Execution, Spacing, and Purpose – Observations from Sixers 109, Celtics 98

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

That’s a morale-boosting win for the Sixers, who really needed it.

Think about it –

This team came in having lost four of their last five. They had just learned that Joel Embiid will require surgery and miss multiple weeks of action. They were playing a rival squad that was sitting above them in the standings. Losing that game on home court would have resulted in a nightmare Friday on social media and the radio.

But they didn’t lose; they went out and played a really nice game, scoring in the paint, pushing the pace when necessary, and slowing it down for Brett Brown to dial up more sets, as he’s been doing recently. They only turned the ball over 12 times and ripped off runs of 7-0 and 9-0 in the second half, taking efficient shots and closing down the game with suffocating defense.

“I thought the guys were really good, especially in the second half,” said Brown post game.  “I thought that the execution, the spacing, the purposeful understanding of what we were trying to do was there. I think that there was a committed effort to offensive rebounding when we just didn’t make the shots. I thought our guys were very efficient and purposeful with what we did, execution-wise, in the second half, especially.”

Great second half, an efficient 54% shooting effort in the 3rd and 4th quarters with a nice blend of paint pounding, open three point looks, and some mid-range stuff from the baseline and right elbow:

There was more pick and roll, more movement, more of everything that the Sixers don’t typically run, and they did a nice job executing it without their best player.

I know there have been numerous let down games played by this team in 2019 and 2020, but this win makes the Sixers 3-0 against Boston on the season It wasn’t long ago that it seemed like they couldn’t beat these guys at all. They also have wins over Milwaukee, Miami, Toronto, and Indy, which comprises the top-6 of the Eastern Conference along with Philly.

That’s why the glass remains half full, because they’ve passed some of the bigger tests against the bigger teams this season. Now they need to find a way to get up for a tricky two-game road set against the Mavs and Pacers.

Play calls, again

Brett Brown spoke ad nauseam this week about play calls and why he’s dialing up more sets. It just gets this team organized in the half court and puts them in a rhythm and groove.

He did a lot of it again last night, and one example I’ll give you is the same horns look into a pin down and staggered screen that you saw against Oklahoma City on Monday night:

I like that look because there are a couple different actions there. Al Horford can play Tobias Harris off the pin down screen, and Harris can pop for a shot. Or, as they do here, he can dribble over to that side and run a DHO instead, which results in a common double stagger coming up from the corner. Harris is more than capable, as is Josh Richardson, who was put into that set in Miami by Erik Spoelstra.

Here’s another one, and Brett called this twice in a row, both of which resulted in buckets:

You saw something similar last year in Brooklyn, just this high post/elbow entry where you then run two actions in opposite directions. When Richardson pulls his guy along the baseline, Harris comes off that Horford screen and then takes a dribble and step back for the open three.

One more, and this is something they ran with JJ Redick last year and year prior, that low-to-high pick and roll that Redick would sometimes just slip instead:

Richardson’s second option here, if there’s no shot, is to play Simmons in the corner and then DHO or ‘pistol’ with him. I think Redick actually called this “rifle action” last year, but I could be wrong. The first action is the pick and roll or slip with Trey Burke, and if nothing is there, they play in Simmons and work to that side. That’s what happened here because Boston switched on the screen.

So you just see more half court stuff from the Sixers, more designs, more sets, stuff that gets them moving instead of the constant dumping into the post they were doing a few weeks ago when Brown went ‘hands off’ with the offense.

Al Horford in Joel Embiid’s role

17 points on 7-11 shooting, 2-3 from three, eight rebounds and six assists. Six of his boards were on the offensive glass.

It’s just easier for Al Horford to slide down to the five and play that role in Embiid’s absence. He was having trouble finding the game and finding his shots when slotted in at power forward next to Joel. This time around, he was able to space the floor in more simple fashion, setting some screens, popping a bit, and finding some short mid-range and open three point looks:

Another thing that’s different is the pick and roll coverage with Horford at the five. Typically the Sixers will play drop coverage with Embiid, which means he sits at the elbow or lower while the second defender goes over the screen and pushes the ball handler off the three point line. Embiid is agile enough to protect the rim in that situation, but other bigs might be hung out to dry. So you just tweak it a bit and show different looks, as Horford mentions:

I just think that for me, defensively, we made an adjustment for Oklahoma City, changing the way I defend the pick-and-roll, and I felt like it was helpful. For me, I like it more that way, Coach made that adjustment, and even the Houston game I changed it up as well and I think that has made a difference … I think we really moved the ball and tried to play with pace, trying to keep up with Ben. He’s flying all over the place, making plays and stuff, so we just have to play different until Joel gets back and then integrate him and continue to figure it out as a group.

At times Horford was playing drop, and other times he was up much higher, standing near or on the three point line. That’s effective against a guy like Kemba Walker, who can work off screens that are set 2-4 feet beyond the arc. Going over in that instance doesn’t necessarily work, since he’ll fire from 24 or 25 feet with regularity.

Philly can do more mixing and matching with their PNR coverage when Horford is out there. It’s not always going to be simple drops ala Embiid.

Other notes:

  • They closed this game out with Josh Richardson running point and Ben Simmons screening and slipping as an off-ball player. Interesting method that worked. Would like to see more of that.
  • That missed alley oop from Korkmaz to Simmons was a killer five-point swing. Should have gone up nine, but instead the lead was four after the Kemba three on the other end.
  • Reggie Miller had trouble saying “Korkmaz.” At one point he said “Korks-maz”.
  • I really liked the time out Brown called around the 3:30 mark in the fourth quarter, when Simmons drove, kicked the ball out, and everybody else just sort of stood there. He saw a bad possession, stopped it, and then they came out of the timeout with their “Ear tug” play and got Simmons to the foul line.
  • Great energy from Norvel Pelle, and some good bench minutes from Furkan Korkmaz as well. There was a key stretch in the fourth where a funky looking lineup really held their own.
  • Brett opted to start Mike Scott at the four instead of moving Harris down to power forward. Tobias had 16 points on 7-17 shooting and Scott was 3-8 on the night.
  • Trey Burke again featured over Raul Neto.
  • Matisse Thybulle went 0-4 in his return to action but had a nice night on the offensive glass.
  • Josh Richardson was my personal bell ringer, with his 29 points, a 10-10 mark from the foul line, and a really flexible and comfortable defensive showing overall, especially down the stretch.

Congrats, we made it to Friday.

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5 Responses

  1. Trade Embiid for Young from Atlanta. Fire Brett Brown. Whoever they hire will be better. Win championship. Your welcome.

  2. There’s no need to post Flyers of 6ers post until both of these trash organizations can win on the road. Until then, this is extremely boring

  3. It’s really getting maddening to get a true feel for Flyers or Sixers identity with how Jekyll and Hyde they are home and on the road.

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