If we’re being honest, the Sixers weren’t great for most of that game.
Yeah, they built up a lead heading into the fourth quarter, but they hardly looked convincing against a bad team playing for an interim head coach who didn’t have three of his top-five scorers in Mike Conley, JaMychal Green, and Chandler Parsons.
It was the strength of three-point shooting in the 60% range that had the Sixers on top early, and it came from complementary players like Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Dario Saric. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the stars, were bland for most of the evening and showed very little in the fourth quarter as the Sixers collapsed in ridiculous fashion. Simmons scored 6 points on 3-8 shooting and went to the foul line a total of zero times. Embiid added 15 points on 5-13 shooting while both players committed four turnovers each.
And while the turnover issue isn’t always the catalyst for blown leads, it certainly was last night.
There was a point in this game where the Sixer lead was trimmed to three with around eight minutes remaining. Brett Brown’s team then went on to turn it over five times in the next nine possessions, allowing Memphis to claim a 100-95 lead in the ensuing 4:30. It was a combination of bad passes, offensive fouls, stepping out of bounds, and whatever else you can think of – basically emptying clip after clip while looking for new and creative ways to shoot yourself in the foot.
It was an “immature loss,” as Brett Brown said post-game, but it was also more fodder for the “fire the coach” crowd as nobody on the Sixer half of the floor really acquitted themselves well in the final 12 minutes of play.
1) Low-IQ basketball
I could just drop the Robert Covington play in here and move on to the next topic, but it wasn’t just him committing the head scratching plays last night.
It was 103-101 with 15.8 seconds left and Memphis was inbounding the ball. Ben Simmons slapped it away under the Grizzlies’ rim and Covington, for whatever reason, ran out to the three-point line to air-ball a fadeaway:
— John Barchard (@JohnBarchard) January 23, 2018
Even if you’re running out of time you don’t need a three pointer, so I really don’t know what he’s doing there. And it’s a shame, because he hit some nice shots in this game, including a three that cut the lead to 2 with 1:49 remaining. He was 4-8 at that point, then lost control down the stretch.
Speaking of that two-point deficit, Joel Embiid missed a pair of free throws that would have tied the game at 100.
Afterwards, this happened:
Defensive stop? – check
Ill-advised cross court pass? – check
Turnover? – check
Foul? – check
Just brutal all around.
I know Brett Brown wants to let his team move the ball in transition, and he’s said that he’s not going to change the style and identity of this squad, but late-game possessions like that are just killers. You’ve got two time outs and a rookie point guard, so there has to be some middle ground here. Draw up a play. Calm everybody down. I admire the fact that Brett wants his team to play a certain way but the lack of flexibility in these situations is going to haunt him if they continue to struggle down the stretch. It’s like Andy Reid continuing to throw the ball when holding a 19 point lead in a playoff game.
2) Paging Ben Simmons
Simmons entered the game with 8:00 remaining in the 4th quarter as the Sixers led 91-87.
Here’s every single action from that point on:
- 6:57 – bad pass turnover
- 3:30 – missed shot at rim
- 2:15 – defensive rebound
- 0:54 – foul
- 0:35 – foul
- 0:10 – steal (on the Covington play)
One shot attempt in the final eight minutes of play. He simply disappears from the offense for large stretches of time.
And we’ve seen some games where Ben has been aggressive to close it out (last Monday), but he’s more often passive in these situations than assertive.
So that leaves… what? Dribble hand-off on the perimeter? Dumping the ball to Joel in the post? There’s a high turnover rate with that as well because he’s a second-year guy and gets double teamed. Absent of a schematic plan B, they really need him to be driving, shooting, kicking, just doing what he does in the 1st quarter of these games. Playoff basketball is about meaningful fourth quarter possessions from your superstars, and he needs to start learning that, beginning right now.
3) More French touch
Shame that Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot had a career-best performance eclipsed by a fourth quarter collapse.
I couldn’t help but laugh out loud when he started 4-4 from three-point range, then air-balled his fifth attempt before blowing an alley oop at the rim. It was the very best and very worst of TLC in a nut shell.
But that “very worst” was only about 5% of his performance last night, as he went on to hit two more three pointers, finishing 6-8 from behind the arc and 6-9 overall with a pair of converted free throws. He had 17 points at halftime and finished with 20:
If anything, I feel like the Sixers didn’t do a great job of riding his hot hand in the second half.
His situation feels very similar to what we saw from Dario Saric back in October. Saric, who started the season on the bench (behind Markelle Fultz, remember that?), just never really had a rhythm or routine coming off the pine. But once Dario was inserted into the starting lineup, he became the mostly consistent player he is right now.
Same thing for TLC, who looks to be mentally “set” in the starting lineup. He just doesn’t seem to find his feet or find his rhythm when coming off the bench and playing on a much weaker second unit.
As if that game wasn’t repulsive enough from a performance standard, the refs were whistle-happy last night.
Woof. That’s almost as loathsome as the cheating New England Patriots.
There was a weird sequence in the third quarter when Justin Anderson was whistled for a flagrant foul. I thought it looked rather innocuous, but here’s the Memphis take on the play:
— FOX Sports Grizzlies (@GrizzliesOnFSSE) January 23, 2018
I mean.. yea, I guess they have a point, but it’s not like Anderson hit him that hard. I can see what they’re saying with the mid-air push.
Anyway, Selden barked at Anderson, picked up a second technical, and got tossed from the game. The refs spent five minutes trying to sort out the entire situation, which ended with Brett Brown putting Deyonta Davis on the line to shoot the free throws that Selden was unable to take.
Listen, it was a shit loss. But the fact of the matter is that the Sixers are 8-2 in their last ten and still on track for a .500 season with a playoff berth. In the grand scheme of things, I think they are right where we expected them to be.