Burn the Tape and Pretend this Game Never Happened – Observations from Blazers 121, Sixers 105

Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Sixers lost by 16 points, at home, to a Trail Blazers team missing Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic.

They were on the second night of a back-to-back, and didn’t have Ben Simmons available, but those two things shouldn’t excuse the performance against a depleted West Coast team that’s nearing the end of a seven-game road trip and hasn’t stepped foot in Oregon since January 25th. You’d think the Blazers would be the team shooting 25% from three and playing Swiss cheese defense, but those distinctions fell to the Sixers on Thursday night.

You knew it was bad when Doc Rivers’ team was 0-10 from three at halftime, with Joel Embiid scoring 25 of their 29 second quarter points on a tweaked knee. He showed up, but nobody else did. Tobias Harris fell back to Earth on a subpar shooting night. Danny Green couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn and Seth Curry didn’t play in the second half because he wasn’t feeling well and has not been himself since returning to the court following the COVID-19 diagnosis and quarantine period.

It was over when Portland opened with a 12-0 run to start the third quarter, and as such, this is a game where we’d normally take the film and deposit it directly into the trash can, then set the can on fire. But with a rare home loss we’ll turn to the head coach for some evaluation and go quote heavy, since there aren’t any stats or video clips worth sharing.

Doc Rivers, on the loss:

“We didn’t help ourselves. I thought we were a step slow all night. It was a tough game when I looked at the schedule. Sometimes you have scheduled losses. But when they have guys out, there’s no excuses. Half their offense was off the floor before the game. Losing Ben hurt us, losing Seth hurt us at halftime. At the end of the day, I think they had what, 93 points going into the fourth? It’s rare that I look at that, and I thought it was more about our inability to move the ball offensively. They created a lot of their offense, and ran good offense as well.”

Rivers on the start to the third quarter:

“We just didn’t have energy. We didn’t have it all game. Teams know that and feel that. I guarantee they talked about it halftime, like ‘this team is dead on their feet right now, let’s try to push this lead up.’ That’s exactly what happened.”

Rivers on Simmons’ absence:

“I thought we missed his presence all over the floor. That’s the point I try to make to you guys (the media) when talking about Ben not taking threes. I keep trying to tell everyone that Ben’s value is so much more than what you guys are talking about. You can see it early on in this game, just defensively. He spearheads the defense. We still have to be a decent defense when Ben is not on the floor. We were a bad defensive team tonight but I thought we were worse offensively. And I thought our offense contributed to a lot of our bad defense as well.”

Rivers on Seth Curry’s status, and whether he’s dealing with lingering COVID issues:

“We’re just checking everything out. That could be part of it. He just looks tired and he’s looked like that for a while. We just need to be safe and we’re in uncharted waters with this. He said he didn’t feel great and that’s all we needed to hear. We just have to be very careful right now.” 

Rivers follow-up on Simmons’ value:

“Ben, you have to watch the game to see how many times you miss him on both ends. How many times did we get the ball off the rebound, somebody pushed it up, get to the paint, and lead to a three? We couldn’t get to the paint offensively and that’s what Ben does. Ben’s ability leads us to take threes. He doesn’t necessarily take them, he creates them, and I think he leads the league in that category. But defensively, not only on the ball, but off the ball, there are no numbers for it. Unless you watch it and see it you just don’t notice it.” 

It’s true, what Rivers is saying, and it’s why Simmons is such an incredibly frustrating individual to talk about. Oftentimes the discourse surrounding Ben is boiled to the simple “shoot a jump shot” narrative, which is Kindergarten-level discussion about his game and modern-day basketball. Yes, Ben Simmons with a respectable jump shot is a better player, and it’s amazing to think about what kind of player he would be if he added that skill to his game.

But he’s an elite defender who can guard one through four, and sometimes five. He’s an off-ball lane clogger. He sets the offensive tempo via drive and kick assists, which put three-point guys into catch and shoot rhythms. Simmons really is a “metronome,” for lack of better words, in the way he syncs up the offense and steadies the pace.

Typically, when you hear the term “glue guy” in sports, we think of that person as a non-star who just kind of holds things together and contributes in a peripheral way. It’s not necessarily derogatory, but you’re saying this person doesn’t excel at one thing, and typically does the little things well. In this case, I think Ben is kind of a weird/elite version of a glue guy, because people would protest if we compared him to a Shane Battier or Draymond Green, but to me it’s not really about how good of a player you are, it’s about the skills you bring to the table. Ben happens to be really good AND does a variety of things well, and you notice it more when he’s not on the floor.

Happy Friday. We made it.