When you’ve got a 28 point lead with 11 minutes remaining in a home game, your second unit should be able to close out a win.
But the Sixers don’t have a second unit capable of doing that, so Brett Brown has to come up with something else.
He probably can’t be rolling out T.J. McConnell, Jerryd Bayless, Robert Covington, Amir Johnson, and Trevor Booker at any point, no matter what the lead. So the late-game rotation needs to include one or more of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, or JJ Redick.
Easy enough, right?
Well, not entirely, because this was the first night of a back-to-back, a situation where Embiid was scheduled to play his first B2B ever, so ideally you’d like to pull him in the fourth and let the other nine guys in the rotation do the job. You’re also trying to keep the other four starters fresh for tonight’s game in Indiana.
I think it’s a tough spot for Brown, who, at least last night, was trying to “walk the line” ala Johnny Cash. Sure, you can pull a Tom Thibodeau and run your starters into the ground, thus probably guaranteeing a close-out win, but that comes at the expense of tonight’s game. And if Brett pulls the first unit early, you probably blow a big lead.
The answer, I think, is that he’s just going to have to stagger the starters through the end of the third quarter and into the fourth. If Joel isn’t out there, Ben and Dario should be. Or put Redick and Covington together, just something to get this team over the hump, assuming Roco will, at some point, stop committing the ridiculous, low-IQ plays that always seem pop-up in crunch time (probably his biggest weakness right now, the brain farts).
With a bench that scores in the bottom five league-wide, this roster simply isn’t good enough to cruise in the second half. The squad is a work in progress, and I think that changes with a healthy Markelle Fultz and one more offseason of roster building. For comparison, Miami’s bench, the catalyst for the comeback, scored 57 points last night. The Sixers bench scored 23.
After the game, Brown acknowledged the “scoring deficiencies” in that area when asked about his second half rotations:
“I think I probably would have played Joel his full sort of rotation. You look up at the scoreboard and you’re up 28 at home and you have a back to back game the next night. I never take anything for granted, I hope you just walk of line of, ‘well, this is smart, we got this one wrapped up.’ It wasn’t (like that). We were at home, I felt like we were playing quite well, and you click your heels and the NBA is the NBA. If I had to do it again, I would have ridden out Jo because the group we had on the court, our bench group, there’s some scoring deficiencies (with) that group. I think they play hard and play good defense, but my first reaction would be (to play Joel more).”
I haven’t been a Brown critic, but I don’t think I’m an apologist either. I’m more neutral than anything, and I’m just trying to avoid the knee-jerk route after every single game in an 82-game season. I need to see a body of work that spans the course of a season, preferably with better personnel.
But Brett can probably do better with his second half rotations and use his timeouts more effectively. The growing pains aren’t exclusive to the floor; they extend to the coach as well.
Still, credit where it’s due; they got it done. After Miami started the 4th quarter on an 18-4 run, the Sixers scraped together 13 points and enough stops for a six point win. Brown got his starters in for the final stretch and they got some tough buckets to fall.
More from the head ball coach:
“I took Joel out about a minute earlier than he comes out, and (Miami) started making their way. Usually the things that equal lost leads are turnovers, you foul too much, you put ’em in the bonus early, and there’s a barrage of threes. We only had 10 turnovers for the game but we had three late, sort of on hooking fouls, and a play where we tried to get it in quickly from Ben so we didn’t have to burn a timeout and it went through Cov’s hands. So I think the demise of the lead was stoppages because they were in the bonus, which took away our tempo and rhythm. And I think they made some threes.”
Brett’s not wrong here. They protected the ball for most of the game. The cheap fouls and free throws and timeouts break up their rhythm, but that’s basketball for you. That’s college ball, NBA, Euro Basket, high school, Fishtown rec center, whatever. It’s choppy and ugly and slow at the end of the game, and you’re not gonna be flying up and down the court and finding a groove. It becomes a deliberate half-court game, and Brett has to understand that it’s just not feasible to expect to be able to play the same style for 48 minutes. You have to, for a lack of better words, learn how to run the football.
More from Brown, on hitting big shots down the stretch:
“After I get through the disappointment of losing the lead, and you really look at how we scored at the end, we executed. We ran something that was broken, we got Ben underneath the basket on a play we run two or three times a game, we got him a layup, we got him off a UCLA cut, JJ did his thing coming over the top on a play we run with like a double DHO where he made a jump shot, Joel turned and faced and made a jump shot. We actually, for a period, executed what we were trying to do.”
Yep. They did get some nice buckets when it mattered.
This is the Simmons basket on “a play we run two or three times per game,” which basically starts with a dribble hand-off then a backside, off-ball screen to get him a low-post look:
It’s really a nice design. And even when Wayne Ellington tries to switch off and defend Ben under the basket, he’s at a huge height disadvantage.
You can’t run this play with most NBA point guards because most NBA point guards are not 6’10”.
Justise Winslow gets blindsided here:
And here’s the double-DHO that Brett is talking about with Redick. This play was called out of a timeout after Miami had cut the lead to nine:
Ellington is screened by Saric, then has to scoot around Embiid, and Redick just finds a little space for an elbow jumper.
And here’s the UCLA cut:
Easy concept on the UCLA cut, where a guard passes the ball to the wing, then drives to the basket around a high screen from the center:
If the glass half empty is Brett Brown’s second half rotational issues, then this is the glass half full. They DID execute when it mattered. At the end of the day, we’re sitting here talking about a win against the 4th seed in the east, and that’s the biggest takeaway for me.