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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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