Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory – Observations from Pistons 133, Sixers 132 (OT)

Photo Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

With 20 seconds remaining in overtime, JJ Redick messed up. He thought the Sixers had a foul to give and instead put the Pistons on the line with the game tied.

To make up for it, he completed a ridiculous four-point play on the resulting possession, knocking down a contested three to secure yet another win for his team in the game’s dying seconds.

Right?

Wrong.

The Sixers had one more gaffe to commit, this time losing Blake Griffin on a botched defensive switch and fouling him at the rim with 1.8 seconds remaining on the clock.

Of course Robert Covington can’t allow that to happen. Either let the guy get the bucket or commit a hard and clean foul to put him on the line instead. But it’s less about Cov and more about the blown switch from Amir Johnson, who I don’t think needed to be in the game with 5.2 seconds remaining to defend an inbound pass. It was the miscommunication and mess up between him and Joel Embiid and allowed Griffin to get to the basket in the first place.

The Sixers ended the game by going brain fart/amazing play/brain fart, and unfortunately the latter flatulence was the difference in an otherwise nail-bitingly close contest.

People will blame Brett Brown for:

  1. the defensive breakdown
  2. not playing Markelle Fultz late in the game

Some even ripped him for the two plays at the end of regulation, but the Sixers turned those into wide open looks for Joel Embiid and Dario Saric that neither player could knock down. The Saric play was drawn up for Redick to shoot, but he passed to the open man instead. The Sixers went 2 for1 and got a pair of great looks, so I really don’t think there’s anything to criticize Brown for at the end of regulation. Definitely not.

The Johnson and Covington play to end the game,, I honestly don’t know how much that’s on Brown and how much it’s on Billy Lange, who took over defensive duties for Lloyd Pierce this season. Maybe Brown, Lange, Johnson, and Covington each get a split of the blame there.

Interestingly enough, that play happens to be a Dwane Casey late-game special:

Whatever the case, the Sixers have enough firepower to beat that team, even without Ben Simmons on the floor.

Bad loss.

You’re all-in or you’re all-out

I’m in the camp of people that would prefer to see Fultz thrown into the fire to learn and develop. Sitting on the bench in the fourth quarter doesn’t help.

But Brown went with T.J. McConnell for his experience (and defense), and if you watched any part of the second half last night, you saw Fultz begin to struggle with Ish Smith as the teams traded baskets through the third quarter and into the fourth.

So there really are three possible scenarios based on Markelle’s usage:

  1. lose with Markelle Fultz, but get him valuable experience
  2. win with T.J. McConnell, which doesn’t help Markelle’s development
  3. lose with McConnell, which doesn’t do anything for anybody

They ended up with bullet point three last night.

Still, that’s not to say that Markelle didn’t learn anything. He had 13 points in 21 minutes on 6-9 shooting, which included a smooth foul-line pull-up and a wide-open three pointer that he knocked down with confidence. Obviously he was much more comfortable playing point guard, where the ball was forced into his hands, as opposed to trying to find the game in an off-ball role. Markelle was better at getting downhill last night and attacking the rim, which he wasn’t doing much of as a two-guard. He’s still going to have to learn how to play alongside Simmons, which is the real endgame here, but it’s hard not to be impressed with things like this:

Plus, even if Markelle is in the game in the fourth quarter and overtime, it’s not like he’s taking the final shot anyway. That should be reserved for Redick and Embiid this season and nobody else. Fans weren’t sitting on Twitter clamoring for Fultz to be the guy on the final play, they just wanted him to experience a high-stress crunch time NBA situation.

The issue for me, and the real reason why I think Brown decided to sit Fultz, is because his defense just isn’t there yet. Early on, he had trouble fighting through a couple of screens in pick and roll defense. Later, Smith started going at him in a variety of ways, like this:

Like I said, he doesn’t improve in those situations if he’s on the bench, so you have to decide whether it’s worth the risk to play him down the stretch. You have to either be all-in or all-out with Fultz at this point, in my opinion, and the Sixers are doing neither with Markelle through four games. It’s sort of a Markelle purgatory, is it not?

One more point:

No, a player isn’t getting late-game minutes if their defense isn’t up to snuff. Shouldn’t Markelle have to prove that he can defend before he’s entrusted with fourth quarter and overtime play? Maybe. I don’t know. I tend to think that the kid is a special case, a #1 overall draft pick short of confidence who needs to be handled a bit differently than the typical, “prove you belong” kind of youngster. I mean, for Christ’s sake, we spent the last week cheering Markelle just for attempting a shot. That would have never happened 10, 15, or 20 years ago, when you were told to either man up or find a new career path.

So, yes, this is a different situation, and I think most Sixers fans would be willing to take a few October lumps if that results in a more confident and capable Markelle Fultz in February, March, and April.

Mike Muscala

Made his Sixers debut backing up Dario Saric at power forward.

Not a ton to write home about in 17 minutes of play, but he put up 5 points on 2-3 shooting and added a pair of rebounds and blocks. One of those boards was a scrappy offensive grab that he was able to kick out for a big Covington three-pointer in the fourth quarter.

He did hit a three of his own and scored his other bucket on a roll to the rim off a bit of two-man action with JJ Redick.

The goal is to get him into that 10 and 6 or 9 and 5 range, which is where Ersan Ilyasova operated during his time with the Sixers last year. Play about 18-22 minutes a game, grab some rebounds, stretch the floor, take a charge – those are the things he’ll be asked to do backing up Dario at the four.

Landry Shamet

Got the start and didn’t do a ton with it.

He shot 2-5 for five points on the evening:

Obviously playing with the first unit draws tougher defensive matchups for the rookie. He’s not shooting over the likes of Antonio Blakeney and Cam Payne, he was guarded by Reggie Bullock and other starters last night.

I was fine with Shamet starting, because I think Brown just wanted continuity with Redick coming off the bench and becoming familiar with that role. He still played 37 minutes while Shamet only played 24, so it really doesn’t matter who starts and who doesn’t.

Other notes:

  • Detroit went with some 4/5 pick and roll to combat Joel Embiid guarding Blake Griffin in the 4th quarter. The Sixers really didn’t double Griffin throughout the game and seemed willing to live with him putting up 50 points.
  • Robert Covington had a really nice game outside of the bad foul at the end. 6-11, 3-4 from three, 16 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, a steal, a block, and one turnover
  • Griffin and Andre Drummond had a few sequences where they got up and down the floor rather quickly, one where they took advantage of Embiid falling after a bucket to earn a layup+1 on the other end.
  • After Drummond got tossed, Zaza Pachulia guarded Embiid and came up with a huge steal in overtime. I honestly feel like Zaza would be a good matchup on Joel in spurts because he also happens to be a troll. It’s like fighting fire with fire, as Metallica once said.
  • The Embiid flop on the Drummond ejection – yes, it’s gamesmanship. The difference between flopping in soccer and basketball is that it’s easy to give a yellow card for embellishment, which is a natural in-game deterrent. The NBA could probably tweak the rules to better address these types of plays.
  • Serena Winters did a nice job on the broadcast. This was my first time listening to a local broadcast this season, since the first two games presented us with Kevin Harlan and Reggie Miller. Looks like NBCSP decided to have Serena replace both Molly Sullivan and Jess Camerato, whose jobs were rolled into one. That’s the business, right? Why have two people do different jobs when one person can handle both?
  • There was a play in the fourth quarter where Amir Johnson hit the floor face down and Blake Griffin ended up on his back. My wife turned to me and said, “That was the hot mess express. I want that in the story. Can you put that in there?”
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12 Comments

  • Ron Bowman Sucks October 24, 2018 at 9:40 am

    Serena Winters > Molly and Jess combined. Camerato was terrible and obsessed with Markelle shootaround videos.

    Reply
    • I miss Molly's frozen face October 24, 2018 at 12:08 pm

      I guess you can still see it if you go to Eagles games.

      Reply
  • Hardcore 2 1/2 for 4 October 24, 2018 at 9:45 am

    Disgraceful NBA officiating strikes again. Covington didn’t even make contact with Griffin on that final foul call. To decide the game like that is an abomination and the crypt keeper should be ashamed of himself for letting these refs continue to ruin the game.

    Reply
    • An Inquiring Mind October 24, 2018 at 10:03 am

      Yeah, but how about this…..If your RoCo and you’re going to foul him, you foul him to a point to make sure he never gets the shot off! That was a pathetic attempt at a foul anyway!

      Reply
    • Herman Murman October 24, 2018 at 1:09 pm

      It totally looked like Griffin traveled on the final play on ROCO . He changed his pivot foot and took 5 steps, then he stiff-arms Covington.

      Reply
  • Ya Feel Me Holmes? October 24, 2018 at 10:01 am

    I don’t see tangible improvement anywhere Brett Brown outcoached by Dwayne Casey embarrassed by Brad Stevens. Embiid looks like the same non explosive , erratic, player with no low post game . Covington + Saric are bench players on a contending team. Guards cant shoot.

    I don’t see it ever happening with this group. Highly flawed team.

    Reply
  • Charles Cohen October 24, 2018 at 10:02 am

    Nice analysis! To put things into perspective Markelle is OTJing it on playing man defense especially against one of the shiftiest guards in the league. But as Ben did last year, through experience and desire, will become an elite defender. He is quick, long and willing. TJ who has maxed out his skills will never be, although he is valuable, perhaps now more as a trade piece bundled with either Dario or Cov.

    I am impressed with Muscala. He seems to have game and instincts. This team lacks a really good forward though. Perhaps Ben?

    One last thought. Imagine if Markelle had the shooting night and defensive troubles Dario had. The so-called Sixer fans would have called for his cut from the squad. But he has got the goods.

    Look up the career stats of a point guard who came into the league at age 22, averaged 9 points his first year, in which he didn’t start the first half of the 1967 season, and then went on to become one of the 25 best players of all time. Hint: he is the NY Knick color analyst.

    Reply
    • True sixers fan October 24, 2018 at 10:20 am

      You must be a relative of Markelle. Markelle is freaking trash and will be out of the league after his contract expires. The suxers are a disgrace!

      Reply
  • JAYSON TATUM October 24, 2018 at 11:29 am

    That was just as aggravating a loss as the Birds debacle on Sunday. Maybe more so.
    I know you’re not trying to convince me that Markelle is going to be a player on the level of Clyde Frazier, so why bring him up? You could draw a corollary to any number of highly drafted NBA busts, too. It’s pointless.

    Reply
    • Chuck October 24, 2018 at 2:14 pm

      If you are a Celtics fan, are you concerned with Jaylen Brown? You didn’t think Markelle looked very decent last night or even the previous game? I remember last year how much abuse Ben got pre-season and after a few games. It will be the same this year with MF.

      Reply
      • DANNY AINGE October 24, 2018 at 5:37 pm

        I didn’t think Fultz looked especially “bad” last night, but he really wasn’t a factor. So far, he’s a cipher who doesn’t seem to mesh very well with the type of team that’s been cobbled together. The jury is still out, but at this point, the Celtics look like they got over on the Sixers. Tatum has already proven himself to be a key piece of the team, while it seems like the Sixers are still trying to figure out where Fultz might fit in their overall scheme. I’m not burying Markelle, but right now the trade looks like a boondoggle. And unless he becomes a player who is head and shoulders better than Tatum, it will go down as a blunder.

        Reply
  • Why are fans worried about a road loss in October October 24, 2018 at 12:05 pm

    The Sixers have won more than their fair share of games where last second shots went their way. The Sixers were a 1pt road favorite yesterday. The oddsmakers had it as close as it turned out to be. Sixers win by two or lose by one. Bucks are 6pt favorites today. Let’s see if they can beat a real team on the road.

    Reply
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