There it is.
The worst win of the year.
The Sixers improved to 43-25 and remain in third place in the Eastern Conference.
I’m normally a “win is a win” type of guy, but when you’re 15 or whatever games away from the playoffs and you’re not putting away the Cleveland Cavaliers at home until the final minute of the fourth quarter, then you should probably be at least a bit concerned, considering the expectations justifiably placed on this team before the season, after the Jimmy Butler trade, and now following the Tobias Harris move.
They just didn’t look focused last night, didn’t look dialed in. They looked the same way they did when they played the Cavs at home on Black Friday, stuffed on Tryptophan and sleepwalking through too many lethargic sequences, resulting in the worst loss of the season.
Credit is due to Joel Embiid for showing up late, with a clutch putback dunk and game-sealing block on the defensive end. He described himself as “trash” in his postgame press conference but made enough plays when it really mattered to cement victory, hitting four straight free throws to ice this one after stuffing Ante Zizic on a critical ATO play with 33 seconds on the clock.
That’s the glass-half-full approach, the idea that they “found a way to win,” but this game deserves the ole’ Negadelphia spin.
It is what it is.
Or is it?
22 turnovers against the Cavs is pretty atrocious. It’s the fifth highest number they’ve committed this year and the only game they’ve actually won when coughing the ball up 21 or more times.
Brett Brown was asked a number of turnover-related questions last night, beginning with a generic “how about those turnovers” type of query:
I mean, I’ll go back, you sort of bucket up turnovers, in general. You know forced/unforced type of stuff where they tried to post Joel, whatever it is, it is. I think the two areas that stand out the most is our dribble handoffs, Joel and JJ you know (Cleveland) really did a decent job of (defending) that. It stood out to me in that type of situation that Joel being back only his second game, it looked it. And then there was just some unforced stuff that needs to be fixed. You know, they were just a little bit too casual. We’ll go back and look at it, but those two areas, handoffs, I think we had six turnovers in that part of our offense, and I know there were a handful of unforced turnovers.
Dribble hand-offs can be a difficult read in general, especially when Embiid and Redick are playing their two-man elbow game, which usually results in some pretty good looks for JJ. However, because his cuts and reads are so quick, Joel’s decision making on where to drop the ball often has to come at a split-second’s timing, which I think just raises the difficulty in executing the play in general.
I asked Joel about that specifically, then Ben Simmons got up and walked out of the room, which resulted in this quirky exchange:
— кιєяαη (@kberkk) March 13, 2019
Right, so I asked the question again, and here’s what Joel said:
“Oh yeah, I mean the whole season last year and this whole season, we’ve been good. I took some time off (with the knee) and I was a bit frustrated today with the number of turnovers I had coming off those handoffs, which usually doesn’t happen. We’re usually in pretty good sync. But like I said, we haven’t played in a while. We’ll get it right back.”
Plays like this are a killer, because when they’re out of sync at the high arc area, and their three teammates have cleared out to the weak side of the floor, one missed read on a DHO can lead to the ball going out of bounds or a break out for a layup:
Those are just brutal. The Sixers of course blew a 10-point fourth quarter lead, led by Jonathon Simmons, who missed a layup that would have extended the lead to 12, before coming back down the floor and fouling Nik Stauskas on a three-pointer.
But the DHOs weren’t the only problem last night, and it’s easy to say, “well the Sixers run the floor and throw a ton of passes, so of course they will have a penchant to coughing up the ball.” That’s only partially true because a ton of their turnovers are just sloppy or lazy, passes that don’t need to be made or loose handles or double dribbles, combined with the occasional step out of bounds or offensive foul.
These are killers:
I asked Brett after the game if there was anything the coaching staff can do from the sidelines or in the film room to help alleviate the turnover problem, which led to this answer and follow-up question:
Brown: There always is. Timing, execution, screen setting, of course there would be.
Crossing Broad: How much would you say is tangible stuff that you can influence from the sidelines versus the players just having to be smarter with the ball on the floor?
Brown: I really don’t know the percentage. But, to your question, yes.
End press conference.
He didn’t really want to talk about it, and I don’t blame him, but ultimately Brett and Monty Williams and Billy Lange and Kevin Young have to reach these guys somehow, telling them, “look, you guys just have to value the ball more; we can’t be having this sloppy shit out there.”
The Sixers are turning the ball over 15.6 times per game, which is actually down from last year, but data at NBAMiner.com shows that only about 5 of those turnovers per game come from bad passes. The rest are from loose handles, offensive fouls, stepping on the line, and other things that shouldn’t be happening as frequently as they do.
This is a team that has enough talent to waltz into the Eastern Conference finals if they protect the basketball, stay mentally focused, and execute the way we know they can execute. If they stop shooting themselves in the foot with these errors, sky’s the limit.
The Jonathan Simmons/James Ennis tournament for a playoff rotation spot appears to be over.
Ennis started the game in place of the rested Jimmy Butler and finished with 12 points on 6-7 shooting, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists. He was a team-high +13 on the evening and had a couple of wicked dunks.
If you asked me for my playoff rotation on March 13th, I think your best bet is something like this:
- Ben Simmons
- JJ Redick
- Jimmy Butler
- Tobias Harris
- Joel Embiid
- Boban (spells Embiid)
- Mike Scott (at PF or small ball 5)
- James Ennis (wing off bench)
- T.J. McConnell (where necessary)
Brett played nine-man rotations in the Boston series last year, with the 9th man typically earning single-digit minutes. Assuming everybody is healthy, I think we’re getting something like what I’ve typed out above.
- Pretty good game for Boban on his return – 11 points and 3 rebounds. I really like his vision and passing when he’s able to just dump those backdoor looks from the high elbow or arc.
- Nice night for Ben Simmons at the line, 6-8 (75%). He was aggressive throughout and bulldozed his way to the rim on a number of occasions, leading the Sixers with 26 points and finishing two assists shy of a triple-double.
- Jordan Clarkson missed a pair of free throws in the second half, which earned everyone in attendance a free Wendy’s Frosty. HOWEVER, there was a lane violation on the second free throw, so he re-took the shot, made it, and denied everyone a frosty. What a jerk.
- Clarkson couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn last night, but Collin Sexton again gave the Sixers trouble, shooting 11-20 (55%) and leading the Cavs with 26 points. You should be hoping the Sixers get the Pistons, and not the Nets, in the first round.
- The Celtics have a relatively easy three-game home stand before visiting Philly next week. There’s little margin for error, with Boston 2.0 games behind the Sixers.
- Zhaire Smith was activated last night but did not get to play.
Sloppy Joes, I know how yous kids like them sloppy: