A little bit of botched injury news to go along with a blown 22-point lead.
Last night was an early Christmas gift for Sixer fans.
There were four of us sitting at a table in the media room during halftime and one writer looked up and said, “they’ll probably lose by eight.” He was right, just off by three points. You just got the sense that a big letdown was coming, and it did.
Why, then? Why the letdown?
I saw a combination of turnovers, some missed shots, and unnecessary fouling. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan went 6-9 in the third quarter and Delon Wright was 4-4. The Sixers regressed to the norm after shooting 58% in the first half.
Brett Brown’s explanation:
“They jumped us, they just crawled into us. It’s not like they double-teamed Ben or used blitz pick and rolls. They got physical, and you know that’s what the NBA does and I burned two timeouts to try and get us stronger. There’s no magic bean, there’s no magic play. It’s body-body-ball stuff, if they come up and press you’re going to have to back them off and create space and possibly expose fouls, like Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan do. But when you look at it, they went a little smaller, they switched out on everything, they got up and in and they went on an offensive tear and made a bunch of threes. I don’t know the exact number, it felt like 10-of-11. It just felt like that, and I think that type of mentality to me sort of set the tone for the period.”
Toronto was 5-8 from three in the third period.
A word on the coach:
I’m not the type to call for someone to be fired in December. David Fizdale and Earl Watson were in toxic player-related situations, which is why they were removed, be it their fault or not. Jim Curtin always said, “players win games, coaches lose games, and referees ruin games,” and I think that describes Philadelphia appropriately. It’s easy, knee-jerk reaction to rip the coach when you blow huge second-half leads, but I’ve said before that Brett Brown doesn’t have Joel Embiid, he doesn’t have Markelle Fultz, and the remaining players are a 21-year-old rookie who can’t shoot and a bunch of role players.
We’re compiling a body of work that right now includes four throwaway years that I don’t even count as part of Brown’s tenure here. Are you judging him on what he did with Hollis Thompson and Jerami Grant? As far as I’m concerned, this is year number one, with injury and communication concerns that are out of his control and a roster with little depth. I need 40 games of healthy Markelle Fultz before I can even begin to make a legitimate judgment here. If Brown does get fired, it would either be at the end of the year or in the midst of a similar start next year.
So I think we compile positives and negatives from a larger body of work and then evaluate it at the end of the season. What, you didn’t expect them to win a playoff series, did you? Let’s not pull a 2016 Eagles here and think the squad is off to the Super Bowl after a surprise 3-0 start. I think most of us pegged them for .500 or right around that mark. They were going into the season with a core of young stars that had played 31 combined NBA games. They got off to a strong start and we stupidly adjusted our expectations based on a miniscule sample size.
Now, don’t get me wrong, you can absolutely rip Brett Brown for letting his team waste 10 seconds before fouling at the end of last night’s game. What exactly was Jerryd Bayless doing there? Stuff like that from a veteran is inexcusable, and we write it down, log it, and come back to that when evaluating the coach and that player somewhere down the road.
Also inexcusable were some of the bogus foul calls Toronto received at the end of the game. The Raptors went 32-35 from the free throw line while the Sixers went 10-14.
This one was particularly egregious:
Where's the foul? pic.twitter.com/gH7ldSrmfZ
— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) December 22, 2017
I guess they thought Simmons fouled the guy with his left forearm after the shot.
Some guy was yelling at media row after the game:
“Somebody write up how the Sixers are getting hosed! Every single game. Every call goes against them. Somebody’s gotta write it up!”
Anyway, I need to see what Brown does with a healthy Simmons/Embiid/Fultz for a meaningful chunk of games before I’m ready to bring in some Colangelo retread hire. I know “measured” isn’t how we do our takes in Philly, but let’s please just give it a try.
1) Simmons’ Shooting
20 points on 9-14 shooting with a 2-3 clip on shots of 10-feet or more.
He was much more aggressive last night getting to the rim and looking to “score the basketball.”
and this one:
Smooth, right? That second shot, he’s stopping and popping and working off a screen. If he adds that to his game on a consistent basis, the Sixers’ pick and roll becomes so much more dangerous. The high/low game with Embiid is respected and he can pull defenders further from the rim in addition to how he attracts crowds collapsing at the net.
Ben looked good scoring but had some frustrating rookie moments highlighted by a 4 to 7 assist to turnover ration.
There was one point where the crowd went crazy on a phenomenal defensive effort against Serge Ibaka, only for him to turn the ball over on the ensuing possession and commit a foul on the other end. Best and worst of Ben right there.
2) Third quarter
The Sixers actually started strong in the third and extended their lead to 76-54 by the 9:09 mark.
People say, “well, how can you blow a 22 point lead in the third quarter! That’s bad coaching!”
Have you ever watched the NBA? There’s 21 minutes remaining in the game at that point. That’s 43.7% of the entire contest. Of course a team can get hot and close the distance in that time frame, especially when they have two superstars on the floor.
There was a mini-period within the Toronto run that exhibited the reasons why the Sixers struggled down the stretch:
They went 0-1, had a shot clock violation and two shots were blocked. They committed 4 fouls and 4 turnovers and gave up a pair of offensive rebounds. The 22 point lead was down to 8 in less than four minutes and continued through a timeout taken midway through it.
Basketball is a game of runs, always has been. It doesn’t excuse the mistakes, but it’s wrong to think that any lead is safe at any point in the game.
3) Embiid nonsense
How does a guy go from “questionable,” to “probable,” to “out” in less than eight hours?
He looked fine on the court pregame, shooting a few shots and dancing around a bit.
This is what we were told afterward:
Brown: Embiid went through warm-ups and didn't feel comfortable. It's that simple. Half hour before game we learned that he wasn't going to be able to give what he felt helps the team so we decided to rest him
— Kevin Kinkead (@Kevin_Kinkead) December 22, 2017
It’s ridiculous that Brown has to be the messenger for this news. The Sixers don’t need to sit the medical staff in front of the rabid Philadelphia sports media, but how about a press release detailing some specifics of Fultz’s shoulder rehab or Embiid’s back/load management? That stuff goes a long way in the goodwill department. They are very close to losing casual fans that came back around this season.
This isn’t hard.
4) The supporting cast
19 and 7 for Robert Covington, who shot the ball well early, then kind of flattened out in the second half. He finished 6-16 and 5-12 from three-point range, adding 3 offensive rebounds.
He left the game early in the first quarter, then came right back, with some people insisting that he had to use the bathroom. I don’t know. I didn’t ask him post-game if he needed to take a crap. I think we’ll just let that one go.
But whatever he did helped, as he finished the first half 4-6 from behind the arc.
He was even getting stuff like this to go down:
Robert Covington gets the toilet bowl shot to drop pic.twitter.com/QAtr9vNlxt
— Def Pen Hoops (@DefPenHoops) December 22, 2017
As for Dario Saric, he finished with 19, 10, and 9, one assist short of his first career triple-double.
People ask, “why can’t Dario do that when Joel Embiid is on the floor?” Well, he can’t do it when Embiid is on the floor because Embiid gets the bulk of the touches, shots, and rebounds while also being the defensive centerpiece around the rim. Saric plays some stretch-five in the fourth quarter of games where Embiid is unavailable, and he’s also getting more minutes in general, too, which is why his numbers go up when Joel isn’t out there. Embiid is a ball-dominant big in both possession and hitting the glass, and the offense runs through him when he’s out there.
Remember, Saric began the season on the bench. He’s been much better as a starter but personnel groupings are always going to affect contribution, and you see the difference when the superstar conduit isn’t out there. If anything, fans/media should be ecstatic with the way Saric performs when Joel is absent, instead of asking, “why doesn’t he do that all the time?” It’s like asking, “why doesn’t Trey Burton always have these kinds of games?” Why? Because you’ve got a Pro Bowl tight end already on the field.
Anyway, merry Christmas to our loyal Crossing Broad readers.
Kiss my ass. Kiss his ass. Kiss your ass. Happy Hanukkah.