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I remember working in the channel 3 sports department during the early days of the Process. The evening shift involved producing every sports segment in the 5, 6, 10, and 11 p.m. news, from stacking the segment and editing the highlights to writing the copy, depending on who the anchor was. Some liked to write their own copy and others preferred to read your words instead.
In a short, three-minute block, we usually gave the Sixers 20 seconds AT MOST. It was always something dumb, like a Robert Covington three-pointer or a Nerlens Noel block, followed by a slam dunk or an easy bucket by the opponent. Then we’d say the score and move on to the next story. It was literally four or five sentences, the same amount of writing we’d do for a petty theft or a car accident or some minor news block story.
The script would go something like this:
SIXERS IN BROOKLYN TONIGHT, TAKING ON THE NETS…
FIRST QUARTER, TONY WROTEN WITH A NICE STEP BACK AND HEAVE FROM 24 FEET, HE HAD 13 POINTS ON THE NIGHT.
IN THE SECOND HALF NOW, JOE JOHNSON BLOWS BY MICHAEL CARTER-WILLIAMS FOR THE EASY LAY UP.
THE SIXERS WOULD GO ON TO LOSE, 88 TO 70, THEY FALL TO 2 WINS AND 20 LOSSES ON THE SEASON.
That’s it. That was the whole thing (and you write in caps on the teleprompter so that your anchors have an easier time seeing the words).
So here we are, four years removed from that, and the Sixers are now closing in on 50 wins and home court advantage. They’ve won 12 straight games, four without Joel Embiid, as they set up a marquee Friday night clash against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Sam Hinkie mentioned something back in the day about progress not necessarily having to be linear, and he was right, because this team is about to go from 14th place to 4th (or even 3rd) in the span of one whole year.
The real embarrassment
I really thought the Sixers might be challenged last night.
This was a Detroit team that had won five straight games, three without Blake Griffin. They probably weren’t going to the playoffs, but they were going down swinging and at least were going to test a Sixers team that was playing the second night of a back-to-back without Embiid (and Dario Saric, too).
Instead, it wasn’t even close, and the the seven point deficit is generous, at best. Philly built up a 16 point halftime lead and navigated a couple of hairy moments late for win number 48.
Which brings us to Stan Van Gundy, one of the people who was the most vocal opponents of the Process-era Sixers. Not only did SVG lose four times to Philadelphia this season, but he lost twice to the Sixers last year and three times in the 2014-2015 season, a campaign Philly began with 17 straight losses.
There’s a modicum of irony to the ass kickings being received by a guy who said this:
“Not what Philadelphia is doing right now, which is embarrassing,” Van Gundy said. “I don’t care, [commissioner] Adam Silver can say there’s no tanking or what’s going on [but] if you’re putting that roster on the floor, you’re doing everything you can possibly do to try to lose.”
Why bother with the draft? That’s what he said:
Stan Van Gundy says what Philadelphia is doing, that roster on the floor is embarrassing. Said he'd like to do away the draft altogether.
— Steve Kyler (@stevekylerNBA) February 28, 2014
Now, here’s the thing – Van Gundy never said that the Process wasn’t going to work, or at least I don’t think that was his angle.
His criticism was that the tank was in poor taste, something that nobody should be proud of. I don’t know if anyone disagrees with that. I don’t think anyone ever embraced the tank because it was a phenomenal display of integrity. It was always viewed as a shrewd move, a way of taking multiple steps backward to take more steps forward. It was a way to build a competitive team, just one of several methods.
What did the Pistons do to build their team? They did this:
Pistons went all in on Blake Griffin trade – committed to giving him about $140 million over next four years & sent their first round pick to the Clippers – in a desperate attempt to make the playoffs. Now present & future look grim as they miss postseason for 8th time in 9 years
— Michael Lee (@MrMichaelLee) April 5, 2018
So tell me, are you trading 3 to 4 years of “embarrassing” losing that leads to home court advantage for 8 years of mediocrity with one crappy playoff appearance (as an 8 seed)? The Pistons have not been relevant since the days of Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace, and that was more than ten years ago.
The Sixers had similarly not been relevant since the Allen Iverson days. One team decided to do things the “right way” and is stuck in basketball purgatory. The other team took a huge risk, blew it all to hell, and is now well-positioned for the future.
Whether or not the Process was an embarrassment is ultimately irrelevant to me when you look at where Detroit and Philly are right now. Plus, were the 2015 Sixers any more embarrassing than whatever Phoenix, Atlanta, and Memphis are putting on the floor this year? Part of the reason why Philly has won 12 in a row is because they’re mowing down playoff-eliminated cupcakes that don’t give a shit anymore. So don’t tell me that the product is any better, because shit teams are shit, whether they’re purposefully tanking or not.
JJ Redick, Marco Belinelli, and Ersan Ilyasova – three guys who have been here before.
Their contributions have been fantastic during this late season stretch, especially without Joel and Dario in the lineup.
Let’s start with Redick, who is doing this over his last 5 games:
- 28.4 minutes
- 20.8 points
- 55.4 field goal %
- 48.4 three point %
- +8 plus/minus
Compare that to season totals of 16.8 PPG on 30.2 minutes at 45.8% shooting and a 41.7 mark from three. He’s waaaaaay up across the board during this stretch.
Same thing with Belinelli over the last five:
- 28 minutes
- 16.6 points
- 57.4 field goal % (!!!)
- 42.3 three point %
- +11 plus/minus
That field goal number is crazy, and it goes back further than just five games. Marco is actually shooting 58.8% in his last ten and 45.3% from three. So he’s actually cooled off slightly, if you can believe it. We’re seeing some of the best Italian performances on American soil since Marc Vetri built the menu at his first restaurant on 13th and Spruce.
As for Ilyasova, he’s stepped into the starting lineup sans Saric, putting up 13 and 11 last night, 11 and 13 on Wednesday, and 16 and 3 on Easter Sunday. Even coming off the bench Friday night against his former team in Atlanta, he went for 21 and 16 in 30 minutes. That’s why they went out and got him for free.
Ben Simmons is playing well. Robert Covington is playing well. Everybody is playing well, and the veterans specifically are stepping it up when it really matters.
Two things I wanted to mention about Markelle, who went for 4, 2, and 4 on 2-7 shooting in 16 minutes last night:
He took his first three pointer since the preseason, putting up a late heave as the third quarter expired:
— Deadspin (@Deadspin) April 5, 2018
Here’s a slowed down version for all of the shooting experts currently reading Crossing Broad:
— Dave Loughran (@Loughy_D) April 5, 2018
Doesn’t matter to me one iota what that shot looks like right now. At least he gave it a heave. That’s the important thing, and it opens up the offense if he can build on that going into next season. It completely changes the “Fultz playing alongside Simmons” conversation.
The thing that really jumped out at me wasn’t the three, but this play below, where he does such a nice job of controlling his body at the rim to prevent his shot from being blocked:
He’s giving up six inches to Eric Moreland there, but drives off the pick and roll and reads the defender perfectly, bodying off of him to get the clean look at the rim.
Fultz is getting his shot blocked much less than we saw in his first few games back, and he’s really starting to get a feel for operating around the rim at the NBA level.
Couple random notes:
- Robert Covington has 7 blocks and 18 steals in his last five games
- no double-double for Simmons last night, but 16 points on 70% shooting (7-10)
- a nice night for Amir Johnson, who finished one point short of a double-double (9 points and 10 boards)
- some vicious dunks from Richaun Holmes, who added 11, 3, and 3 with 3 steals in 19 bench minutes
48-30 Cleveland vs. 48-30 Philly at the Wells Fargo Center on Friday night..
Should be fun.