The Sixers lost another road game on Saturday night, this time getting their doors blown off by the Boston Celtics.
Joel Embiid shot 1-11 from the floor and didn’t look like himself at all. Al Horford and Tobias Harris struggled mightily while Ben Simmons’ 23-point night was not enough to make up for the lackluster performances around him.
The good thing is that Philly still won the season series against Boston, 3-1, so that’s a silver lining after two years of really struggling against the Celts. The bad news is that the Sixers play in Miami tonight and Milwaukee on Thursday, so we’re quite possibly looking at a 0-4 road trip before the team returns home to play Memphis on Friday night, which will be the second half of a back-to-back.
How bad are the Sixers on the road?
Their nine wins are only 17th best in the entire NBA, with juggernauts like the Pelicans, Kings, and Grizzlies doing better. They only score 105.7 points per game away from the Wells Fargo Center, which is 25th in the NBA. Compare that to playing at home, when the number shoots up to 111, a jump of eight full spots up the charts. It’s the same with field goal shooting, which is 48% at home and third best in the NBA. On the road, they shoot 45%, which is 19th, a vast and hideous disparity.
Here are some more home and road splits that help tell the story:
Field goal attempts
- Home – 86.8 (24th)
- Road – 87.3 (25th)
Both numbers here are very low, but they can afford to be because the Sixers still do very well at limiting total opponent field goal attempts. They are second in the league overall, holding opponents to 85.2 shots on average per game, so on most nights they can make up for low field goal totals and poor shooting percentages by simply out-voluming other squads.
Three point percentage
- Home – 37% (11th)
- Road – 33% (26th)
They can’t hit on the road.
This problem is exacerbated by the fact that they shoot more threes on the road than at home, a 31.5 number compared to 30.4. On Saturday night they shot 7-33 from three (21.2%) and in Atlanta they were 9-31 (29%). Even in the Warriors win they only shot 34.4% on 32 three pointers and against the Lakers they hit the league average of 35% on 37 shots.
When you go through the threes in Boston, a decent chunk of them were clean, open looks that they just missed:
That’s a pattern. They aren’t typically junking up contested 25 footers, they’re generating open looks and not hitting them.
Free throw attempts
- Home – 21.7 (24th)
- Road – 22.6 (17th)
This number is kind of wonky.
Main problem is that they only shoot 75% from the line at home (22nd) and 73.9% on the road (28th). For a team that has this much size and numerous guys who should be able to work in the paint, they really aren’t playing much “bully ball” at all, nor are they hitting their shots when they do get to the foul line. It makes you wonder what exactly the offensive identity of this team really is.
- Home – 53.4 (2nd)
- Road – 50.3 (6th)
Both good numbers, but with Embiid, Simmons, Horford, Harris, and all of the height and length on this team, they really should be top-three both home and away.
- Home – 27 (4th)
- Road – 25 (6th)
High numbers here on the strength of solid Ben Simmons performances.
- Home -14.8 (15th)
- Road – 14.7 (17th)
They’ve stabilized in this area, mostly due to the fact that Simmons has improved individually, Embiid was out for a while, and Brett Brown started calling more plays to try to get this team going offensively. That resulted in more slower-paced and deliberate looks, versus organic creation with more freestyle passing.
- Home – 8.6 (4th)
- Road – 8.1 (12th)
Both of these numbers are solid. It’s part of the reason why the Sixers are able to limit opponent field goal attempts and negate their own turnover issues (because they turn the other team over).
- Home -19.3 (7th)
- Road – 23 (30th)
Huge disparity here.
They really do commit a ton of fouls on the road, which sends opposing teams to the line frequently and sometimes junks up rotations when guys have to come out with foul trouble. This has happened to Matisse Thybulle a handful of times during an otherwise stellar rookie season.
And part of the problem here, of course, is related to aggression on defense. If you go for more steals and blocks, you commit more fouls, but the fact that the gap is so significant between home and road games speaks to me. The discipline and control really is not there.
- Home -111.4 (16th)
- Road – 105.2 (24th)
No surprise here when you look at shooting and a PACE number that ranks 19th at home and 21st on the road (~99 in both cases).
- Home – 101.4 (1st)
- Road – 109 (8th)
They are the league’s best defensive team at home, then drop off almost eight full points on the road. Defense is their identity and the trait that will win them playoff games.
- Home: +10 (3rd)
- Road: – 3.8 (19th)
Huge, huge drop off.
Fast break points
- Home – 15.9 (8th)
- Road: – 12.8 (14th)
They don’t defend as well on the road, and teams typically shoot better on their home floors, so there are fewer opportunities to turn defense into transition offense, which is where Simmons thrives. You also can’t do as much of that with Embiid on the floor and trailing behind these plays.
We can keep digging in the weeds and look for more advanced stats, but that would take us into the 1,000 or 1,500 words territory.
More than anything, they just don’t defend very well on the road, and when you’ve got a team that is offensively challenged and relies on stout D to lock things down in the fourth quarter, you aren’t going to be competitive unless you replicate the energy and effort you consistently see at home.
You can also talk about accountability, which unfortunately is impossible to qualify. Certainly the home crowd will grumble and then boo the Sixers into competing at home, a clear voicing of displeasure and kick in the ass that won’t happen on the road. Can Brett Brown get his team motivated to play outside of the Wells Fargo Center? Has he been here so long that his messaging no longer resonates? Are these guys thrown off their routine because they’re taking plane rides and sleeping in hotels? Is the concept of tired legs just an inevitability of road life in the NBA?
There are a lot of questions to ask, most of which can’t be parsed and packaged neatly into numbers we can use. Regardless, if the Sixers don’t show a little bit of heart and enthusiasm tonight, the noise is going to be deafening as we head toward Thursday’s trade deadline.