Playing Well Enough to Win, then Blowing It - Observations from Bucks 128, Sixers 122
Let’s make it happen.
Let’s find a way to get seven games of Sixers/Bucks in the playoffs, because that was some of the most compelling basketball I’ve seen in a long time.
In fact, I’m all about a Giannis vs. Embiid pay-per-view event in the near future. It’ll be like Tiger vs. Phil, but actually entertaining, and the winner gets $1 million donated to a charity of their choosing while automatically becoming a captain for the 2020 All-Star Game.
Unfortunately the Sixers lost last night, their first three-game losing streak of the season. They didn’t play poorly, but the 4th quarter defense really let them down, as did the final three possessions of a tight contest. With the game tied at 119 with 1:07 on the clock, JJ Redick missed a 23-footer, Embiid got blocked by Giannis and turned the ball over, then Tobias Harris clanked an elbow jumper.
That was pretty much it, right there.
Beyond the late-game execution, you just can’t give up 46 fourth quarter points on your home floor and expect to shoot your way out of it. That’s the real shame, the fact that the Sixers shot 18-36 (50%) from three last night, scored 122 points, and still lost. They only turned the ball over 13 times (below season average) and won the total shots battle 95 to 93, so they did well enough in their auxiliary categories to win this game. The late-stage defense and shot making just wasn’t there.
I’m kind of exhausted talking about macro-level “do the Sixers have what it takes” concepts, since we’ve discussed that ad nauseam. I really just care about the playoffs this point, and I’ve been on the record saying that I think this team loses to Toronto in round two. Write that down somewhere, then we’ll revisit in May when you accuse me of being a homer, because I don’t think I’m a homer. I think they bow out in the second round.
But last night we got some good X’s and O’s basketball quotes, so let’s focus on that on a Friday morning.
Giving up the three and playing the second side
Milwaukee is a team that will sit back and allow three-pointers from less-than-efficient shooters.
If you recall the last Bucks game, Joel Embiid shot 4-13 from three, good for just 30.7%. Milwaukee is going to take that all game long, so they did the same thing last night, crashing down on Ben Simmons to deny him the paint, which left Embiid wide open for that trailing three that he really likes to shoot. He tried nine threes last night and hit three, finishing at 33%, but you could see at times where he was really fighting himself, really debating whether to take that shot or bring the ball down, run the offense, and get his teammates involved.
I asked Brett about that after the game, what he said to Joel and how he coached him through it:
Brown: We talked about it a lot on the bench and we anticipated that. It’s what (the Bucks) do. I said two things, I said, ‘if you feel it’ – because ultimately a coach can say it but the player has to feel it – ‘shoot it every time.’ If we come in and say ‘Joel shot 15 threes,’ I’m saying hes gonna shoot 36 to 38 percent and that’s a decent (mark), you’d live with that if I’m right on that percentage. Or, if you don’t feel comfortable, which he didn’t oftentimes there, you saw it, then play the second side. Your man is so far back. You can play the dribble-handoff game with JJ, as an example. JJ is coming into daylight, which I thought we did a pretty good job of.
Crossing Broad: And a lot of that was taking place in early shot clock situations, when Ben was pushing the pace, driving, and then kicking out.
Brown: Yeah. When you ask ‘what do you do?‘, those two things to me are most prominent. Shoot it, you three (teammates) are offensive rebounding guys. He’s gonna make it or not, you guys crash, you guys are back, ‘go’ guys and ‘get back’ guys, that type of stuff. And otherwise just play that second side of the floor and whoever your DHO is or whoever is playing get ball or screening, they’re coming off into nothing. I thought we did okay executing that environment early, but those were the two things on my mind when you get that sagging five-man guarding Joel like that.
I went looking for examples, and I think this is a perfect video clip to show one of those instances where Milwaukee invited the three, but Joel instead held the play up and got Redick involved by playing the second side of the floor, which is what Brown is talking about:
Embiid on the perimeter, invited to shoot, but instead Brook Lopez is sagging so far off of him that Redick can simply DHO his way into empty space by running Pat Connaughton off Ben and Joel’s staggered screens, as you see right here:
There were at least two other instances last night where the Sixers worked this stagger in early shot clock situations.
This was the first one I saw, where they ran George Hill into the same gauntlet that Connaughton was subjected to above:
Again, if Lopez (and Giannis) sag to the foul line there to block off Simmons and invite Embiid to shoot, just put the stress on Redick’s man to fight through a pair of tough screens. That’s what the Sixers did nicely right there.
There was another instance where Embiid actually waved off Simmons and brought the ball up himself, running the exact same early shot clock stagger with a different wrinkle:
See George Hill’s body language there?
No guard wants to run through those staggered screens from Embiid and Simmons. If Milwaukee is gonna sit there, just play the other side of the floor and spring Redick into empty space over and over again until they adjust. Think about sending Simmons or a wing to the boards and drop 3-4 in transitional defense.
Here’s what Embiid said about his threes:
Everybody just kept telling me to shoot it. If I shot every time I was open I would have put up at least 25 threes. But I know how to pick and choose my moments. Sometimes I shot it and sometimes I went to find JJ, so you just gotta mix it up and leave them guessing.
Correct, and if these teams meet in the playoffs, it’s something to really focus on.
“12” pick and roll
I’ve written a lot about ’12’ this season. I did an entire sidebar on it a while back.
It’s a Ben Simmons/JJ Redick high/low pick and roll, and with Jimmy Butler unavailable last night, Brown went to this play call on the third-last possession, a possession that normally would go to closer Butler. JJ got off a 23-footer, front-rimmed it, and Milwaukee ran out the rebound and got an easy bucket.
After the game, Redick said this about the sequence:
That’s a play we’ve had some really good success with lately, when the big, when (Ben’s) man just kind of sags, and me coming up the gut and getting a hand off from him. It was a little short. If we could have done it differently I probably would have played that rifle action with Jo and just did a little continuation. Just knowing that his guy was going to be so far back, it probably would have been a bit of a cleaner look. But going over my left shoulder, going to my right, that’s a look for me. That’s how I’ve made a career, so I’ll live with it.
Here’s the clip of that play:
It’s a shot he’s hit plenty of times before. And he’s right, if Giannis is going to sit even deeper than the elbow and prevent the Simmons drive, then the onus is on Hill to climb around that screen and contest the shot.
Redick does have the continuation option here with Embiid, but you’ve seen JJ hit this shot plenty of times before:
Really good film game. I could sit here and watch that tape over and over again.
- I saw a fan at the game take a selfie with Howard Eskin.
- Zhaire Smith did not look afraid out there, not at all. It’s a shame he missed that dunk, but the guy hasn’t played a lot of basketball this year. He’ll be a good player in the future. I liked how he stepped into that first three-pointer with a lot of confidence.
- Giannis is a a beast. I don’t know what to say. He made Ben Simmons look small last night, and there really aren’t any other guys who can do that to him. If Ben is your second-best defensive option on Giannis, and he’s getting bullied at the rim, you’re just gonna have to try to trap Giannis or double him or something else, because schematically that’s going to be unsustainable in a seven-game playoff series. You can’t have Joel out there for all 48 minutes.
- When Ben’s ability to push in transition and get to the rim is denied, he becomes an offensive liability against good teams. He didn’t score his first basket until deep into the 2nd quarter last night. He finished with 6 points on 5 shots and did not go to the free throw line.
- Mike Scott was excellent last night, 6-8 from three, but I feel like every time he shoots well, the team loses. He needs to be big in the playoffs with James Ennis’ absence crushing an already thin bench.
- Boban played three minutes. Just can’t play him against the Bucks.
- Jonah Bolden I thought looked pretty good out there. No fouls, a couple of big threes, and some energy off the pine.
- This team still can’t guard guards.
- Tobias Harris is beginning to worry me as a guy who isn’t present enough during the fourth quarter. He has so much potential to have a breakout, All-Star type of season in 2019-2020, but someone needs to yank it out of him. Maxing him is a risk.
- The Sixers got a couple of foul calls last night on plays where Milwaukee tried to top-lock Redick while he was setting back screens. I like every set they run where Redick is the screener. Milwaukee tried to top lock that ’12’ pick and roll right at the end of the 3rd quarter and Simmons simply passed the ball to Scott for an easy catch and shoot three.
Enjoy your weekend.