The Sixers have lost six of seven to fall below the .500 mark for the first time since Mischief Night.
I missed the game, watched the recording this morning, and asked our Slack chat what to expect. Here’s a sampling:
“In retrospect they sucked but Chicago hit a ton of ridiculous shots.”
“Not sure how much longer anyone can wait to get a real NBA coach in here.”
“Brett is not getting axed. stop. everyone stop”
“I make Paul George a max offer this summer. Nothing to lose.”
If we’re parsing last night’s performance, I think you take it at face value. They played to the level of their competition, as has been the case this entire season. Play down to Phoenix and Los Angeles, keep pace with the Rockets and Celtics.
They fought back in the second half to make it a game, Chicago hit some crazy shots down the stretch, and without Joel Embiid, late-game possessions that would normally revolve around him had to go to others instead.
Let’s take it back to 107-107 in the fourth quarter, with the Bulls on a run and drawing level with about 2:30 to play. Here’s how it finished:
- JJ Redick turnover, Nikola Mirotic timeout (107-107)
- Mirotic hits tough one-handed turnaround, and-1 (110-107)
- Ben Simmons draws blocking foul (110-107)
- Robert Covington misses 3 (110-107)
- Kris Dunn spin move and 6-foot jumper (112-107)
- Out of timeout, Simmons finds Saric off roll to basket (112-109)
- Dunn step-back 20 footer (114-109)
- Simmons lob and layup for Saric, and-1 (114-112)
- Dunn drive, kickout to Mirotic for 3 (117-112)
- Out of time out, Saric spot-up three (117-115)
- Mirotic misses step-back 20 footer (117-115)
- Simmons drive and contested miss at the rim (the end)
The Sixers didn’t have any timeouts on the last play. Ben Simmons put it on himself to get the rim, didn’t convert, and that was the game.
Chicago hit two incredibly difficult shots in the paint, plus a gnarly, step-back 21 footer as well. Philly started that stretch with another turnover from a veteran and a three-point miss. They scored coming out of both timeouts, one play drawn up by Brett Brown and another that was simply a spot-up three.
I don’t think there’s much to analyze there. Again, those possessions are going to Embiid in the low-post if he’s in the game. When he inevitably misses more action this season, the Sixers are going to need someone to inherit that role going forward, and last night you saw Simmons and Saric take the initiative. They’ve played well enough to win without Joel, but closing out games has been an entirely different story. That’s youth and inexperience.
1) Shoot the J?
A lot of talk before this game about Ben Simmons needing to shoot more, especially coming off consecutive overtime games where he only finished with 8 and 10 field goal attempts, well down from his season average.
Brown even offered a pregame quote about that issue, claiming that we might see Simmons start to shoot more.
And while he only tried a couple of shots outside of six feet, he was much more assertive, driving to rim early and often and finishing with 19 points on 9 of 18 shooting.
He missed two ten footers and a 12-footer:
Again, everything comes from inside the paint. He didn’t make a shot outside of the restricted area.
The longest look came near the foul line as he was cutting backwards and away from the basket:
Biggest issue to me is that front leg kicking out on the shot. His legs are spread out in most of the jump-shots we’ve seen him take this year. No problem with that look though, he’s gotta keep shooting those if he’s going to add to his game.
2) Backup bigs
No Embiid, no Trevor Booker, so Amir Johnson started.
He dribbled it off his foot, or a defender’s foot, after pump-faking from the three-point line in the first quarter. Ironically, then, the only shot he hit all game was a three-ball taken a short time later.
Richaun Holmes the started second half with Saric at the four.
How many games now where Amir starts the first half, then doesn’t appear at all in the second? He finished with 4, 2, and 2 in 14 minutes. Holmes went for 14 and 7 in 23 minutes.
In the fourth, it was a lot of Dario as a stretch-5, which we’ve seen previously this season. He led the Sixers with 27 points on 10-19 shooting and went 3 for 6 from beyond. Saric continues to improve as the season goes on:
Minutes up, points up, attempts up, shooting percentage up. The only thing that’s declined is his three-point shooting, and it hasn’t fallen off by much.
Consider the fact that he was coming off the pine in October, and it’s clear that he’s so much better when starting games instead of coming in cold.
3) The bench
On the surface, the contribution was there. Holmes had his 14. T.J. McConnell added 11, Jerryd Bayless had 10 and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot 8. That grouping had 16 rebounds and 12 assists.
Issue for me is that Bayless and TLC didn’t attempt a two-point field goal in this game. All 14 of their shots were from three-point range, and they missed 9 of them.
It was 84-82 and the Sixers had just regained the lead when the next two shots were TLC misses. Bayless, after converting a beautiful four-point play in the fourth quarter, then missed his next two shots, one of which was taken on a 4v2 transition opportunity. Bayless and TLC were 2 for 6 in the second half overall.
And that’s the problem, both of those guys, plus Justin Anderson, are essentially the same – spot up shooters reliant on the three-ball. They play some good defense at times, but this team really needs a bench wing who can put the ball on the floor and drive. Somebody like Markelle Fultz…
Why did Jerryd Bayless shoot more 3s than Redick and Covington combined?
— Adam Lefkoe (@AdamLefkoe) December 19, 2017
4) Going streaking
Chicago, averaging 98.8 points per game, scored 117 last night. They’re on a 6-0 winning streak since the return of Nikola Mirotic, averaging 111 per game. Last night they shot 13-28 from three-point range (46.4%).
A lot of us had them as a bottom feeder this year, especially as the season started with one guy punching another guy in the face.
But unlike the Geno Smith and IK Enemkpali scrap, this pugilism actually worked out in the end, with Chicago coming out firing in December. They were 3-20 when Mirotic came back and they’re now 9-20.
They might be a pain in the ass from here on out. The Knicks are better than expected. Detroit and Indiana, too. I think the East is a little tougher than predicted so far, but I had the Sixers at 41-41 at the start of the season and I still think they’re on that .500 trajectory.