The Sixers Beat LA on a Multi-Option Play, and that’s a Good Sign for a Team Without a True “Closer”

Let’s talk about the Tobias Harris game-winner, because it was a great shot coming off a great play.

For starters, I’d just like to thank Doc Rivers for walking us through the final sequence in a step-by-step fashion, because oftentimes coaches don’t give you anything when it comes to Xs and Os. Nothing at all.

But he provided this explanation on the tough bucket Harris knocked down to hand the Sixers a 107-106 win on Wednesday night:

“It was just a multiple option play. I thought Danny Green read it perfect. The first option, we set a pin down for Seth (Curry), with Joel. We told them to give it a good look, and if it’s not there, throw it to Seth. Tobias slips into a pick and roll, and Los Angeles is switching everything, so whoever is on Tobias, he’d be at the nail. Then we went flat and the spacing was great. So it was great that we worked a set down to the last option. Nice to see that and we showed a lot of composure.”

They did show fantastic composure, and to jog your memory, here’s the play itself:


Gotta say, Alex Caruso did a pretty good job defensively. He held his ground, didn’t foul, and got a hand up, but that’s a matchup you’ll take any day of the week, with a 6’9″ power forward driving on a 6’5″ guard.

Rivers explained in the above quote how they ended up with the ideal mismatch, and it starts with a pin down action between Joel Embiid and Seth Curry, which you can see here:

Los Angeles is not going to switch Caruso to Embiid there, obviously. So in the first action, Anthony Davis fights through, sticks with Embiid, and then Curry pops out to the perimeter to receive the pass from Danny Green in order to set up a pick and roll with Harris, which looks like this:

Now this is where things get interesting. Los Angeles is not switching one through five, but they will certainly switch on this play, because they want to glue themselves to Curry and prevent the open shot.

What happens is that Harris sets the screen, Caruso goes over, and then LeBron James steps up to close down Curry. That results in Caruso circling back and switching onto Harris, which gives the Sixers the mismatch at the nail with 8.2 seconds on the clock:

Harris and Curry identified this potential scenario and Tobias elaborated on it after the game:

“When the opportunity came, out of the timeout, me and Seth were talking and basically discussing how they’re likely to switch that pick and roll coming off of Joel, if he’s not open, and to iso at the top and just let me get to my spot. That’s the shot I work on time and time again, but in those moments, (it’s about) just being confident enough to let it go and being okay with the result, and tonight it fared well.”

Good shout by Harris, good execution from the Sixers.

You’ve seen a lot of this from Doc Rivers in late-game situations. He really does not have that perimeter, iso-style creator, so he likes to use these multi-action sets and have the team cycle through reads and try to make the right decision. It essentially becomes “closer by committee,” because the ball can end up in a different hands depending on how the defense reacts.

This approach was evident as early as game one, when they were in a tight contest with Washington and just hammered that same elbow action on multiple late trips down the floor. It spurred Doc’s “feeding the pig” quote after the win:

“We went to that elbow action and it was terrific. 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.”

“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.”

It’s a good sign for the Sixers, because one of the concerns coming into this season was figuring out the closer situation. They didn’t have Jimmy Butler to create his own shot. There’s no Kevin Durant on this team. Your main option is trying to play through a big (Embiid), which is not a common way to close in the contemporary NBA. As such, Rivers is going to the whiteboard and rolling these multi-action sets that play out in a variety of ways.

The one thing that might be concerning is that Ben Simmons continues to occupy that weakside low post area (dunker spot), because when you’re going multi-action with a non-shooter, things can get funky. But his playmaking ability is obvious, and if he can contribute in an off-ball way via rebounding or grabbing loose balls, or screening, then you can certainly make it work.

Great stuff otherwise. Great play, great reads, great execution. High-IQ basketball to win a big game.

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