The Dislocated Finger Game – Observations from Sixers 120, Thunder 113

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Sixers ended their season-long losing skid at four games, beating Oklahoma City at home on Monday night on the strength of a 50% three-point shooting effort while committing only 10 turnovers.

That’s a good formula to quiet the concerns after coming up winless on the recent road trip that started in 2019 and carried us into the new year.

It was a bit hairy at times out there, with Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris picking up four fouls early in the second half and sitting down while OKC cut into a double-digit lead and hung around until the end, finally finding themselves put away with a handful of assertive late possessions that saw the Sixers push their advantage back to nine and then close it out at the free throw line.

They were impressive sequences, two of which saw offensive rebounds turn into Tobias Harris buckets while a third possession saw Ben Simmons identify a mismatch and just muscle his way to the rack.

“It ties in to the global stat that we didn’t turn it over,” said head coach Brett Brown, when asked about that clump of positive late possessions. “What, did we have ten turnovers for the game? And think about this; Ben (had) eight assists and two turnovers and Joel (had) eight assists and two turnovers. When’s the last time you can reference those two statistics, eight assists with two turnovers? As a team we ended up with 31 assists and 10 turnovers. This whole thing we’re trying to do is letting the guys play in open court and then trying to be organized. I’m calling more plays than I’ve ever had to call. I believe we’re reaping the benefit of that and the guys are letting me do it. In open court they were good. We didn’t turn it over and got decent looks and efficient play.”

It’s all true. This team is unbeaten when they turn the ball over 10 or fewer times, and that’s something they were inconsistent with during the four-game losing streak, coughing it up 16, 11, 15, and 11 times in those games. If you go back to the Milwaukee win, they shot the three incredibly well but also protected the basketball, turning it over a season-low eight times.

Last night the turnover number was key in offsetting some of the offensive rebounds they were conceding, ultimately giving them a 90-89 margin in field goal attempts. That was important, because OKC was matching the Sixers shot-for-shot until the final push that ultimately won the game. Until this team figures it out offensively and evolves in the half court, they’re gonna have to continue to win in ancillary areas like limiting turnovers, creating their own turnovers, and grabbing offensive boards, i.e. anything that helps them win the total field goal attempt battle and grind other teams down.

Joel Embiid’s dislocated finger

Ugly man. I’ll spare you the visual; just know that it was badly dislocated. It was pointing in the wrong direction.

Joel got his finger checked out after the game and told us he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to play on Thursday against Boston, though he wants to. Here’s his explanation of what happened:

I think it happened a couple plays early. I felt my finger snapping and I thought I fractured it. I went into the locker room and they did some X-rays and said that it was nothing. I just came back and it just happened. It was just unfortunate.

It was pretty bad. I was basically playing with one hand. But in the midst of the losing streak I just wanted to make sure I could everything possible to try to get us a win. I’m glad we got the win.

Embiid says doctors were talking about the “ligament” after the game and trying to figure out what comes next. We should get an update today.

Watching live, it seemed like the finger affected him most in the rebounding department, which Embiid touched on after the game:

I would say that mostly offense and rebounding. I couldn’t go up with two hands. Steven Adams is a great offensive rebounder. There was a couple of times that I could have gone up with both hands, but I just couldn’t, and I just kept on tapping it. And offensively, not being able to put a hand on the ball or dribble with the left hand, or do anything with it, my shot, but I’m glad we got the win.

You could definitely see that, those times where he would typically go up strong but sort of tried to leverage with one hand instead. As such, Adams, who is possibly the worst matchup for somebody re-entering the game with a messed up finger, ripped off a season-high nine offensive rebounds, which I clipped for you here:

Something to think about if Embiid plays against Boston Thursday. They’re a top-12 rebounding team overall, top-10 on the offensive glass, and Enes Kanter can be a pain in the ass in that department. Might be more of a team rebounding effort.

Deferring to teammates

17, 15, and 8 for Ben Simmons, who was a +18 after another really, really good performance.

You still get the sense that people are somewhat annoyed with his inability to take the step from really damn good to truly elite, and I want to show you this play, which resulted in some light boos at the Wells Fargo Center.

Watch it and then gauge your own reaction:

That’s such a Ben Simmons play, dishing it off to a teammate when he probably could have just continued that motion and finished at the rim. But Mo is right; Horford doesn’t need to be in that space during a transitional opportunity, and instead of getting something at the rim or a clean corner three-point look, the result of play is a mid-range miss.

The big hubbub before the game was another three-pointer question to Brett Brown, this time from Howard Eskin, which played out like this:

The takeaway for me there is Brett saying he hasn’t called anything to get Ben an open three point look. That tells me that he doesn’t really truly think it’s important, OR he believes that Ben is not interested to the point where dialing up something like that is ultimately pointless.

You’ll find different Simmons factions out there, some that want him to shoot and others who point out that he put up 17, 15, and 8 last night without shooting a single jump shot. I’ve always been of the mindset that adding a shot can only help his game and alleviate some of the spacing burden placed on his teammates. Anybody who watched the 2018 Boston series or 2019 Toronto series understands that Ben’s unwillingness to shoot manifests itself in choppy and difficult fourth quarter half court possessions in tight games, where he’s standing in the dunker spot and limited in what he provide. We’re almost halfway through the year, and if he ain’t gonna shoot it now, is it ever gonna happen?

Dunk squad warmups

These guys and gals do their performance at the end of the third quarter during every game, but most people don’t know they practice on a trampoline and padding in the bowels of the Wells Fargo Center. Figured I’d snap a photo of them in action:

No rim, no fans, nothing. They just go through the jump motion to try to get themselves ready for show time.

Other notes:

  • Josh Richardson was called for a foul on a play where Dennis Schroder clearly jumped into Steven Adams while trying to sell the contact.
  • Rock solid Richardson game. He finished 9-17 with a team-high 23 points.
  • Tobias Harris looked a lot more assertive from three, much more quick to pull the trigger. He took six of his 11 shots from deep and hit four of them.
  • Al Horford still looks like he doesn’t fit out there. Good shooting night though, 6-10 on the evening and 1-2 from three. I feel like that short jump hook is still coming out a little more flat than it was in Boston.
  • Mike Scott had two big fourth quarter threes after really struggling through the end of December and into January.
  • Trey Burke 5-7 for 12 points in 15 minutes. With this team struggling offensively, he has to be the backup point guard right now. I still think Raul Neto is probably the better facilitator and offense-running PG, but they’re doing so much free-styling out there right now and in need of a guy who can do something with the ball in his hands, which is why Burke has to be the guy as of 1/7/20.
  • OKC successfully challenged an out-of-bounds call with about five minutes left in the fourth. It was interesting to see Billy Donovan heed the advice of 2-3 of his players and burn a timeout to challenge. In most cases, coaches seem to be a little hesitant to trust their players on these types of sequences, simply because they’re caught up in the moment and naturally going to think that the call went against them.
  • Not sure how the Sixers lost the challenge on the out of bounds on Adams. Clearly Ben Simmons hit his hand, which hit the ball, and then went out of play. If anything, Simmons probably fouled him during that sequence.
  • Joel Embiid tipped a ball out with such force that it went out of play on the other end of the floor:

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