Good teams walk into a bad team’s building and slap them around.
That’s what the Sixers did last night, dropping 120 on the Nets in Brooklyn on the strength of eight players hitting double figures. We witnessed a 53 to 39 difference in field goal percentage, as Brett Brown’s team finished +10 in total shot attempts while turning the ball over just nine times.
That number is three fewer than the league’s best turnover team, Dallas, a squad that coughs it up just 12 times per game. It was also the fifth time this season the Sixers have turned it over less than ten times, a crop of games that they’ve finished with a 4-1 record.
They were active and alert from the start, and showed an urgency that we just didn’t see the other night in Miami. To me, the turnover performance was best complemented on the stat sheet by the Sixers’ 12 steals on the evening. T.J. McConnell had four himself, and the team finished with 11+ steals for the ninth time this season:
They’re 4-5 in those games, which is interesting to me, because I thought the number might be higher with a positive swing in possessions. The Sixers are actually 1-4 in their five best steal performances, but those came against tough opponents in Houston, Toronto, Washington, and OKC.
Last night, I think the difference was that they turned those 12 steals into 15 points, which should be accurate after a quick glance over the play-by-play chart. Not only did they take the ball away, but they converted on most of the possessions immediately following their steals.
It was also their 16th time finishing with 7 or more blocks, a chunk of games in which they’re 11-5. Joel Embiid rejected one shot so hard that it actually bounced straight up and off the backboard before he as able to corral it:
— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) March 11, 2018
And the defense was excellent, primarily in the third and fourth quarters, which Brett Brown focused on post-game. When you hold a team to 37 second-half points, you’re gonna win a bunch of games.
Sorting it out
To that point, Brown did not seem at all interested in defensive lapses.
There was a sequence last night where the Sixers made a three-point shot to extend their lead to 12 points, then fell asleep on the other end of the floor and allowed a wide open three, leading Brown to take a timeout out of frustration:
You see Dario Saric fail to pickup Allen Crabbe in transition as Robert Covington literally pushes him towards his man. Brown gets off the bench, throws his hands up, and tells Ben Simmons to call a timeout.
I love the timeout because it says to me, “okay, we’re straightening this shit out right now.” It’s easy to call a TO when the other team rips off seven straight points, or your defense completely falls apart, or you turn the ball over three times in a row. But this is one of those instances where you diagnose a problem early, fix it, then get the team back out there.
You keep the opponent at arm’s length.
Brooklyn had cut a ten-point halftime lead to as little as six just a few minutes into the third quarter. After that timeout, the Sixers went on a 6-0 run to extend the lead to 15, then finished out the quarter at 96-83. The 4th was then a stroll.
I like it. I like it because Brown saw it early, got it fixed, and his team steam rolled from there.
A Richaun sighting
Amir Johnson did not play last night.
Instead it was Richaun Holmes off the bench, a 16 minute shift where he finished with 2 points, 2 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. He did not shoot the ball well, just 1-6 and 0-2 from three, but he made a handful of hustle plays that mattered, like this one:
The Sixers bench goes wild after this Richaun Holmes dunk 😂 pic.twitter.com/wWYtLGPQVr
— Def Pen Hoops (@DefPenHoops) March 12, 2018
Holmes has not been as defensively sound as Johnson this season, though he usually provides more on the offensive end. With a bunch of cupcakes on the Sixers’ back-end schedule, it would be nice to see Richaun get some meaningful minutes. He’s still only 24 years old and Amir is a 12-year veteran on a one-year contract.
By the way, the Sixers bench did a nice job last night, with McConnell, Marco Belinelli, and Ersan Ilyasova all finishing in double figures. Long gone are the days of Jerryd Bayless and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot struggling to hit anything and everything. Legit bench scoring has taken some of the burden off of the starters to do all the work and curbed some of those severe 2nd and 3rd quarter droughts that we witnessed in November and December.
Wiping away bad memories
Remember how the Sixers were really awful during the last game in Brooklyn? They were coming off a road game in Milwaukee and were in the midst of a short losing streak.
The Nets shot 50.6% that night and 40.6% from three, with Spencer Dinwiddie getting 27 points on 6-13 shooting, plus a ridiculous 13-15 mark from the free-throw line. They kept him off the stripe last night, committing seven fewer fouls and limiting his ability to get to his spots. He finished 5-14 this time for 13 points and only took three free throws, a -12 swing this time around.
D’Angelo Russell picked up the slack instead, going for 26, 4, and 4 on 9-17 shooting, but finishing -24 on the night. Outside of Russell and Dinwiddie, the Nets’ starters finished 4-19 from the floor.
Oddly enough, the Sixers only turned it over 11 times and shot 47% in the first trip to Brooklyn this season. So it wasn’t a ball handling or shooting problem, they just committed too many fouls and didn’t play their typically sound defense in that first clunker of a road trip.
Last night was a different story.
21 and 8 on a 9-17 night in which he only tried two three pointers, hitting one.
Joel says he’s not tired, and he’s touched on that before, but I mentioned last week how I think this isn’t really a game-to-game, “micro” kind of thing, but more of a cumulative, season-long “macro” type of build up. He simply has not played this many minutes or this many games at any point in his career.
That said, he looked fresh with an extra day off last night, getting into the low post early and often and making things happen. He drew some nice matchups, with Brooklyn, for whatever reason, putting 6’8″ Dante Cunningham on him. That didn’t work.
And on some occasions where he could have settled for deep looks, he didn’t:
How many teams have a 7’2″ center who can flash to the three-point line, pump fake a guy off his feet, then drive to the rim?
It was a nice mix for Joel last night, with a 5-6 mark around the rim, those pair of three-pointers, and enough mid-range stuff to keep teams honest, even if he only hit one of those post-up jumpers:
Big game tomorrow night against Trevor Booker and the Indianapolis Pacers.