Losing the Efficiency Battle – Observations from Jazz 134, Sixers 123

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Joel Embiid was a late scratch on Monday night due to back tightness that had him earlier listed as questionable.

Doc Rivers said before the game that his superstar center would be playing, and seemed kind of surprised that the topic was brought up:

“I didn’t know there was an issue,” the head coach said. “As far as I know, he’s going.”

That status changed right before tip off, with Embiid ruled out after pregame media availability. As such, it deflated a much-anticipated matchup between the top teams in each conference. It was supposed to be a George Washington-sized contest on Presidents Day, but we had to settle for a Richard Nixon type of game instead.

“He was just a late scratch,” Rivers said of Embiid after the loss. “I thought there were no issues with Joel and thought he would play. And then they came to me and told me his back was still stiff. I don’t think this is a long term issue or anything like that. It was just a game missed.”

Alright, well, look – Embiid is going to miss games. We know this. It is, however, a little disconcerting that the head coach doesn’t seem to be totally aware of the status of his superstar center. It harkens to days past of ridiculous communication issues between the front office, medical staff, and coaches. It reminds Sixers fans of the Bryan Colangelo days, and those are some rough memories.

Without Embiid, the Sixers just didn’t have enough horses to compete with a five-loss Jazz team. Phila jumped out to a fantastic early lead, but when you only shoot 23 three pointers and the other team is getting up 45, common knowledge would say that, within reasonable field goal percentage ranges, you’re just not going to keep up.

And that’s what happened here. The Sixers out-volumed the Jazz in the FGA department, taking 94 shots compared to Utah’s 86. But Philly shot 8-23 from three (34.8%) while Quin Snyder’s team was 18-45 from deep (40%), and that disparity in efficiency created an uphill climb that the Sixers weren’t able to traverse.

Here’s the Sixers’ shot chart:

You see a lot of stuff at the rim, but also a lot of junky midrange shots that didn’t go in.

For comparison, here’s Utah’s plot:

That’s an analytics dream right there. Shots at the rim. Corner threes. Straight-on deep looks and some stuff right at the break line. There is very little in the long two range and despite going -8 on total field goal attempts, they wiped away the difference with better, more efficient shooting.

This is the perfect example of how data influences modern day basketball. Ben Simmons can score 42 points on 57.6% shooting, but he needs the guys around him to hit from downtown in order to keep pace, because three points are better than two! The guys around him just didn’t provide enough help on Monday night.

Ben Simmons, a career high

As a result of Embiid’s absence, Ben Simmons came out like a bat out of hell. Meatloaf would have been very proud. He scored 19 points in the first quarter on 7-7 shooting while going 5-5 from the foul line. It was probably the best quarter of offensive basketball he’s ever played:

The main reason for the success is that the Sixers decided to start Mike Scott in place of Embiid, and didn’t roll a true center in their starting lineup. As such, Rudy Gobert rendered somewhat ineffective against the smaller and more downhill Sixers attack.

“I didn’t know if we were gonna get the 42 points, but he did everything,” said Rivers of Simmons. “He guarded. He played with pace. We anticipated that once Joel was scratched, we were trying to create a lineup where Rudy Gobert would guard Ben, and that happened. The key for us was getting stops, getting it to Ben, and getting it up the floor. We didn’t think anybody could keep up with him, especially a center, so I thought Ben handled that very well.”

This is very true, and as such, Gobert wasn’t the same dominating interior force that he usually is. His nightly matchups as more linear, against larger and slower bigs. Simmons was able to generally get to the rim, use that short hook, or back down some of the smaller guards and wings that ended up defending him.

Afterward, Simmons was asked if he’s ever been more aggressive in a game:

“Well when you put it that way, probably not. I understand the question, but there are nights where I feel like I’m dominant but it may not look like a 40-point game, that I might have a triple-double and we’re up 20, or if might be on defense, or whatever the case. Offensively, I definitely had to pick up the slack with Joel out, so yes.”

“Honestly I’ve just been working on my mentality a lot, this last few weeks. It’s not easy to do that, and you change the way you play, certain things that come natural in the game to certain people. I feel like I’m figuring it out and obviously my scoring has been up over the last 5-6 games. As long as I can keep doing that and stay locked in and keep working on my (mentality), I think it’s scary.”

Great Simmons game. He said he felt it was slightly disrespectful that Gobert was guarding him, but “loved it” when he saw the matchup. If he plays in this aggressive nature all the time, and the guys around him can hit enough threes to keep up in the efficiency department, then watch out.

Trivia time

Jolly checking in:

I said Matt Harpring, but it’s actually Moses Malone. Moses played for the Utah Stars back in 1974 and 1975, which I didn’t even know. My other guesses were Kyle Korver, Francisco Elson, and Trevor Booker.

Other notes:

  • The Danny Green transition air-balled three was rough. Later, he had a chance to cut the fourth-quarter lead to three, but missed, and then Utah came down and hit a three of their own to extend the lead to nine. Gut punch right there.
  • Jordan Clarkson is gonna win Sixth Man of the Year. On most nights he’s not even playing 30 minutes but dropping about 20 points off the bench.
  • No Shake Milton has been incredibly rough on the Sixers’ bench production.
  • You have to give serious thought to moving on from Mike Scott and Furkan Korkmaz. You’re just not getting anything from those guys right now.
  • Dwight Howard had a death in the family and was not at shootaround. Rivers told him he did not have to play but he chose to play instead. He had his best game in recent memory, with 14 points and 12 rebounds.
  • The three-game losing streak is no big deal. They’ll figure it out. Daryl Morey needs to add some depth before the trade deadline, and then they’ll get rolling again in the second half of the season.
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