Blown lead? Check.
Highly questionable coaching decisions? Check.
Struggles from a superstar player? Check.
Game two was an archetypal Philadelphia sporting experience, a collection of only the most bitter ingredients, pestled into slop and added to the worst mixed drink of all time. It starts smooth and then gives you a repulsive aftertaste, one that I think will probably last until Saturday night for most Sixers fans.
There’s a lot to unpack after last night, so let’s just take it one step at a time.
Why no timeout?
Twitter went off the rails during the Celtics’ 2nd quarter run, wondering why Brett Brown didn’t call time to stop the bleeding.
Brown explained post game that he trusted his team to stay organized. He’d “do it again,” if the same situation came up.
Here’s the full quote:
“I trust my players that they have shown that they can hold on to stuff, that they can stay organized. And they’ve shown that over the past third of the season. As we study this – and it’s easy for us to say, ‘oh shoot, they went on that run, do you burn a timeout?’ When we study it and we discuss it on the bench, we wanna have – I wish I had more (timeouts) at the end of a game as well. So I feel like, when you started subbing, that we were gonna be able to hold the fort. In retrospect, we didn’t. Would a timeout have fixed it? I don’t think so. We can maybe second guess that. But by and large it’s going into the game and trying to make sure that you have enough (timeouts) at the end of the game also to manage it. You knew it was going to be a close game. The notion that we were gonna maintain a 20 point lead and walk out of the Boston Garden wasn’t on my mind. I felt like what we did to them, they were going to do to us. Runs were going to be had. When you bring Joel Embiid and JJ Redick back into the game, and you’ve got a stockpile of timeouts to use, that was my decision (not to use one). As I said, I’d do it again. I’ll go back and look at the tape and if it’s something I’ll pivot out of, I’ll share it with everybody when I see you next.”
My first reaction is that I’m not surprised. This is how Brett Brown has coached all season long. He’s said 100 times before that he’s not gonna change how his team plays or “walk the ball up the floor” to address the turnover issue, preferring to let his team figure it out on their own. It seems like that same mentality is applied when opponents go on runs, and I can understand, based on his DNA, why he coached that second quarter the way he did.
That said, he has to consider the other five guys on the floor. Whether you believe in YOUR team or not, using a timeout there can break the OTHER team’s rhythm and put a halt to the action. It’s one thing to think your squad can play their way out of it, and maybe they would have if one of those three-straight three point attempts had gone in, but they didn’t. They missed. So do the simple thing, call the timeout to slow Boston’s momentum and have a talk with your team.
Brett’s pattern has been to call timeout usually after the second or third shot a team makes to begin a run, typically when he sees a mistake on defense. It’s a “nip it in the bud” type of approach that he began to use in December and January, and I think it helped correct some of the blown lead problems they were experiencing during the first half of the season. And while he’s correct that basketball is a game of runs, he could have helped his team out by settling things down and at least breaking up the opponent’s rhythm.
It felt very similar to the London game in this regard, where the Sixers started out strong then found themselves totally lost in the moment.
One point on 0-4 shooting with 7 assists, five turnovers, and a -23 rating.
He was again ineffective due to Boston’s defensive scheme, which I’ll explain a bit later.
Brown made a shrewd decision to take Simmons out of the game in the third quarter and put in T.J. McConnell, who finished 4-4 for 8 points, adding 5 rebounds, 0 turnovers, and a ending the game at +16. McConnell showed Boston a completely different look, explored different spots on the floor, and established an offensive fluidity that had been missing since the 1st quarter.
With 5:29 remaining in the fourth, with the Sixers leading 93-91, Brown inexplicably went back to Simmons and put McConnell on the bench. His team was outscored 17-10 from that point and ultimately lost the game.
“I mean, It’s a tough decision, I admit it. This whole playoff experience is something I want our young guys and our star players to learn from and grow. The decision, do you go with T.J. still or come back to Ben Simmons, I’m coming back to Ben Simmons. I’m coming back to Ben. He’s had a hell of a year. I think he’s the rookie of the year. I think he’s going to have to learn how to play in these environments and I’m going back with Ben Simmons.”
I understand that.
I don’t think anyone disputes the idea that your starting rookie point guard should get as much experience as possible, especially in challenging, high stakes situations. If that’s the idea though, then Markelle Fultz should be playing in this series.
Why? Because McConnell gave the Sixers the best chance to win that game last night, and Brown claiming that Ben has to “learn how to play in these environments” is basically an admission that winning right now isn’t priority number one.
Seriously. How else do you parse that quote? Everybody knows that Simmons should have stayed on the bench, but Brown went back to his worst player on the night with the game on the line.
You can give me some push back about Markelle Fultz not being ready for this stage or whatever, and maybe you’re right, but Fultz is the #1 draft pick. He’s available. Put him in the game. Is he going to look more lost than game two Simmons?
It’s hypocritical to bench the better player on the night (McConnell) for the future of the franchise (Simmons) while completely ignoring the guy you traded up to select #1 overall. If the Sixers feel like they’re playing with house money, and everybody is just happy to be here, which is the vibe I’m getting, then put Markelle in the game, give him this experience, and move on to next year knowing a little bit more about what you have.
I wanted to give Brett a lot of credit for sitting down Simmons, and I think we can still do that, but he completely expunged his best coaching move of the series by going back to Ben down the stretch instead of staying with T.J.
Boston attacked Simmons the same way they did in game one, meeting him with a second defender in transition and walling him off near the free throw line.
The issue is that he’s too shallow to kick out to the perimeter but also too deep to take a shot. The Celtics are doing a nice job of trapping him in that purgatory type of area where he’s caught in two mindsets.
One of the issues is that Ben is trying to push in transition before Joel Embiid makes his way up the court. In those cases, Aron Baynes, or whomever is guarding Embiid, simply just slides to double Simmons because there’s nobody else to guard. The best option is to leave the ball for Embiid for a trailing three, but he’s not shooting well from the perimeter in this series.
Even in the half court, you see similar things. Here, Al Horford sags, Baynes is there for the pickup, and if Embiid wants to stand on the three point line, Boston will live with that all day long:
Horford also kills the entry pass to Saric there, because he essentially guards two guys at once by sagging off a non-shooter.
Simmons can’t figure it out and the Sixers staff needs to coach him through it. For what it’s worth, he put it on himself after the game:
"It was mainly what I did to myself. I think mentally, I was thinking too much."
— NBA TV (@NBATV) May 4, 2018
I think the “thinking too much” concept was exemplified on the 4th quarter play where he got Aron Baynes on the switch and didn’t take him to the rack:
This is why Ben Simmons isn’t the rookie of the year. He’s incapable of scoring on One of the slowest guys in the NBA. Any elite player goes to the basket here. Donovan Mitchell is ROY. Simmons with 1 point, 3 assists and 4 TO halfway though Q3 pic.twitter.com/TVn41ukTik
— Curtis (@CJKnh) May 4, 2018
I don’t necessarily agree or disagree with “Curtis” here, I was just looking for the video on Twitter and this is what came up.
- They took JJ Redick off Jayson Tatum, starting him on Marcus Smart instead. Robert Covington picked up Tatum while Simmons was Terry Rozier’s primary defender.
- Horford at the five is causing all sorts of defensive issues for Joel Embiid, who is being dragged to the perimeter and forced away from the rim.
- I didn’t see a ton of tweaks to combat Boston’s perimeter pressure, but Redick and Marco Belinelli did have a couple of made shots at the rim. Belinelli I think had two successful backdoor cuts. That’s something I need to check out when I rewatch the game.
- Jaylen Brown came off the bench to make his series debut. He had 13 points on 5-12 shooting. You can live with that, considering he had a pair of 30 point games against Milwaukee.
- Uncontested field goals: 46.4%, 26-56. They just made more of their open shots this time around.
- Amir Johnson had a clean block whistled as a foul in the 1st quarter
- I’m not sure what Dario was doing on that play where Jaylen Brown picked up a loose ball near half court and finished at the other end.
- 16 offensive rebounds and 18 second chance points. Only 12 total turnovers. Again they did fine in auxiliary categories.
- Only 14 free throw attempts, compared to 26 in game one. They did a poor job of getting to the line.
- There was a late game possession, at 104-97, when the Sixers didn’t know what they were supposed to run. Saric went to screen for Redick, who looked like he wasn’t expecting it. Covinton put his arms up after the play as if to say, “what was that?”