That was probably the best performance of the season, and if it wasn’t, it’s certainly top-five.
The Sixers went to San Antonio and won for the first time since 2004, holding the Spurs to 78 points in their own building. Pop’s squad was 20-3 at the AT&T Center coming into the game.
No, they didn’t have Kawhi Leonard, though Kawhi has only played nine games this season. They didn’t have Rudy Gay or Manu Ginobili. But the fact of the matter is that they’ve built a 32-19 record this season with a revolving door of player availability, so if you wanna slap the asterisk on this win, use size 12 font instead of size 18.
Now to the Sixers, who were phenomenal last night – suffocating defense, solid shooting, and mostly mistake-free basketball. They built up a big lead, held that lead, and closed out the game like a group of seasoned veterans. Brett Brown’s team shot 48.1% overall and 42.9% from deep while holding San Antonio to 40% from the field and a 3-24 three point mark (12.5%). Philly is now 9-3 since Christmas and occupying 6th place in a very average Eastern Conference.
And if we’re being honest with ourselves, the Spurs probably deserved to lose the minute they donned those black and gray camouflage uniforms.
Elite defense, without fewer fouls
It was 50-31 at halftime last night.
50 to 31!
The defense was active and up-tempo, with quick rotations and a lot of communication:
I thought Pau Gasol might take that shot there, but he doesn’t, and the Spurs swing seven passes around before Robert Covington slides down on Dejounte Murray and pokes the ball loose from behind. I used to try that move all the time at the Gilbertsville YMCA.
On this play, Ben Simmons throws a nice double team on LaMarcus Aldridge, forcing a bad pass that Covington pounces on. Danny Green chucks up a 30-footer with the shot clock expiring and Simmons gets whistled for a ticky-tack foul that Gasol actually disagrees with. Watch Pau shake his head at the end of the clip:
The Sixers channeled M. Night Shyamalan last night, showing a sixth sense on the defensive side of the floor.
As of January 27th, Philly has climbed all the way to third in the NBA with a 102.4 defensive rating, behind only Boston and San Antonio. DEFRTG is a measure of the number of points allowed per 100 possessions by a team.
And remember how the Sixers commit a league-high 23.4 fouls per game? They knocked it down to 20 last night, which is right around the NBA average.
Showing the frustration
Ben’s line: 21, 5, and 7 with 2 steals, 1 block, and 3 turnovers. He was 10-11 from the field and played aggressively for the second straight game.
One thing I’ve noticed, and maybe you have too, is that he looks a little bit more… demonstrative I think after throwing the ball away. He seems to be more annoyed by the turnover, and will have conversations with teammates on the floor about what went wrong or where they should be.
Here’s one from last night:
Looks like a bad pass, right? But here’s what Alaa Abdelnaby said on the broadcast:
“If you’re Dario, you’ve got to hold on to Danny Green for a little bit longer.”
And you see Ben talking to Dario about after the whistle, showing him the forearm he expected on the play, with Green fronting Saric.
This isn’t to absolve blame from himself, I don’t think, but it’s a different type of body language from what we saw earlier in the year, where it was more of, ‘well, on to the next one.’ It looks to me like every player is more aware of the turnover problem and working harder to fix it.
Joel Embiid finished with ZERO turnovers last night and mentioned that specifically on Twitter:
— Joel Embiid (@JoelEmbiid) January 27, 2018
More on turnovers
They finished with a season-low of nine last night.
After the game, NBCSP shared this graphic:
They won those games against San Antonio, Orlando, and Detroit, and lost against Golden State and Cleveland.
In 24 wins, the Sixers are turning it over 17.8 times per game.
And in 21 losses, they’re turning it over 18.2 times per game.
So while the improved numbers absolutely help sustain leads and log more meaningful possessions, it isn’t the most important issue for this team, and it really hasn’t been for the entirety of the season. They’ve been able to win while turning the ball over primarily because of good defense and good shooting nights.
They don’t need to even get into the top-half of league-wide turnover numbers, they just need to knock it down by 2-3 per game to get to the 15.7 range where Golden State currently lives.
The supporting cast
Dario Saric: 15, 8, and 3
Justin Anderson: 12, 3, and 2 off the bench
TLC: 10 more points as a spot starter
Trevor Booker: 7 points and 6 boards
Amir Johnson: a lot of good screens that don’t end up on the stat sheet
They’re getting good minutes from a variety of guys during this successful run. Dario is Dario, always doing the unsung things that sort of fall by the wayside. TLC looks better as a starter (obviously) and Booker is providing some energy off the bench.
But I’ve really liked what Anderson has provided in terms of assertiveness and willingness off the bench. Willing to shoot, willing to drive, willing to play the kind of defense that actually looks like he gives a shit.
It makes me wonder what Brett Brown does with Jerryd Bayless when he returns, but it’s clear that the younger and more athletic guys are a better fit for this team. I like the way that Anderson, Booker, and T.J. McConnell play, and you’re seeing something from the second unit now, a play style that more closely resembles what the first team is able to do with Ben running the point.
Bayless just isn’t that guy, and while I don’t have anything against him as a player, it’s clear that others are a better fit, assuming they continue their elevated level of play.