On the Anniversary of Kawhi’s Buzzer-Beater, Revisiting the Three Late Possessions That Let the Sixers Down

Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Today is the one-year anniversary of Kawhi Leonard’s quadruple-doink, which knocked the Sixers out of the playoffs with a game-seven loss in Toronto.

We don’t need to rehash the shot itself, since it brings back a lot of crummy memories for Philly sports fans who were enjoying the deepest Sixers’ playoff run since 2012, when Doug Collins’ team beat the Derrick Rose-less Bulls before pushing the Celtics to seven games in the conference semifinals.

It is, however, worth revisiting the final minutes of this game, which was microcosm of the Sixers’ biggest issue during the series:

They just didn’t execute on enough of those fourth quarter, half court possessions.

The ironic thing is that the Sixers really didn’t have any business being in this game at all. They started 0-9 from the floor, took 24 fewer shots than the Raptors, and lost in just about every significant statistical category. They were out-rebounded, lost the turnover battle, and again couldn’t do much in transition, but played ferocious defense and clawed their way back after an incredibly rocky start.

It brought them to a point where they had several chances to take the lead with less than four minutes on the clock, but came up empty on three possessions, which had a huge impact on the outcome. Perhaps they would have ended up in the Eastern Conference finals if these sequences had turned out differently:

Possession one – 3:16 on the clock, tied at 85

The killer thing about this possession was that the Sixers were coming out of a timeout and had a moment to catch their breath and refocus.

They wanted to play the elbow with Joel Embiid and JJ Redick, but the following issues ruined this trip down the floor:

  1. Embiid lets Marc Gasol push him off the elbow.
  2. Tobias Harris waits too long to play the entry, and by then Embiid is all the way out at the three point line with 11 seconds on the shot clock.
  3. Redick makes the right read, but without a ton of zip on his return pass, Serge Ibaka is able to close out Embiid.
  4. Embiid tries to drive and puts Jimmy Butler in a tough position, resulting in a shot clock violation.

Credit where it’s due; this is excellent defense by Toronto, and Gasol pushing Embiid off the elbow, combined with Kyle Lowry going over that DHO, really disrupted that possession from the start.

Possession two – 2:30 on the clock, tied at 85

This is just a spread 35 pick and roll with Embiid and Butler, but again, they don’t get themselves set until 14 seconds are remaining on the shot clock. Embiid circles back and tries to reset the screen after Butler pulls out of the paint, but when Jimmy picks up his dribble there’s only 3.5 left on the clock.

It was too deferential from Butler, for sure, and on most of these sequences in the Toronto series, you see Ben Simmons just sitting in the dunker spot, unable to spread the floor or help out as a non-shooter.

Possession three – 1:36 on the clock, Toronto up 87-85

This was another possession taking place after a timeout.

They’re going for Redick on a double stagger here, and you can see Gasol sniff it out when he points to the weak side corner near the beginning of the clip. Again, it’s just really good Lowry defense, as he squirts through Embiid and Simmons without being touched, which results in Butler deciding against the hand off and swinging the ball back to Embiid instead.

From there, Joel tries to work a hand off with Harris, who gets pushed way back before eating a double team and turning the ball over.

In hindsight, you wonder why they ran the stagger off-ball and let Butler try to find Redick. Brett Brown typically ran JJ through this set with Simmons or Embiid handling the ball, which allowed Redick to turn the corner on his own, like this:

The double stagger seemed to work better in this fashion, but they ran it differently in game seven.

Anyway, that’s pretty much the story of the Sixers/Raptors series. They just didn’t execute in the half court during crunch time, not frequently enough. It’s a shame, too, because nobody defended Toronto better and nobody else pushed them the way the Sixers did.


7 Responses

  1. Leonard over his point total hit every game that series .
    I always think of Johnny Sac at his fat daughters wedding when I see Embiid crying at the end of the game .

  2. Jimmy Butler carried team. And it was Ben Simmons first acting role. He played the invisible man.

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