It was 9:18 in the fourth quarter and Sacramento was in the midst of a 33-13 run when the Wells Fargo Center crowd started booing.
I don’t know if they were booing the ref, the Sixers, or just booing to boo, but you felt that air of inevitability inside the building.
They’re going to find a way to lose this game.
They started booing again when it was 96-90 and Dario Saric threw the ball out of play while looking for Ben Simmons in the low post.
And they booed for a third time when Robert Covington heaved up a 25-foot airball coming out of a timeout, down 98-92.
It’s seven losses in eight games for the Sixers, who blew a 16 point third quarter lead last night. Playing a back-to-back without the services of Joel Embiid, you thought they might be able to get the job done against a subpar Kings team on home court.
Instead, they didn’t shoot the ball that well, lost JJ Redick to injury in the second half, and looked like a team lacking identity without Embiid on the floor.
They’re now 1-6 when he doesn’t play, vs. 13-10 when he’s healthy. Scoring is down to 103.9 points per game without him, vs. 110.1 on a normal day. Defensively, he’s good enough for a 4 point swing, with a 108.3 PPG allowed when he’s out there vs. 112.4 when he isn’t.
None of that should come as a surprise. Without Embiid and Markelle Fultz, the Sixers are missing 66% of what we’ve determined is their “young core.” And when the remaining member of that triad is a rookie who can’t and/or won’t shoot the ball, you simply cannot expect a crop of complementary players to consistently fill the void.
1) Shoot the J, part 2
This might as well be a regular entry for Ben Simmons, who came out firing last night, nailing two 13-foot jumpers within the game’s first four minutes.
Great, awesome, that’s the confidence we want to see, right?
Then… I don’t know. I don’t know what happened. He stopped taking those shots and he only tried four more field goals in the remaining 44 minutes. That’s one FG per 11 minutes after the opening pair of jump shots.
Here’s what Simmons said post game about laying off the trigger:
“Yeah, they changed it up a little bit. I was trying to get more people involved and just show different things on the court.”
And Brett Brown:
“I don’t know. You know, we tried to post him a lot. We tried to run him in some deep corner pick and rolls with some bigs and some smalls. His most obvious way to impact a game is pushing the pace. I don’t know. It’s a fair question. I like how he came out. He looked aggressive. I love him pulling up and taking those shots. He’s going to need to do that. But in relation to the volume of shots after that period of time you’re speaking of, I’m not quite sure. I think he was aggressive, I mean, I thought he wanted the ball and pushed the pace, but in relation to that producing shots, I hear you.”
Six field goal attempts tied a season-low for Simmons, who did shoot 5-6 on the evening, hitting all three of his shots outside the paint and 2 of 3 inside:
There’s a conspiracy theory going around that Simmons is afraid to shoot foul shots and that’s why he’s avoiding contact at the rim. He shot five last night and hit three of them. I’m not a tinfoil-hat type of guy, but I do think he’s been less assertive in that area recently. I don’t know if that has to do with free-throws specifically, or the mysterious hesitation to shoot in general.
Whatever it is, it’s concerning.
2) Don’t shoot the J
We knew that Robert Covington was a streaky shooter long before he signed his big-money contract extension.
That said, I think he trends further to the extremes when hot or cold, either shooting at a ridiculous clip when “on” or going ice cold when he’s “off.” And when I say ice cold, I’m talking levels frigidity that would make the Game of Thrones zombie king blush.
Covington finished 5-19 last night and just 2-13 from three-point range, with one of those triples coming towards the very end of the game.
Here’s his December log:
Covington is shooting 37.4% overall in December, down from 45.3% in October. He’s 35.5% from three-point range, down from a ridiculous 46.7% in that same time frame.
And both of those numbers occur with him actually taking more shots in recent games. His field goal attempts are up from 10.7 to 14.1 in the last two months, with 9.7 3PA per game as part of that.
3) Everybody else
I thought it might be another forgettable performance when Amir Johnson picked up two quick fouls in the first quarter. He finished with 7 points and 9 rebounds in 18 minutes. Richaun Holmes added 4 and 6 in 26 minutes, and Trevor Booker had 6 and 6 in 16 minutes.
Johnson is out there for his defense; we know that. Holmes and Booker provided some energy off the bench, but you can tell the team is just out of whack when Embiid isn’t around.
I’m not sure if it was shown on the broadcast, but there was one defensive mix-up where Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot wasn’t happy with Booker’s lack of help. They tried to “sort it out” during the ensuing and-1 foul shot. Later, Saric and Redick looked frustrated with each other when an errant pass resulted in a turnover. You’re seeing more demonstrative body language out there, which wasn’t the case in October and November.
And without Redick out there for most of the second half, Jerryd Bayless stepped up and took some outside shots, knocking down 4 of 8 three pointers to contribute 15 points off the bench.
When you think about the absence of Redick and Embiid, the form of Covington, and the lack of willingness from Simmons, who exactly is left to shoot the ball? Saric was 3-10 last night. T.J. McConnell isn’t a shooter. Fultz is injured. Justin Anderson is injured. TLC isn’t the guy. Furkan Korkmaz is out indefinitely. I think we’re sitting here waiting for contributions from roster spots 6 through 10 that just aren’t going to be there.
In the words of Charlie Manuel, “what it is, is what it is.”
4) Back to back
The Sixers are now 0-4 in back to backs, which is, unfortunately, a combo stat to evaluate how they play while tired and without Embiid.
The field goal percentage and field goal attempts are down on zero days rest:
Again, no surprises there.
The success of this team is predicated on the availability of a generational superstar who is the defensive keystone and offensive conduit. That’s Occam’s Razor, the simplest explanation for why the team is struggling right now.
It seems only appropriate to close this one out with a Meek Mill diss track as the Sixers fall to 14-16, two games below .500 with Toronto coming up.