That was it.
That was the last road game against a playoff team this season.
It’s cupcake city from here on out, and the Sixers look like they could use a break after playing six of seven on the road.
Brett Brown’s team was offensively cruddy in Miami, following up Tuesday’s season-high 57.5 field goal percentage with a 39.5% clunker. It was the sixth-worst FG% they’ve posted this season, and sixth time they’ve finished below 40%, losing all six games:
Leading the way was Robert Covington, who followed Tuesday’s stellar 22-point effort with a 0-10 mark last night. He was 0-5 from three and hit three foul shots to complete his worst offensive outing dating back to November 27th, the Cleveland home game in which he finished 1-11.
Still, Covington’s defense was solid again last night, which it usually is. He contributed six defensive rebounds, four steals, and a block, and maybe sometime next week we’ll chop up a few video clips and take a closer look at that. It’s really easy to display his offensive struggles with stats, but defense is harder to illustrate without getting into the film.
But, the more I think about it, the more of Andre Iguodala I see in RoCo. Is he a legit NBA player? Yea, of course. But is he a starter on a championship contender? No, probably not. Think of the role A.I. plays in Golden State as a sixth man off the bench, and consider what Covington could be in that same position if you’ve got someone like… Paul George starting on the wing instead.
Anyway, it really doesn’t matter what Covington shoots if Joel Embiid and others are performing at their typically high level, which they did not last night. Embiid finished with 17 points on 5-18 shooting (28%). Jo was 3-6 from three and 4-7 from the line, so he only hit two two-point field goals last night. Ben Simmons went for 10, 8, and 8 on 5-10 shooting but only took one shot in the second half. He was deferential on a night when they needed him to be assertive. Dario Saric was his typically solid self with 20 and 10 on a 50% shooting night and Marco Belinelli had 14 on 5-11 shooting. Ersan Ilyasova went 2-7 and JJ Redick had a nice game.
The Sixers look tired out there, not the “we got off the plane at 3 a.m.” tired but the “we just played six of seven on the road” tired. It’s not a micro thing, it’s a macro thing. They need one of those college Saturdays, where you wake up at 11 a.m., stumble downstairs to get breakfast, then spend the rest of day playing Diablo 2. I may or may not have had some of those days as a freshman and sophomore at The West Virginia University.
To that point, they could have used Richaun Holmes last night. Offensive energy, anyone? If someone found a way to combine Richaun’s offense with Covington’s defense, that would be one hell of a player.
He’s logged a lot of minutes this season, more than he has in his entire career. Say you will about him being tired, fresh, whatever, but he front rimmed about half of his fourth quarter shots last night. His field goal percentage is 41% in March, down from his 48.5% season average. His PPG is down from 23.4 to 18.8 and rebounding has slipped from 11 to 9.8.
Whatever the case, he’s been firing on one fewer cylinder in March, so that’s three cylinders if you drive a Honda Civic and five cylinders if you drive a Nissan Frontier.
Rich over at The Athletic with a quality tweet here:
Embiid played 1433 minutes the previous four years (one at Kansas, first three for Sixers). After tonight, he has played 1658 minutes in a little under five months.
That's overall a big positive, but fatigue setting in is not unexpected.
— Rich Hofmann (@rich_hofmann) March 9, 2018
It looked like the Sixers were cooked in the 4th, but they got it within 5 points at the 90 second mark. This is what happened next:
Miami ran two pick and rolls, first a proxy to get JJ Redick to switch onto Dwyane Wade.
The second then brings Hassan Whiteside into the play.
Embiid hedges the screen and stays with Wade, which leaves Whiteside open for the roll and foul, which essentially ended the game.
It’s unusual, because Embiid doesn’t normally defend pick and rolls in that fashion. He’ll usually zone the screen and sit right on the elbow to prevent the roll. He’s athletic enough to play that way at 7’2″. Instead, last night, he wasn’t really on either guy:
I’m sure Embiid just felt like it made more sense to attack Wade there instead of allowing the jumper, knowing well enough how Wade killed the Sixers in the 4th quarter of their last game. But Embiid didn’t close the gap and Simmons and Saric weren’t in position to rotate quickly enough and make a play. Credit to Eric Spoelstra for the design, getting that switch with the first screen then running the second guy from the same corner.
Punching yourself in the face
We had a bit of a kerfluffle last night, some goofy stuff in the third quarter.
Embiid and Whiteside had a brush underneath the basket, which led to extracurricular activity:
Watch the slomo replay. Whiteside actually hits HIMSELF in the face pic.twitter.com/4s6nshl5uX
— Dan Roche (@RochesRWinners) March 9, 2018
Looks like Whiteside tried to throw an elbow and hit Embiid’s arm, which caused him to hit himself in the face. Joel also threw a right hand in the air that didn’t hit anyone or anything.
Joel post game:
Embiid said he “won’t forget about” the incident with Whiteside, which he called “a dirty play.” pic.twitter.com/qYNjOGwqFb
— Jessica Camerato (@JCameratoNBCS) March 9, 2018
“He’s really soft.”
Maybe we’ll see this again in the playoffs.
The season series
The Sixers finished 2-2 against the Heat this season, scoring an average of 101.8 points on 43.2% shooting in those games. Both of those numbers are well down from season averages of 107.7 and 46.7.
Two of the games could have gone either way, with late shots from Wade and Redick popping up on multiple occasions. It was one of the more entertaining series we saw this season.
The thing that matters most here is the tiebreak scenario, which would go down to conference record if Miami and Philly finish with the same mark. Right now the Heat have the edge with a 24-18 record compared to the Sixers’ 21-17. Both have relatively easy schedules down the stretch.