You’re really not expected to win a back-to-back while:
- playing on the road
- facing the best team in the Eastern Conference
- missing both your best player and backup point guard
All three of those parameters considered, the Sixers played pretty well last night. This game was a lot more competitive than I thought it would be, with a scrappy four-quarter effort despite the absences of Joel Embiid and T.J. McConnell, the former who was given a rest and the latter dealing with a shoulder bruise suffered during Wednesday night’s win.
The result of their non-availability showed on occasion, with a number of rough turnovers and a visible lack of cohesion between guys who don’t spend a ton of minutes on the floor together. There was more demonstrative gesturing and hand-wringing when passes missed teammates but found opponents or the first row of the crowd instead.
That said, the Sixers got 18 points and 10 rebounds from a hard-working Dario Saric and double figures from five other players. They hit 16 of 32 three point attempts but couldn’t match the Celtics’ 50.6 overall field goal percentage, a number boosted by an 11 for 17 fourth quarter effort for the home team. It was a 3 point game with 9:02 left to play, stretched to 13 on a 14-4 Boston run.
And that was probably the difference. The Celtics made a few more shots when it mattered, getting 36 points from all-star Kyrie Irving. Al Horford added 21 and 8 and the Celtics improved to a league-best 19-4 record.
A dip in form?
It’s too early for the “Robert Covington hasn’t been that great signing his new contract” narrative.
But we can sniff around a bit.
Cov signed that extension two weeks ago today, on November 17th. He scored 20 against the Warriors the very next day and averaged double digits in the wins against Utah, Portland, and Washington. This week, he suffered the death of a childhood friend and had to deal with that while preparing for a home game against the Cavaliers.
So there’s a lot going on. New contract, new expectations, plus a difficult development off the court.
We’ve known that Covington is a streaky shooter, and maybe he’s just hitting a dip right now. He went 9 for 36 overall this week (25%) and shot 4-24 from three-point range (16.6%). In the seven games since signing his new deal, he’s averaging 11.1 points and 7 rebounds, but only shooting 27-80 overall (33.7%) and 15-55 from behind the arc (36%).
In the three games prior to signing the new deal, he was 18-31 and 9-19 from three, shooting right around the 50% mark from distance, highlighted by that 31 point game in Los Angeles:
Covington is still shooting over 45% this season and is 42.5% from three, but we’ll see if this is just a dip it in form or if his shooting to begin the year was simply unsustainable.
After each game, it seems like the fashionable thing is to say, “(player one) sucks, let’s try (player two) instead!” Then when player two has a bad game, it becomes “(player two) sucks, let’s try (player one)!”
Part of that is typical and cyclical sports knee-jerking, but I think it comes up more in Sixer circles because we’re still waiting for somebody to really assert themselves off the bench. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot has shown some flashes. Justin Anderson is injured. Nik Stauskas was injured/benched. Markelle Fultz is out of commission. Jerryd Bayless has provided some contributions.
Last night Brett Brown gave Bayless 32 minutes while TLC got 17 off the bench despite having a better shooting night overall. It felt like that was a bit off-balance.
It’s true that there were times when Bayless was asked to handle the ball with McConnell not being available, but with Ben Simmons playing 40 minutes last night, that situation should have been infrequent. To me, Simmons/Redick/Covington/Saric/TLC felt like the better combination vs. Simmons/Redick/Covington/Saric/Bayless.
For what it’s worth, I don’t have any real issue with Bayless, it’s just that he shouldn’t be playing 32 minutes a game. That’s obviously not the case if McConnell, Fultz, or Anderson is available. I think Bayless it what he is at this point, a veteran guard who can give you some bench minutes until Fultz returns or another wing steps up and justifies more game time.
A clear path
There was a sequence in the fourth quarter when Amir Johnson was tripped from behind while headed to the basket for a dunk:
After further review, Amir Johnson's left leg was not called for a flagrant foul against his right leg. pic.twitter.com/taoWN87VsU
— Taylor C. Snow (@taylorcsnow) December 1, 2017
The officials didn’t whistle what looked like an obvious clear path foul there. The explanation given was that Johnson, by picking up his dribble, had started his shooting motion, therefore negating the clear path rule. So the Sixers didn’t get to keep possession afterward.
There you go.
And if you don’t know, now you know:
Johnson played 22 minutes and Richaun Holmes spelled him for 20 off the bench.
But whenever Embiid is out, the Jahlil Okafor argument comes up.
The Sixers have basically said that Okafor has no future here, so he’s not going to be in the game. It is what it is, whether you agree with it or not, but that never seems to stop the discussion, which then circles back to why Brett Brown should or shouldn’t be fired: