Feeding the Pig – Observations from Sixers 113, Wizards 107

Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

It got hairy for a little bit.

The Sixers came out laying bricks in the third quarter, fell behind by double digits, and looked completely lost on the offensive side of the floor. Fans on Twitter were calling for Doc Rivers to put the bench back in the game, which wouldn’t have been the worst idea considering the fact that the second unit had built a 13-point lead for the starters to work with.

Then somebody flicked the light switch, Joel Embiid awoke from his slumber, and this new-look Sixers team exploded for 40 fourth quarter points. They executed down the stretch to near perfection, claiming a 113-107 win in the season opener.

This was a tie ball game, deadlocked at 99 with 2:40 left on the clock. On the next five possessions, the Sixers did this:

  1. Ben Simmons/Joel Embiid elbow, Simmons drives to rack for two (101-99)
  2. Seth Curry makes floater off a broken elbow possession (103-101)
  3. Embiid tough bucket at the rim (105-103)
  4. Shake Milton fouled at the rim, hits both free throws (107-103)
  5. Simmons gets free for a dunk (109-105)

That’s really what it comes down to. Executing when it matters. They just buckled down and closed this game as a group, with four different players scoring points on those five straight possessions.

To put this one away, they hammered home a multi-action elbow set over and over again.

“We went to that elbow action and it was terrific,” Rivers said post game. “I can’t wait to watch the film because we’ve got three different options on the same play. That means not only were they engaged, but they were thinking. I thought the best play of the game was Seth’s pass out of the timeout. Ben made a great cut, got a dunk there, it was the same action and it just looked different. That’s what you have to do to win games. You fall on a play and stay with it until they stop it. I think we scored six out of seven on the same action. I told them, that’s what you do, is ‘feed the pig.’ If they can’t stop it, keep running it. We did the opposite of that in the first half. We’d run a play and score twice, then go away from it for five possessions. Those are the things that can’t happen.”

Here’s the video clip stringing those buckets together. The Curry floater got cut off, but you see all of this starts with Joel Embiid on the near side elbow:

It’s basic stuff, but these elbow sets have multiple actions and options. On the first one, Simmons gets the lane and just drives. On the third one, Embiid has a DHO option with Curry if he’d like to play the second side. And on the fourth basket, the Simmons dunk, they flip it to a single drag and benefit from a blown switch under the basket.

That was very promising to see. We didn’t know who was going to be the closer for this team, but in game one, they did it by committee.

Some more thoughts on the win:

Ben Simmons

16 points, nine rebounds, seven assists. Not his best stat line of all time, but he played a strong fourth quarter.

His first shot of the game was an elbow jumper, coming off a snug pick and roll with Joel Embiid. That was not expected, and of course it was an outlier, as he went on to not try another jumper for the rest of the night. If you took that three point bet, you unfortunately lost, because he didn’t attempt a single one.

But he looked pretty aggressive attacking early on, a lot of early transition drives to the rim and an effort to keep up the pace.

Said Ben:

“I think there were moments where we got too involved with complaining about calls and just not getting on to the next play. That happens. It’s the first game. The energy is different. But I feel like we got out of that, got on to the next play, we got stops and buckets, Joel was dominant in the post and Shake played a great game. Once we got into our sets and spacing and everybody started executing, we looked great.”

Agree with that. Once they settled down in the fourth quarter and added some structure to the offense, it started to click.

Good defensive game for Ben. Three steals and two blocks, one of those a huge rejection on Thomas Bryant late in the game.

Tobias Harris

Brutal Tobias performance.

He actually started out well, hit a couple shots, and then went on to finish 3-13 from the field and 0-4 from three. He missed two wide open corner threes late in the game that could have helped put this one to bed earlier.

You could tell he was out of sync and out of rhythm when he was whistled for a couple of charging calls in a short time period. He again seemed to be over-thinking the game and wasn’t being the quick-twitch, assertive Harris we’ve seen in the past.

Rivers was asked about Harris’ performance:

“He just missed shots. I thought he was hesitant. I thought even that last drive, where he made the free throws, that should have been a dunk. We’ll watch the film, get him uncaged, and he’ll be fine.” 

That ‘last drive’ Rivers mentions featured Harris hitting the underside of the rim on a play where there didn’t seem to be much contact, at least from where we were sitting. In game two, if Doc wants to get Tobias going, give him some pick and roll ball handler looks and try to get him unstuck.

Rotations

Shake Milton was first off the bench, coming in for Danny Green at the 5:10 mark. Dwight Howard and Furkan Korkmaz entered for Embiid and Curry at the TV timeout near the 3:20 mark, so we got about eight and a half minutes of first quarter Joel in the season opener.

Then we got Mike Scott and a first quarter Tyrese Maxey, so it appears as though the rookie has played his way into the second unit at the expense of Matisse Thybulle, who only appeared in the fourth quarter for some late-game defense.

This Maxey/Milton/Korkmaz/Scott/Howard lineup looks really promising. A nice run from that group put the Sixers up by double digits, a lead that was ultimately squandered by the starting unit. But the second teamers have a little bit of everything in that lineup. They’ve got shooting, rim protection, and a guy who looks comfortable handling the ball in Maxey. Howard is gonna be good for this team in 2021. He’s a great screener for Milton and Maxey and still defends at a high level; he just needs to avoid those cheap whistles that always seem to come.

As for the closing unit, Rivers went with the starters plus Milton, with Green taking a seat. There was also a moment in the second half, with Simmons off the floor, where they surrounded Embiid with shooters and let him do this thing. Rivers has a lot more to work with this season, more than Brett did last year.

Whoops!

So during the postgame media session with Ben Simmons, the Zoom chat was accidentally broadcast over television, and this is what popped up on your TV screen:

Yeah, that’s me complimenting Paul Hudrick and Tom Moore on their hair. Just being a goofball in the chat. Luckily I didn’t say anything risque or inappropriate or I may have been cancelled.

I’m glad everybody got a good laugh out of this. This is my new Twitter profile photo.

Sets, or lack thereof

Outside of those elbow sets at the end of the game, there wasn’t a ton of structure to the offense. They weren’t calling plays every trip down the floor. There was a lot of free-flowing stuff with Simmons post ups, back downs, and quarterbacking.

Some of the random stuff I saw them use once or twice was:

  • Saw Curry run an Iverson cut through a horns set
  • ran horns again in the fourth, opening a silky floater for Curry
  • I did see a trailing big motion concept, same as Brett’s base offense

Overall it was mostly organic and open basketball. They hammered in plays when necessary, but you can tell it’s still early days and they’re trying to pull a new squad together.

They did have some success with that snug pick and roll between Simmons and Embiid, and Ben was asked about it post game:

“It’s tough to guard. You’re either going to switch the big on to me, or guys try to go under, but it’s so close to the rim that it’s hard to go under. If you go under, Joel is right there for the post up. And I got a big on me, I’m typically quicker than the big, so it’s easy to make those plays.”

Yeah that’s very true, it’s pretty hard to guard.

Here’s a clip showing two of those pick and rolls. Ben didn’t hit his shots, but they generated two good looks:

They can continue to improve that as the season progresses.

Other notes:

  • I feel like the NBA needs to take a look at these rip through fouls. Green was whistled for one in the first quarter where Beal just swung his arms right into him. Embiid gets these calls all the time, but they’re pretty cheap, if we’re being honest. Too much contact initiation from offensive guys just throwing themselves into defenders.
  • Not sure what the ref was looking at on that second Howard foul, the pin down screen and Korkmaz three-pointer. Green and Howard had an extended conversation with the ref about both of those fouls during one of the TV timeouts.
  • Third foul on Howard was horrendous.
  • Not sure how we ended up with double techs after Davis Bertans judo chopped Simmons arm in the third quarter. It looked painful.
  • Embiid is playing much higher in pick and roll defense. He’s at least 3-4 feet higher. No drop coverage.
  • Are they showing shots of the bench on TV? They seem really enthusiastic and into the game. Really looks like a noticeable difference from last year.
  • I kind of feel bad for the security guards who have to watch the lower bowl on our side. It’s just media members and broadcasters. Pretty sure nobody is gonna do a court invasion.
  • Terrance Ferguson was a DNP-CD
  • Have a fantastic Christmas, Festivus, Hanukkah, etc
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