You can start with Joel Embiid’s wonderful performance or Markelle Fultz’s impactful contributions, but I think the biggest takeaway from Thursday night’s win was the way the Sixers executed down the stretch.
It was getting a little dicey in the fourth quarter, just a three-point lead with 2:28 on the clock. That’s when the Sixers made three straight defensive stops while also scoring on the offensive end.
- Lou Williams traveling violation
- JJ Redick three-pointer
- Avery Bradley chucks up a 25 footer with 1 second on the shot clock (his first and only 3 of the game)
- Joel Embiid dunk
- Lou Williams double-dribble violation
- Embiid hits 1/2 free throws
That one minute and 14 seconds turned the three point lead into a nine point lead and pretty much sealed the deal.
Embiid finished with a season-high 41 points, his first 40+ point effort since dropping 46 on the Lakers last season. He’s now fourth in the NBA with 28.6 points per game, sixth with 11.9 rebounds per game, and has a league-leading eight double-doubles.
He was tremendous last night, monumental even. Monolithic is a good word. I don’t really have any other superlatives to describe him. He’s on his way to being a top-five NBA player for the next few seasons.
If he was the most important Sixer last night, the second most important performance came from:
It was a 15-point Sixer lead going into halftime, a lead that was wiped out when the Clippers went on a huge double-digit scoring run to begin the third quarter.
Fultz came in for Robert Covington around the three minute mark of the third quarter and ripped off six points, an assist, and a couple of rebounds while helping his team regain rhythm with some really assertive transitional play.
This is the clip that really stood out, with Markelle clamping down on Lou Williams, grabbing the rebound, and then charging down the floor:
Sequence of the night for Fultz for me. Got rewarded for fighting hard on D to contain Lou Will pic.twitter.com/gWVSZDbFcg
— Kyle Neubeck (@KyleNeubeck) November 2, 2018
Said Brett Brown:
“The Clippers came out and had a 24-8 run, Markelle comes in, and we close on a 10-2 run. You just felt the building change, you felt our team’s mood change. We needed that injection of energy. I thought that his defense – we are all going to see him push the ball and find people – but I thought his defense was excellent as well. He really deserves a lot of credit for injecting that type of momentum leading into the fourth.”
Fultz said postgame that he felt like was “locked in” last night and trying to focus on both ends of the floor. Brown pointed out that Markelle was better at navigating off-ball screens and knowing when to go under and over.
The performance, however, does not necessarily get the team any closer to figuring out how to play Markelle and Ben Simmons together, since both are obviously more comfortable with the ball in their hands.
“I think it’s what we keep talking about. He is best, at this stage of his career, at this stage of his basketball NBA life, with the ball. He is a point guard. We continue to see why he was drafted No. 1. When he’s got the ball, he’s pretty unique and pretty special in the open court and finding people and so on. So we’ve been trying to put him in that environment as much as we can, with the ball as a point guard. We’ve discussed my motivation and my reasoning of why we start the game with him. I just think he is really gifted with the ball as a point guard.”
He really is, and you want to see more of what we saw last night. That stretch from the third quarter into the fourth was easily the most influence he’s put on a game. It’s the most he’s steered the course of a game, and that’s really a critical building block that you can continue to shape moving forward.
12 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists on 50% shooting with one turnover is a pretty damn good line.
Getting the better of Boban
With Marcin Gortat and Montrezl Harrell in foul trouble, 7’3″ Boban Marjanovic played almost the entirety of the second half.
You don’t see a lot of guys his size in the NBA, so I wanted to spend some time writing about his game and how he changed things when he came in.
Initially the Sixers had a little trouble figuring him out. Most guys like him just sort of sit on the foul line then sag towards the rim and make life really difficult attacking the basket. You have to make those lumbering big men uncomfortable and get them moving around the floor because they don’t have a lot of lateral quickness or reactive ability in space.
Case in point, they started doing a nice job of pulling him away from the basket and either shooting around him or attacking with speed, which you see on a play like this:
JJ Redick gets around Tobias Harris and that forces Boban to slide. Easy dish off to Embiid for a dunk. Most big men are gonna have trouble defending that.
Joel also hit a couple of foul-line jumpers and a three-pointer with Marjanovic in the game, and he talked about the adjustment afterward:
“Boban is a big dude. I had to adjust a lot with them starting him in the third quarter. In that third quarter I missed a lot of easy shots. I was trying to figure him out, a lot of pump fakes and trying to go through him but in the fourth quarter I changed everything. In the third quarter, I was just pump faking. He’s taller than me and he’s longer than me so you have to use your quickness and in that fourth quarter I think I used my quickness well. I have to give credit to the coaching staff and my teammates too.”
Here’s another example of how they attacked him:
Markelle really just outpaces him right there to end the third quarter. Fultz is very good when he simplifies the game and doesn’t over-think it.
I asked Brett Brown if that was the key in figuring out Marjanovic – the idea that you want to get him moving laterally and force him into uncomfortable adjustments:
“Moving him around and pulling him out were things. I’ve always felt like this; he’s really good. Everybody sort of looks at his size and I look at so much more with his skill package. He can pass. He makes free throws. He works hard. I know him from my Spurs friends, and they just loved him. He was a tremendous teammate and a great worker and we just tried to take him and move around, like you say, go side to side and pull Joel and let him trust his three point shot. You don’t need to wrestle on a back down with Boban. I’m not sure, even as good as Joel is, it didn’t feel right all the time. That action you’re speaking about, we tried to move him around or pull him out.”
You also saw a small ball look from Brown in the second half that looked like this:
- Markelle Fultz
- Landry Shamet
- Robert Covington
- Ben Simmons
- Dario Saric
It was interesting, for sure. Brown said postgame that he’s “curious” about trying it again. Oddly enough, that lineup got Saric a three-pointer.
Dario had another extremely poor night. His slow start has brought us to nine games, which is now about 10% of the season.
He played 24 minutes and had 5 points on 1-8 shooting while going 1-3 from deep and committing five personal fouls.
Brown was asked postgame if this is your typical slump, or something more:
“You know what I know. None of us can overreact. I will say that, when you look at his three point shot – we went really small and he was at the five – Mike Muscala had 5 fouls and we didn’t do it for long, but we did it. It opened up a big three for him and I think it was his only made field goal. It sure was timely. But as I said before, none of us should overreact. It’s part of NBA life, all athletes. I think we’ve seen when you study a little bit deeper, those starts of seasons, and led by me, nobody is really overreacting in our locker room.”
They shouldn’t overreact, but there’s some reason to worry. Of course Dario always has an adjustment to make when he moves back to the U.S. after spending each summer in Croatia, but the slow start only lasted six games last season. It’s going on ten games now.
Low post looks
Here’s your set of the night, something that was bread and butter for Philly last year:
They used that last year and got some easy low post looks with it. It’s just a baseline action where you use a shooter as a screener and try to get Ben Simmons under the rim.
Brett talked about it:
“That action we run for Joel as well. We run a lot of cross-screen action. When you really study the great shooters in our league, whether they’re point guards or not, you look at Nash, Hornacek, Stockton, JJ – if you can find a great shooter that’s a great screen-setter, (it’s great), because (defenders) don’t leave ’em. In that action, a lot of times it’s JJ setting that cross-screen. Lots of times it’s in flow, it’s moving, it’s not static. That action is something we try to run a lot. There are counters to it. They can switch it. A lot of times they don’t because they’re fearful of JJ squirting out of it.”
Yep. JJ as a screener is a key concept in some of the cool designs they run.
I actually don’t have any other notes, but I documented this press conference exchange:
Exchange from last night:@JackMcCaffery: were you encouraged that Ben Simmons took a couple of mid-range shots??
Brett Brown: Yeah.
Jack: You talked about that before the game.
Brown: Where's @howardeskin? Howard would be thrilled.
— Kevin Kinkead (@Kevin_Kinkead) November 2, 2018