Flunking the Test – Observations from Raptors 113, Sixers 102

Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve seen this movie before.

It’s not a great movie. It’s less like The Shawshank Redemption and more like Highlander 2: The Quickening.

Plot: the Sixers go on the road, turn the ball over, give up offensive rebounds, and allow the home team to shoot about a dozen more shots. That’s what happened last night, as Brett Brown’s team coughed it up 21 times and allowed 17 offensive boards to the tune of a 100 to 88 shot disparity.

That alone is enough to explain the 11-point loss, but there were layers to last night’s disappointment. Joel Embiid played one of his worst games a Sixer. Ben Simmons only took six shots. The entire team shot 31% from three, they fouled too much, and they didn’t spend enough time at the other free throw line.

I think the ultimate disappointment is that the Sixers did play well in bunches last night. They won the first and third quarters. This game was competitive for 6-7 minutes of the fourth quarter. The Raptors didn’t shoot particularly well and didn’t exactly blow this game wide open. You could argue that the Sixers looked better in Toronto this time around, much better than what they displayed in the 17-point October loss.

They’re just not there yet. You need at least three of Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and JJ Redick to play well to beat the Raptors on the road, and only two of those guys had good games last night.

Joel Embiid

10 points on 5-17 shooting, 12 rebounds, 5 assists, and a -23 on the night.

He looks tired, doesn’t he? It looks like the weight of playing 34.3 minutes per game is just wearing him out, and you’ve seen some evidence of it here and there, but he just seem “knackered” in this one, to borrow a phrase from those scousers over in England.

One of the things that stood out to me was that it felt like Ben Simmons was running Joel ragged in the fourth quarter by pushing up the floor after Toronto buckets. It really was a frenetic quarter. I felt like I was watching a tennis match and keeping my head on a swivel as both teams went flying up and down the court. That manifested itself in a couple of possessions where Embiid didn’t even get close to the paint and instead just sort of hovered around the three point line instead.

They had some really bad two-possession forays, like this one:

Simmons pushes the floor off the opponent make and they get a decent three-point look for Wilson Chandler, so that’s fine, but Embiid isn’t even involved in the play. He jogs out to mid court, then he’s already moving back defensively, and when he slides over to help, the opposing center is coming right down the lane for an easy dunk.

Slow it down and run the base motion offense. Let him do his thing. You’re firing off a shot before Embiid has even made it into the other half of the floor. You’re gonna kill your 7’2″ center playing that way in the fourth quarter.

The other thing that jumped out to me was Joel’s lack of patience on a couple of buckets from Jonas Valanciunas. JV didn’t do anything special two of those plays as Embiid held him in front. It just seems like he got antsy and did some reaching instead.

I also thought Joel had some issues with double teams last night. He’s gotten a lot better at recognizing digs and doubles over the years, but sometimes when you disguise the second body or throw it late (when Joel turns his back), you can trap him in bad positions and force him to turn the ball over.

Case in point:

Those are killers.

Toronto did a nice job last night by overplaying the DHO with JJ Redick and making it difficult for the hand-off to occur.  Usually you can counter that by going backdoor, but Embiid has to be on his game to hit those passes with consistent success.

Ben Simmons

The first time around, the Raptors put Kawhi Leonard on Ben for 45 of his offensive possessions.

Last night, Kawhi had him for 29 possessions and Pascal Siakam stepped in for 23 possessions:

Toronto mixed it up a bit. Siakam and Leonard sort of alternated guarding Jimmy Butler and Ben Simmons while Danny Green took JJ Redick.

You can say what you want to say about Ben’s lack of a jump shot, and that’s been an issue for forever now. Defenders continue to sag off of him, which cramps the floor and allows them to slide off and double down on other guys, or just junk up passing and driving lanes in general.

We’ve talked about that before, so I want to talk about something else, and that’s the pace of play in the fourth quarter and Ben’s inability to sort of feel his way through these kinds of games. I showed you the clip above where he threw that quick outlet to Chandler off a Toronto bucket, and in this longer multi-possession sequence here, you see those small decisions sort of chain into other mistakes:

What’s the situation here?

How much time is on the clock?

What’s the score?

You’re down eight with 5:39 to play. That is PLENTY of time to get back into the game. You just got a defensive stop, so why not slow it down and let Embiid get up the floor? Again Ben throws a tough pass, this time to Butler under the basket, who is then lucky enough just to get the ball back out to the perimeter. This turns into a clunky DHO and Redick travel (no whistle), then Ben gets his pass deflected and Toronto dunks on Embiid to go up 10.

Next possession?

They try to run pick and roll with Butler and Redick, but Simmons’ defender sags off of him to block the lane. They get junked up in the corner but Ben earns a mismatch on the smaller Kyle Lowry, and instead of posting him up, he goes back out to the perimeter where Embiid ultimately is whistled for an offensive foul.

Those two possessions there just kill me, because it’s the worst of Ben wrapped into a package. You’ve got him pushing the pace when he doesn’t have to. You have him throwing two bad passes. His defender doesn’t respect his shooting ability and then he doesn’t take advantage of the mismatch caused by the sag.

At least the issues are easily identifiable, but it’s tough to watch these sequences, because they snowball very quickly, and the next thing you know, Toronto is looking at a double-digit lead.

Other notes:

  • Butler came to play. 38 points on 15-27 shooting is why you traded for him. The Sixers win this game if they get anything out of Embiid or Simmons.
  • The Raptors’ bench is much better and much deeper than the Sixers’ bench right now. The Sixers really need a backup big, because if you play Toronto in the playoffs you’re asking Mike Muscala or Amir Johnson to guard Valanciunas off the bench. Right now you need the Sixers’ starters to significantly outplay the Raptors’ starters to make up for the net loss in second unit vs. second unit production.
  • Toronto is so good defensively. The way they slide and rotate and get their hands up is really high-level stuff. They are not an offensive juggernaut, but they really are a nicely balanced and intelligent team.
  • Wilson Chandler doesn’t need to give you 10 points every night, but 1-6 shooting doesn’t do the job as a starting power forward.
  • I still think Brett Brown needs to help guide Simmons from the bench in identifying when to run, when to slow it down and get into the offense, and just use his timeouts to better feel out momentum swings. That’s his biggest issue, in my book, and it has been over the past year and a half.
  • Furkan Korkmaz is doing better with sliding and reading defensively. If he puts on some weight and continues to improve, he can be a viable rotation player.
  • TJ McConnell had five steals and hit 3-4 shots, but the five turnovers really hurt

23 Responses

    1. I was questioned during mandatory “diversity training” years ago at work: What does diversity mean to you? Going around the room the typical BS answers, great, uplifting, wonderful etc anything to just to get this nonsense seminar over. When it was my turn, I answered, “discrimination against white males”. You could hear a pin drop in the room, then suppressed laughter. I quit that stupid company a few weeks later.

      1. If you find it difficult or trying to be a white male in America, it is not caused by discrimination.

        It is caused by your failings in life.

        Stop crying and sack up.

          1. I know. Right?

            Dude is whining about being a white male.

            Life -“Here is your lottery ticket for life”
            Poor little guy – “Not fair. I want two lottery tickets”

            I bet that company he “quit” is happy. Imagine having that guy on your team.

  1. But-but-but they look so good and are so cocky beating up those sub .500 teams at home by two/three points!

    1. It was actually a pretty good analysis.
      It is a real shame about his tiny, child-like boot size.
      Not that it matters.

  2. Embiid looks tired, I agree. But hes had more time off between games this past week than he has all year, and the 2 game before that were blowouts and he didnt even play in the 4th quarters of those games. This is concerning.

  3. Embiid played like garbage and we lost. He owned it, that’s all I can ask for. Get this man some rest. We got three stars now, so no reason we cant occasionally sit one for a game going forward (against the Nets next week?)

    Again I say TJ McConnell needs to be the shot in the arm guy and not the backup PG. How many more drives into the lane with no plan which leads to a panicked pass to the other team do we have to see?

    @ Detroit is no joke, need to buckle down and bounce back.

    1. At this point I think we all know he needs heart, not rest. The only 7 footer in the world that can disappear right before your eyes.

      Simmons has the same make up.

      Same guys that got humiliated against Boston because they couldn’t match the toughness or intensity.

      These guys are like McNabb. They love the light to be shined on them when nothing is on the line. On the outside they are stars. On the inside they are timid.

      1. I don’t thin it’s lack of heart. It’s lack of experience and growth. Donovan Mitchell and Tatum are having slumps right now. No heart for them either?

        1. As Jeremiah Trotter would say – “They don’t have the dog in them.”

          Ben hasn’t had heart since college. He hasn’t found it yet. Joel will be great for Twitter and sound bites. Neither will carry a team. Butler has it. They don’t. It’s obvious at this point.

          Tatum showed he had it last year. You either have it or you don’t. Joel and Ben don’t have it. It’s obvious, just like it was with McNabb.

          1. Joel has one bad game in this entire season and now morons like you are saying that he can’t carry a team. Negadelphians are alive and well alright. It was a regular season loss in fucking December. Take your wanna be Skip Bayless takes and stfu.

  4. Not passing the ball. They were rushing their shots. It’s all on Brett Brown. Joel was tired??? He last played on Sunday.

  5. Joel definitely looked uninspired if not downright tired. Hoped the technical would focus him for a push at the end, but no such luck. Whole team not getting calls. Whole team being lazy on rebounding, especially offensively. TJ got exposed… we need Markelle as much as I hate to say it. Simmons and Joel both showing that they’re still very young… Vets took on the mantle but JJ and JB can’t win it alone. But my main takeaway from this game was god damn Leonard is really good.

  6. You would be tired too if you had to face two thick, strong, solid…..

    Sorry, had to get the “poison” out. Anyway, JoJo faced two tough centers last night and it showed because he’d rather launch a 3 instead of backing them down. After a while, they wear you down. He’ll be fine! He’ll bounce back – like Alex’s pinky.
    As much as I like Ben, he just has to shoot those 10 foot jumpers. Like, really. He’s gotta start doing it now.

  7. If Kormaz puts on weight and continues to improve he can be a viable rotation player for another team considering we didn’t pick up his option for next year.

  8. losing a close game on the road against arguably the top team in the East is nothing to be ashamed about and nothing for the negadelphians to complain about. Oh wait, they’re negadelphians, all they do is complain……Toronto is a deeper team, and has more experience in the big games. The Sixers are getting there, but not there yet. 82 games is a LONG season…..
    Go Sixers!

  9. Coach is using the wrong tool to get the job done. He’s got the talent. Match up man, cmon!!

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