A Weekend of Winning – Observations from the Kings and Bucks Victories

Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Sixers now own road wins over the 52-18 Milwaukee Bucks and 47-21 Golden State Warriors, which is pretty damn good.

Fantastic victory Sunday afternoon, and one they really needed. They didn’t need just any old win, since they’ve now ripped off four straight, but what they needed was a statement win, a solid W against a top-four Eastern Conference squad to build confidence and show the greater NBA community that maybe this team does have what it takes to get out of round two. This win was good for the mental health of Philly sports fans, writers, radio hosts, and their spouses. It will give us two days of a natural high until Boston comes to town Wednesday night with the Sixers returning home on the second night of a back-to-back.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. Let’s talk about the pair of weekend wins, which I’ve wrapped into one Monday morning post, honestly because I was exhausted on Saturday morning and needed to recharge the batteries.

I re-watched the final eight minutes of the Bucks game this morning, and this is what jumped out to me:

  • I liked Brett Brown’s timeout around the eight minute mark, which paused and essentially reset the game when the Sixers failed to snag a couple of loose balls after bricking one three pointer off the side of the backboard and air balling another.
  • Joel did take too many three-pointers, and the one that stood out to me was when Giannis tried a three around the 7 minute mark and he followed suit with his own attempt on the other end. After that miss, on the very next possession, he went to the rack for a spin move, and-1, to extend the lead back to nine. He dialed it back when it mattered, and then went back to the arc for the clutch shot near the end of the game.
  • Incredibly difficult stuff was going down for Jimmy Butler. A step back 22-footer? Driving straight into Giannis? That’s elite, high-level execution.
  • I also liked Brett’s timeout at the 4:28 mark, when Pat Connaughton answered Butler three with a three of his own. That was another “let’s kill off momentum and manage the game” type of timeout.
  • Most of what the Sixers were running down the stretch was simple pick and roll and some half court iso. They didn’t go to their typical elbow or ’12’ sets, not that I saw. They did go to a horns set where Ben was blocked off before getting to the rim, resulting in a Jimmy Butler 12 footer that was missed. They ran it again, this time with the elbow curl, around the 1:15 mark.
  • Sloppy turnover with Joel looking for JJ backdoor when the offense turned into a two-man set around the 2:30 mark. That was the only poor possession they had down the stretch.
  • The Embiid ball-fake and drawn foul was ridiculous and totally killed off Milwaukee momentum after a pair of Khris Middleton threes.
  • After Giannis dunked all over Simmons and called him a “fucking baby,” Simmons stuffed a putback dunk in his face. What an outrageous sequence that was. I’m really happy the refs kept the whistles silent and didn’t go for any technicals there. Let grown men play a grown man sport.
  • I originally had no clue what was going on with the pair of timeouts under two minutes, because the broadcast just sat on this camera shot of the Sixers’ bench for 10 seconds. I’m not sure the broadcast crew realized that Philly used a second timeout to advance the ball, which I guess was a smart move considering the fact that they couldn’t make it past half court on the most recent play. In that case, you forfeit that second timeout later to help yourself now.
  • Just a random asterisk type of note here, but Malcolm Brogdon is a good defender and his absence does make a difference out there.

I highly doubt that Milwaukee shoots 16-50 from three again. Nikola Mirotic probably isn’t chucking up another 0-6 night anytime soon.

More than anything, Joel Embiid just came to play. He looked energetic, dialed in, and up to the challenge. Similarly, he really stepped it up in a big way with two big blocks to close out the Sacramento game, which was closer than I thought it would be, considering the Kings were on the second night of a back-to-back, having played in Boston on Thursday night.

And Jimmy Butler looked as good as he has since coming to Philadelphia. When he wants to attack and is totally engaged on the offensive end, he’s as good a closer as the Sixers have had in more than a decade.

Defending Giannis

Very interesting to watch Giannis play, isn’t it? He’s so similar to Ben Simmons in how he attacks the basket but doesn’t shoot the ball all that well, though he’s probably a year or two ahead of Ben on the same exact bell curve of growth.

Giannis is a 25% three-pointer shooter this year and hits at 27.6% for his career. He hit 3-8 yesterday, which really is very good for him, but also honestly fine if I’m coaching the opposition. If he’s out on the perimeter he’s not lowering that shoulder, getting to the rim, and drawing fouls.

Still, modern day analytics types would LOVE this shot chart:

No midrange junk at all. Just high-efficiency, foul-drawing stuff around the rim complemented with three-point shooting. The guy is the MVP, so you gotta pick your poison, and I’m taking my chances with eight three-point attempts instead of putting a 74% free-throw shooter on the line with drive after drive after drive.

Embiid and Simmons were the most effective Giannis defenders Sunday, with Joel the only Sixer to keep him under 50% from the floor while guarding him.

Here’s how everybody fared vs. Antetokounmpo:

Giannis drew 6 of his 9 shooting fouls against Sixers not named Embiid, while the other three came in 45 matchups against Joel. You also see Giannis was 5-5 from the floor when not guarded by Ben or Joel.

He said this after the game, via ESPN:

“It’s easy,” Antetokounmpo said. “I would rather Ben guard me than Joel. It’s simple. If Joel’s been guarding me all night and he’s been making everything so tough on you, when someone switches on you — Jimmy [Butler] or Ben or [Mike] Scott or [Boban] Marjanovic — it’s way easier.”

The Greek Freak will be in town in a few weeks so we’ll get to see him up close and personal and build off what we learned Sunday.

Tweaking the rotation

On Friday night you saw Brett Brown change Ben Simmons’ substitution pattern, which resulted in a grouping of Butler, Boban, and Tobias Harris staying on the floor together while Joel and Ben’s minutes were linked. In previous games, we had seen Ben playing with the former group instead of Butler as Brown did some experimenting following the February trade deadline.

I like that aforementioned trio because Jimmy Butler is a pick and roll and isolation player, while Harris is similar and has known and played with Boban forever. Joel and Ben are familiar with each other’s skill sets and have played two seasons together now in Brett’s motion offense. On paper, it makes sense.

The only thing about linking Ben and Joel together was that the Sixers didn’t have anybody to defend Giannis when they were off the floor. Mike Scott did the best he could, but when the two teams play again soon, Brett might have to take another look at that, because Boban isn’t gonna be able to do it. On the flip side, it’s like a game of coaching chicken – does Budenholzer leave Giannis in the game to chase that favorable matchup? He can’t play the entire game, and at some point he’s gonna be squaring up with Embiid again on both ends of the floor.

You also have to consider that this can leave you with T.J. McConnell and JJ Redick pairings, which stresses your back court defensively. That’s another wrinkle to think about.

Still, mostly positive stuff here. Over at NBA.com, that Jimmy/Tobias/Boban trio has played 92 minutes together with a 12.5 net rating, which is fantastic, though some of that of course includes minutes played with Redick and Simmons while Embiid was injured. However, if you have nights down the stretch where you can get away with Embiid and Simmons sitting at the same time, this lineup has seemed to work pretty well in admittedly limited minutes over the last few games.

Boban

Boban’s strengths and weaknesses were both on display this weekend.

Weaknesses: lateral movement, defending in space

Strengths: height, underrated skill set

First, the strengths. I have this belief that Boban’s passing and vision is a little underrated, and that some of his game gets overlooked simply because we’re incredibly distracted by how tall he is and how he makes some plays look absolutely ridiculous.

I asked Brett Brown and Tobias Harris about this on Friday night, i.e., do we undervalue Boban’s wider skill set because of his humongous size?

Brett:

I remember about two weeks ago, I saw these guys play 1v1, it was Ben and Jimmy and 7’4″ Boban. He is skilled. He can pass out of the post, he’s got up-and-unders, he’s got right hand, left hand and he can make a free-throw. If that’s your point, that he’s so big that you miss the point that he’s good in other areas, I completely agree with you. He’s been a sensational pickup.

Tobias:

I think (it’s) because guys really haven’t seen him that much, this year, just in spurts, but he has more to his game. We were trying to get him to shoot a three (Friday night). There’s more parts to his game that he has, that he hasn’t brought out yet. At his size he’s very strong, too. He’s not an easy guy to just move around. I believe half the time he’s getting fouled more than what’s being called for him with his size, but I think he’ll get more calls with more reps.

It’s absurd some of the things that he makes look really childish just by virtue of how big he is:

I just wonder how effective he’s going to be in the playoffs. You can’t play him against Giannis and Al Horford is too stretchy and slippery to chase around. After the first round, where you’ll draw Andre Drummond or Jarrett Allen, we’ll have to see if any further matchups make sense for him, because I think he’s a skilled guy beyond just being large. You have to pick your spots with Boban in your lineup, because he’s a unique guy with unique strengths and unique weaknesses.

Other notes:

  • Light boos for Nemanja Bjelica Friday night, who agreed to a deal with the Sixers in the summer before reneging and deciding to ultimate go to Sacramento.
  • Nice cheers for ex-Sixer Corey Brewer, who was wearing fantastic glasses tucked into his headband.
  • The in-game interview must be fired into the sun. Seriously. Brett Brown and Mike Budenholzer speak before the game AND after the game. They don’t need to speak to the sideline reporter after the first quarter or third quarter. Get rid of it forever.
  • T.J. had some moments in the Bucks game where he looked like a liability out there. The foul on Giannis to end the 1st quarter was such an atypical play for him.
  • JJ shot the ball well in both games. Looks like he’s snapped out of the funk he was in. The Sixers are so much better when he’s hitting, especially early, which helps them get into an offensive rhythm.
  • No turnover issues this weekend, just 10 against Sacramento and 13 against Milwaukee. That average (11.5) would make the Sixers #1 in the league.

I’ll leave you with the Giannis/Ben posters from earlier. I have to admit, when you do this for a living, there isn’t a lot that draws a reaction from you, but I audibly gasped twice while watching these two plays live, then did it again while watching on tape:

Happy Monday.

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7 Responses

  1. Just like me at a Phish show in 98, they are peaking at the right time.

  2. Who designed that awful Bucks offense. Let’s just take as many jumpers as possible way beyond the three point line. Never look to pass the ball or try to get the ball inside for an easy basket.

  3. People acting like the Bucks had some massive outlier bad 3pt shooting game. They shot 32% for the game, they only average 35% on the season. This is why I would much rather play the bucks in rd 2 instead of Toronto. The bucks were built to crush the regular season, but they’ll stumble in the playoffs when the pressure intensifies.

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