For whatever reason, I thought that game would be a little more challenging.
The last time Brooklyn came to town, it was a dicey, four-point win that came down to 4th quarter execution. And in the first trip to hipster central, the Sixers stumbled to a rough, eight-point road loss.
Not last night.
Brett Brown’s team excelled in all phases of the game, opening up a 12 point halftime lead and going on to win by 26.
The head coach diagnosed the problem pregame, talking about the fact that only the Rockets shoot more three-pointers per game than the Nets:
“It goes one more step. Because if that’s all they did, you could really just get out and crowd the three-point line. But they also are elite at getting to the paint. So, (if the idea is) ‘oh, they’re going to drive and get to the paint,’ then you play too conservative and the three-ball is still king. And if you have over-emphasis on the three-point line, and they catch/go, or go/catch, and they get by you. You follow and they get to the rim. Their style bothers us. It does bother us, and we have to be so perfect at vanilla, guarding your own man, closing out with the proper footwork, realizing that any sort of inappropriate help, you just make some stuff up on your own that’s not really a part of our rules, and you’re going to get punished. Their style hurts us; that’s proven in the games we’ve played against them. We have to be perfect at vanilla, just sort of simple rules.”
Brown’s team adhered to those simple rules, showing defensive urgency while out-rebounding the Nets 56 to 36, allowing just three second chance opportunities on the offensive glass.
At halftime, it looked like a very Brooklyn performance, with a lot of looks from deep, a lot of drives to the net, and almost nothing in between:
The Sixers were excellent at the rim, holding the Nets to just five first-half buckets inside the paint. Brooklyn shot just 33% on 15 attempts in that area, and hung around only on the strength of 12-27 three point shooting. They cooled off in the locker room and hit only three more deep balls in the second half, finishing 17-42 on the evening.
That’s pretty much been the story with Brooklyn this year, a team that shoots the 2nd most threes in the NBA, but at the 25th best percentage (35.3). Even at 40.5% last night, they couldn’t stay within 20 points.
Credit to the Sixers for really stepping it up defensively with Joel Embiid unavailable. On a sequence like this one, with Richaun Holmes switched onto Spencer Dinwiddie, he gets help from his teammates on the first drive before returning the favor with a big block:
That’s the type of stuff they’re doing with Joel off the floor. Robert Covington alone had 3 steals and 4 blocks last night, this among them:
— NBA (@NBA) April 4, 2018
I thought for sure that was a foul when I first saw it, but when you roll back the replay, it looks like he does get his hand on the ball before he hooks any part of the arm. Then he’s running the floor for a catch and shoot three pointer, the genesis of which was protecting his own rim.
To the point of defending and rebounding, specifically the huge margin in the latter category, Brown talked both before and after the game about his team’s high level of performance in first-shot defense:
“Somebody in pregame asked me what I worry about most, and I’ve said for awhile now that it’s defensive rebounding. I think our first shot defense is excellent. I think it’s number one in the NBA. If it isn’t, it’s second. If you’re able to do that, then things are looking quite positive with the group that we have. If people can offensive rebound, then you’re in a whole new world, where I think we drop to 19th or 21 or something that isn’t so good. We’ve been talking about it daily out there, every game, every session, talking about it, trying to drill it and get better at defensive rebounding especially.”
The numbers seem to check out over at NBA.com.
Philly leads the league with 36.4 defensive rebounds per game, mostly due to the pace of play and the number of shots taken by both teams in a typical Sixers game. When it comes to defensive rebounding percentage, they’re sitting at 11th with a 78.4 number. They are 13th best when it comes to allowing second chance points, just 12.2 per game, and they actually lead the league with allowing just 41.4 points in the paint per game.
Guess who’s #2 in that category? Yea, it’s the Utah Jazz, anchored by Rudy Gobert. It’s no coincidence that Philly and Utah are 1/2 in that area, which shows you just how important it is for the Sixers to stay disciplined at the rim until Embiid returns for the playoffs.
Fultz and Simmons
They played together last night for the first time since Markelle returned to the lineup. Previously, he’d been running the second team point, which still made for the bulk of his 21 minutes last night.
There really wasn’t a ton to take from the brief usage of the those two together, but there were a lot of questions about the pairing after the game, so I’ll lay out the quotes here:
Brett Brown, on what he liked about the pairing:
“Just the pace and the ball moves. It’s that simple to me, you play with a pace offensively and the ball moves. Defensively, I think Markelle is proving me wrong, he is better defensively than I initially expected him to be and tonight the first half, they’re such a dynamic team of the balance of the three-point shot and go-catch-go-go stuff, they caught him off-guard on closeouts. But for the most part, he was very good tonight, he’s trending upward in my mind there’s no doubt about it.”
Fultz, on playing with Simmons:
“It felt great, he’s a great player, obviously a point guard. He can do multiple things, pass the ball and it felt good to get a little taste out there with him.”
Fultz, on what interests him in playing more with Ben:
“I mean if it helps the team that’s the biggest thing. That’s my only goal is just helping this team win and if that’s going to help the team win, I’m looking forward to it.”
Simmons, on playing with Fultz:
“It’s fun. Just give him the ball and let him do his thing. Makes it easier for me.”
Simmons, on what intrigues him about playing with Fultz:
“I think just the way he sees the floor. I think it’s similar to my court vision. Having somebody who can run to the floor and get to the rim and make plays makes it a lot easier for me.”
JJ Redick on the pairing:
“It was brief. I don’t know if you can make anything of the few minutes it was, but they are going to play together at some point, consistently. Obviously, we need to surround both of them with shooting, but they are both intelligent enough and athletic enough that they can figure it out and they will figure it out. It’s going to take some time, I don’t think it is going to be in game 77 that they are going to magically figure it out. They’ll both figure it out.”
To Redick’s point above about surrounding both guys with shooting – it’s true. And there’s a precedent for it, too, because it’s not like the Simmons/T.J. McConnell pairing is knocking down 20 footers out there. What you do get is two very good ball handlers who can sling the rock around and find three other open guys, and if those guys are Embiid, Dario Saric, and Robert Covington, then you’re probably in good shape. Or, if you those three guys are Marco Belinelli, Ersan Ilyasova, and Saric as a stretch-five, I think you’re still probably in good shape, and your second ball handler, who happens to be 6’10”, can flex down to the four spot.
Those examples just show a lot of bend with this roster, and we’re all assuming that Fultz is going to get back to being the shooter he was in college, so obviously we see a lot of upside here. Watch how they pair McConnell and Simmons together and you’ll see the blueprint for how Fultz and Simmons can coexist.
I went back and watched that brief couple of minutes they shared on the floor, in a grouping that looked like this:
- Covington (he’s been playing some four with Embiid out)
- Richaun Holmes
Two capable three point shooters plus Holmes at the five. They were up 21 at the time, so the game was pretty much in the bag. They only got four or five meaningful offensive possessions during a very brief run, and a lot of the action was just two-man 25 and 35 brush cut and screen motion, once with Belinelli working off of Holmes and once with Fultz working off of Holmes.
One of the few plays involving Simmons was this baseline jumper, where the Sixers had some sort of pseudo-elevator doors going on, and Fultz went around Simmons for the pull-up:
There was another play where Simmons set a screen and Fultz worked off of that, a clip I had to shorten because the broadcast missed part of it while showing a replay:
Hmm… pick and pop with Simmons rolling to the basket? You might see 4 seconds and a missed shot there, but I see a lot of potential. You’ve got one ball handler with a budding mid-range shot and another who can drive and dunk, or kick out to the corner for an open three.
Something to think about.
Just 10 turnovers for the Sixers last night, only the 8th time this season they’ve committed ten or fewer.
Four of those eight games were played against the Nets, so is this coincidence, or do the Nets just suck?
Let’s check in with Bodner:
It’s 11 straight wins for your team, your town, “the longest single-season streak for Philadelphia since the team won 12 straight from Jan. 13 to Feb. 5, 1990,” per Sixers PR, via Basketball Reference. That was a 53-29 team coached by Jim Lynam and featuring Charles Barkley, Hersey Hawkins, and Johnny Dawkins.
On to the next one.