Making Their Guards “Look Like Hall of Famers” – Observations from Nets 127, Sixers 124

Photo Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

I wouldn’t pin last night’s loss on any one thing specifically.

Start with the fact that the absences of Jimmy Butler and Mike Muscala forced Brett Brown into playing what essentially amounted to a seven-man rotation, with T.J. McConnell and Landry Shamet receiving 29 and 20 minutes, respectively.

That’s one thing.

Then you could go free-throw shooting, where the Sixers only hit at 75% on 16 trips to the line while Brooklyn shot 86% on 43 attempts. You can say that number might be bloated due to the late 4th quarter scramble, but it was lopsided well before then, with the Sixers still in single digit free throw attempts midway through the final period.

After that, you can look at Joel Embiid, who had 23 points on 10-15 shooting going into halftime, but put up only three more field goals in the second half.

You could make a note of JJ Redick’s 1-7 mark from three point range. Maybe jot down 17 turnovers in your notebook.

You could also spend some time talking about Brooklyn’s efficiency from the perimeter and about the constant struggles the Sixers have with this team.

Brown and his players touched on almost all of those subjects after the game, but before I go quote-heavy, I want to start with the two fourth quarter sequences that essentially put this one to bed.

Entering the post

Yes, the Sixers only lost by three and put forth a furious late run to cut into the lead, but I think the true killer was the pair of possessions where they tried to feed Ben Simmons in the post but turned the ball over instead.

It was late in the fourth quarter. The Sixers came out of a timeout down by eight, and this was their first possession:

Sorry for the hitch in the video. You never know what you’re gonna get with the NBC Sports stream.

Here’s the second clip after a defensive stop:

They went for the same thing with the same result, blowing two consecutive possessions and surrendering a bucket at the other end to go down by 10 without two minutes left on the clock.

I felt like that was the game right there, the moment where I said to myself, “they’re not gonna win this one.” Brett Brown seemed to suggest the same:

You’re trying to get Ben the ball, and we run action off Ben as sort of a post passer. Ben felt like he had the guy buried. In the light of day, we’ll go back and see that. I wished he’d stepped off that block and run what we were looking for. But Ben gets people deep. You can see what he’s thinking. But to me, I thought that almost was the game during that sequence.

It looks like they had Joel Embiid and Wilson Chandler screening for Redick away from the ball there, a little pin down or pin away. If you get that entry pass in clean to Simmons, Korkmaz can clear out and Redick should have a pretty open look on the perimeter. Or, if Ben gets Rodions Kurucs underneath the basket, he can just put up the shot himself. You see that in the second clip, that burial, so to speak, but Kurucs does a nice job of coming back around to tip the ball away.

I asked Furkan after the game about those two plays, and instead of brushing through it, he gave what I thought was an interesting and honest answer.

Korkmaz:

After the game, right away when I came to the locker room, I wanted to watch the possessions because I think those two possessions were the game. I feel like I could throw a better pass, tougher pass, sometimes that happens. I think I need to work on it. Sometimes you lose your focus on the game, maybe I could throw a better pass, I could communicate well, maybe I need to take more time, I don’t know. I will watch the game again and again because I don’t want to do that again. I feel like I did my job today, but those two turnovers are hurting me right now, I don’t feel good about it. Today I was feeling guilty. I could throw a better pass.

That’s a good quote. That’s a young guy taking ownership and showing that he gives a shit, which you don’t always get from athletes in his position.

Sarah Todd at the Inquirer asked a good follow-up question: does he always watch post-game film if something is sticking in his mind?

Not really right after the game, just usually at home I’m watching it. Today I just wanted to watch right away because I was feeling guilty, you know? I can throw a better pass, that’s why I wanted to watch right away.

Joel Embiid was sitting alongside Korkmaz during the two-man post-game presser, and he chimed in at the end, unprovoked, to offer this about his teammate:

“By the way, he’s been doing a great job. It’s such a tough situation for him and he’s stepped up when given the opportunity. He’s been helping us a lot.”

That’s cool for Joel to say that. It doesn’t seem like much at all, but that shows leadership quality when you step up and say something about a teammate who was obviously down in the dumps after committing a couple of bad turnovers in a key spot.

Speaking of Joel, we asked both he and Brown about why he didn’t shoot more in the second half.

Here’s Brett’s explanation:

I think if you look at them double-teaming the post, I think if you look at them fronting the post, I think if you look at him passing out of the post when they did double team – he had six assists, then that has a chance to reduce his shot attempts. I think they did a good job of making him pass. We’ll go back and look at that, but I think it’s more that than us forgetting about Joel Embiid.

Embiid did take 13 of his 18 shots inside the paint, so it wasn’t about shot selection or perimeter presence. He just didn’t shoot the ball much in the second half at all.

For what it’s worth, Embiid himself kind of pushed back on the double-team idea:

That was pretty soft, the doubles. That’s actually good because I’m not selfish, I’m a willing passer in those situations. I felt like tonight I tried to do a better job passing out of double teams, whenever they double, but I don’t think that should ever take away the way the offense is ran.

Yeah. I get all of that. You take what the defense gives you. It’s not dissimilar from football. If they’re going to double and dig and throw a second defender late, Embiid is more than capable of passing out of it. Your perimeter shooters hit a couple of shots and then the opponent rethinks the defensive strategy. Still, I don’t know how it’s possible for Embiid to shoot 15 shots in the first half and only 3 in the second half. That might be a good sidebar story for today.

The biggest problem created as a result of Embiid not shooting the ball was that the Sixers barely got to the foul line last night. There was a point in this game where the Nets had a 29 to 6 advantage in free throw attempts, which is travesty of a mockery of a sham.

Here’s Brett’s explanation for that:

I think when you look at who we have, really Ben and Joel are going to be probably the only ones who shoot free throws when you look at our personnel that we’re left with. If we start there, the opportunity to maybe catch up with other people getting fouled a lot, because that’s their style of play, that wasn’t available to us. I think when you look at [Spencer] Dinwiddie just trying to guard him, some of the abundance of free throws, is a result of how we whack them at the end of the game, but I think the discrepancies start sort of for those reasons.

It was, sure, but the disparity was there waaaaaay before the fourth quarter hackfest.

Brett isn’t wrong, however, when he talks about the personnel being an issue. Ben Simmons had to go down and play in the front court last night, so when he’s playing the four or five he’s not aggressive Ben driving to the rim from the point guard position. If Embiid is being double-teamed and passing out of the post instead, he’s not drawing fouls. Korkmaz and Chandler and Redick and Shamet are hovering around the perimeter, so they aren’t getting to the bucket either.

This was a thin lineup featuring one healthy power forward and not much behind him, but when the other team is in the penalty you’ve just got to find better ways to get Embiid going and get him on the line. He had nine November games featuring double-digit trips to the foul line, but that’s happened only once in December.

It’s no coincidence that the Sixers have lost three of their five worst games in this department:

Look at those two wins. They shot lights out from three to make up for getting little time at the foul line, and last night the story just was not the same. You can’t shoot 43% from three to make up for a 12-16 foul shooting number.

Final word to Brett Brown on why his team lost:

I think that some of it was bad defense, some of it was let down schematically, some of our good shooters still getting off shots, I think it’s a hybrid of them making some shots, us being a C- at times with our aggression and maybe a C schematically trying to execute a game with their individual players. I would put some blame proportionally all over the place.

More or less. It wasn’t one of his best nights either. And I honestly wouldn’t spend too much time talking about perimeter defense. Butler and Simmons on the perimeter together changes a lot of that, and the personnel just was what it was last night. Brooklyn has good guards. You have to figure it out before Boston and Toronto come back around in the playoffs. Everybody knows it’s an issue and it has always been an issue. We’ll see how Elton Brand addresses it.

Other notes:

  • Shake Milton got some early minutes before disappearing entirely until the fourth quarter. He finished with 5.
  • Amir Johnson only played eight minutes off the bench
  • 9 points, 3 rebounds, and 4 assists for Wilson Chandler, who I would have liked to see take more shots last night considering the thin lineup
  • Embiid had 6 turnovers to go with his 6 assists, so that’s an A/TO ratio that doesn’t do anything for anyone.
  • T.J. McConnell was really the only bench player to do much of anything in the game’s first 46 minutes. Landry Shamet did most of his damage in the garbage time rally.
  • The buyout market cannot come fast enough for this team. They need front court depth badly.
  • Joel Embiid said that the Sixers always make the Nets’ guards look like “freaking Hall of Famers,” and he’s not wrong.
  • the “Fortnite Cam” at Sixers games makes me feel old as hell
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2 Responses

  1. “◦The buyout market cannot come fast enough for this team. They need front court depth badly.”

    That was my main takeaway from a game littered with negative takeaways.

    Nice quotes from Furkan and the Joel chime in. A slight silver lining of ownership and leadership from an otherwise bleak game.

    The Raptors blowing out the Warriors on the road without Leonard 24 hours after beating the 1st place Clippers on the road without Leonard is a stark reminder of how much our bench sucks.

  2. Kevin, any sense of what’s up with JJ this year? Is he hurt or something? I get that 29 games isn’t a full season, but it’s somewhat of a decent sample size and he’s shooting 35% from three (career 41.1%). Not good…

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