to 12.
But the Sixers weren’t done fighting.
Over the next three and a half minutes, Philly held New York scoreless, but they weren’t able to capitalize on the other end of the floor, scoring just three points themselves during that stretch. The Sixers knocked down three triples over the final two minutes of the game, but it was too little, too late.