Failing to Execute When It Matters – Observations from Warriors 120, Sixers 117

Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

What the hell just happened?” I thought to myself after the final buzzer sounded on Saturday night.

The Sixers had inexplicably fouled Kevin Durant before trying and failing to execute an intentionally missed free throw with 10+ seconds on the clock. Then Tobias Harris caught the ball out of play on a last minute inbound attempt and the game was over. The whole thing felt like a blur after both teams spent most of the fourth quarter trading baskets.

More than any of those specific situations down the stretch, I thought the bigger disappointment, and the real reason for the loss, was the fact that the Sixers missed five straight shots from 2:43 in the fourth quarter until 0:38, when Harris knocked down a three-pointer to cut the Warriors’ six-point lead in half.  JJ Redick had previously missed a floater and a wide-open three-pointer as the Sixers stumbled to the finish line.

At 117-114, Mike Scott, who played a hell of a game last night, bizarrely fouled Durant to put the Warriors on the line with 35 seconds remaining.

Brett Brown confirmed post game that Scott was not told to foul, and Scott took ownership of the play while not exactly explaining why he did what he did:

I have no excuse. I’m not one for excuses. Just gotta be better. Easier said than done.

Just wasn’t good. Better execution, and that’s on me. I don’t have nothing for you, just gotta be better.

The Sixers were able to cut the lead the three, then won the ball back on a brilliant defensive play by T.J. McConnell, gaining possession under their own basket with 19 seconds left.

At that point, Ben Simmons walked the ball up the floor, the Sixers looked to get into a play with Harris and Redick but could not spring either player, then Golden State ultimately fouled at the 10 second mark to send Simmons to the line. After making the first free throw, Simmons was instructed to miss the second, which he certainly did, but committed a violation by failing to hit the rim.

Brown explained the decision to miss the second free throw instead of attempting to make the shot and then foul:

When I don’t have timeouts and you have to do something coming back (down the floor), I’ll do it all day every day, miss it and try to go get some level of put back. I don’t feel comfortable with Golden State, especially the fact that I don’t have any timeouts. I think it’s questionable for me if you do have timeouts. When you don’t, that’s what we’re doing (missing on purpose).

Brown admitted that there’s a lot of “situation stuff” that the coaching staff has not been able to go through with their new players. He explained that the team has been together “for a minute.”

He then spoke further on the concept of fouling while up by three points and expounded on this particular situation:

When you study the league and say you’re up three, some team is up three, half the league will use a foul to make them go shoot two free throws , the other half won’t, that’s the first point. Those that do use the foul it’s always, and Coach (George) Karl was the first person I’ve ever seen do this a few years ago when he coached Sacramento, do it about eight seconds and under. So, if you can run a play, you base it on the studies that you’ve seen and look at it. If you can run (a play) that’s got some pop to it and it’s quick and it beats that eight-second deadline, you feel comfort that they’re just going to foul Ben. We got into the play slowly. We were trying to free up JJ and Tobias in an action and Draymond Green really didn’t even want to foul. If you looked at Dray, he didn’t want to foul, he was upset at that. I thought they were going to, but I felt like we needed to get into the play quickly.

A couple of things here:

  1. Ben Simmons is a 59% free throw shooter and is always going to be a liability in late game situations where he might have to go to the line. You could have someone else bring the ball up the floor, preferably Harris or Jimmy Butler.
  2. If Ben hits his second free throw, it’s 119-118 with 10 seconds on the clock. If you foul the Warriors immediately and they hit both free throws, it’s 121-118 with about eight seconds left. That’s how much time you have to travel the length of the floor and attempt a three-pointer, since you can’t advance the ball without a timeout.
  3. Durant went on to miss a separate free throw with 4 seconds left, which is why the Sixers had a chance to put up a late prayer at the end.

I get the philosophy of what Brett is trying to do there and I think I’d need to see what their analytics team says regarding intentionally missing a second foul shot. Without seeing the data, I feel like it’s a lower percentage play than coming down the floor with 7-8 seconds left and trying to get off a game-tying three. It’s true that the Warriors have good foul shooters, but this is more about determining what gives you the better probability to score three points. Is it making a foul shot, then missing the second and trying for the rebound? Or is it trying to get off a three pointer with 6-8 seconds on the clock? My gut tells me it’s the latter.

Either way, the players didn’t seem to have any issue with the decision.

Said Harris:

Yeah, it’s coach’s decision and so we definitely were on board with it. It just happened to go the other way, so that’s the toughest thing about it. But, as he said, he would do it again, so we’ll follow suit with that again, too.

I also asked Tobias if he felt like he was pushed out of bounds on the final play of the game, to which he replied that he had not yet seen the replay. Ben Simmons then asked me if I saw the replay, which I had not. Sarah Todd then asked Ben if HE had seen the replay, which he had not. Therefore, none of us had seen the replay at that point after the game, but here it is, for your viewing pleasure:

Contact? Forced out of bounds? Hard to say.

It probably didn’t matter anyway since there wasn’t enough time on the clock to make two free throws, foul, then get a final shot. I looked for another replay angle and couldn’t fine one.

So no, the Sixers didn’t have Joel Embiid or Boban Marjanovic, but the Warriors again played without Klay Thompson and had lost two straight coming into last night. Philly could have knocked off Golden State for the second time this season with some better execution down the stretch, but a couple of brain fart moments and some bad shooting scuppered the deal.

Consider:

I’d agree with that.

Other notes:

  • A lot of female Steph Curry fans in the house. I noticed the same thing last year. Warriors “fans” seemed just as frontrunner-esque as Lakers fans, but younger. The Laker fans here a couple weeks ago were older and mostly men, South Jersey “Pauly D” types.
  • Mike Scott’s 22 points were a season-high. He scored 20 in a playoff game last year. He really had a great game, just a bummer he committed that foul at the end.
  • 5-16 shooting night from Butler, who reached 21 points on the strength of a 9-11 free throw mark
  • Draymond’s line of 6/9/10 is such a Draymond line. He only took 4 shots.
  • Not a good game for Jonathon Simmons off the bench.
  • Redick has not been able to hit much of anything without Embiid in the lineup. It’s remarkable how much more comfortable and effective he is when he can run those DHOs with Joel on the elbow or perimeter.
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9 Responses

  1. It still reverts back to a coach who can’t coach to hold a lead and can’t motivate Ben to work constantly on a 10 foot jump shot. Why? But in a restricted rotation the Sixers should be competitive. Isn’t it apparent that with Embiid JJ looks like he is 25: without him 45?

  2. Must be embarrassing being a grown man walking in the snow and leaving boot prints the size of a small child… right Kink?

  3. Bro, the Warriors are the best team in the league. They didn’t have Clay, we didn’t have Joel. Stop it. Sixers are a legit contender!

  4. This game pretty much summed up how good the Sixers can be, and how awful they can be (especially late in games), all in 48 minutes of basketball. Even with their best players all struggling to hit shots, they not only hung with the best team in the league, but led them much of the game.

    It also showed just how good they could be if they had a coach who truly knew what the hell he was doing.

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