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Game Three: Five Things to Watch For

Kevin Kinkead - April 19, 2018

The Sixers can get it done without Joel Embiid.

That might be the biggest topic of the past 48 hours, Joel’s game three status, but we’re talking about a team that just won nine games in a row minus the superstar center.

When you re-watch game two, you can look at Miami’s increased pressure and physical play and tip your hat to Dwyane Wade for his phenomenal individual effort. You can also look at the fact that the Sixers didn’t shoot the ball well, suffered a horrendous second quarter, and still cut the lead to two points deep in the fourth quarter.

Going with the glass half full approach, we’ll start with that topic:

1. Uncontested Field Goals

How much of the Sixers’ shooting struggles were due to Miami’s more intense approach, versus simply missing open shots?

Luckily for us, the NBA keeps statistics to help us determine that.

I edited the chart below to show each player’s minutes and overall field goal percentage. The other six categories are fairly straightforward:

  • CFGM = contested field goals made
  • CFGA = contested field goals attempted
  • CFG% = contested field goal percentage
  • UFGM = uncontested field goals made
  • UFGA = uncontested field goals attempted
  • UFG% = uncontested field goal percentage

The NBA defines a contested field goal as “any shot where the closest defender is within 3.5 feet.”

Taking that into account, here you go:

They only shot 30.2% on uncontested looks. JJ Redick was especially poor here, hitting just 1-9 vs. a 3-4 contested field goal mark. Marco Belinelli hit just 3 of 10 uncontested looks and Robert Covington was 2-7.

For comparison, those three players were 6-10 (Redick), 6-11 (Belinelli), and 3-6 (Covington) in this category in game one. The entire team was 56.5% in uncontested field goals, so it lends a lot of truth to the idea that they just weren’t hitting on Monday night. Still, you give credit to Miami for being disruptive and pestering on the perimeter and making guys more uncomfortable in general, but I highly doubt the Sixers shoot 19.4% from three again this series.

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Joel Embiid: Contact Drills and Diplopia

Kevin Kinkead - April 18, 2018

Will he?

Or won’t he?

We’re talking about Joel Embiid’s game three status, though there isn’t much of an update to share. Embiid again went through a light practice on Wednesday afternoon, one day after participating in contact drills for the first time since he fractured his orbital bone and suffered a concussion back on March 28th.

Here’s what head coach Brett Brown had to say from Miami:

The Sixers need to submit an official injury report to the NBA this evening, which I’d think will say “questionable.” Not like it really matters though, since there was a game earlier this season where Embiid went from doubtful, to probable, to out within the span of five hours. Plus, it’s the playoffs, so it’s not like they’d tip their hat one way or another. Miami is prepared for either scenario and this isn’t some super-secret cat and mouse game.

Joel, of course, wants to play, and went on Instagram the other night to say that’s “fucking sick and tired of being babied.”

The issue, at least how it was described to me, doesn’t really have anything to do with swelling or healing, it’s more about his vision. The more concerning part of this type of injury is patching up a patient so that the eye socket is successfully reset, balancing the eyes and preventing diplopia, the medical term for double vision.

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Sixers Notes: The Day After

Kevin Kinkead - April 17, 2018

A day of media availability before practice on Tuesday afternoon, as the Eastern Conference quarterfinal shifts from cold and crappy Philadelphia to warm and beautiful Miami.

Of course the big story on Action News was Joel Embiid, and whether or not the seemingly disgruntled Sixers center will play on Thursday with the series tied at one game apiece.

“It’s still moving forward,” head coach Brett Brown said before the training session. “What I can say is there is a very unified effort with his representation and the people around him, with the people that did the operation, the doctors, with me and with the coaching staff. We’re all doing this; there’s a unified sort of spirit and line of communication. What that means in terms of when is he going to come play again, that’s still unknown. Today he’ll be doing some stuff with shooting and scripting, really for the first time with his team. What that translates to in terms of when is he going to go play for us on the court, we don’t know.”

It would not seem like Embiid is on board with the “unified” outlook, since he went on Instagram after last night’s toss to tell people that he’s “fucking sick of being babied.” That non-controversy was squashed by Brown, who said that he doesn’t really expect anything less from his charismatic and outspoken superstar.

“What I said last night I would repeat 10 times out of 10,” Brown said of Embiid’s social media post. “And I really don’t have anything else to say, more than what I said last night.”

Here’s what he said last night:

Brown said Embiid has not yet participated in any drills involving contact, but explained that he would touch a ball, be with his team, and run a few of his plays at Tuesday’s practice.

As far as Monday night’s loss, the head ball coach said he felt like his team won every quarter except the second, a period in which his team only scored 13 points. The squad re-watched that entire quarter in a film session before training.

“We watched the whole second period,” Brown said. “If we’re all adults in the room, led by me, and trying to take this and make it a positive, we hadn’t lost since March 13th. That feeling of losing, we haven’t felt in a while. I’m reminded how, you know, it’s not a great feeling. You don’t really sleep, and you think, what do you want to do? Really your mood changes. The team’s mood changes, and it should. Coach (Jim) O’Brien, one of my trusted assistants said something that I think was smart, that the playoffs don’t really start until each team gets punched in the mouth. So far we’ve each been punched in the mouth, so here we go. That second period we went through, play by play by play and talked about good and bad and moved on. But it’s part of the growth of us and part of just getting through a series, making the adjustments and continuing to get better. It’s stuff you know I would say.”

The Sixers will fly to Miami Wednesday morning and practice after getting off the plane.

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The Dwyane Wade Game – Observations from Heat 113, Sixers 103

Kevin Kinkead - April 17, 2018

Dwyane Wade entered the game with 4:15 remaining in the fourth quarter, stole the ball from Dario Saric, and flushed it down at the other end.

It kickstarted a 6-0 run that would essentially put the game away, extending the Miami lead from two to eight after the Sixers had spent the entirety of the second half clawing, scraping, and chipping away at a double digit Heat lead, only to see the comeback effort fall apart in the dying moments.

In a game featuring a lot of takeaways, that was probably the biggest one. Wade’s reintroduction stabilized Miami in crunch time, and he led all scorers with 28 points off the bench in a gritty and physical game two.

Brett Brown echoed those thoughts when asked what went wrong down the stretch.

“I think Dwyane’s steal on Dario – we’re on a 16-2 run – and I think it was three minutes or four minutes left and he came from behind and stole that ball from Dario,” Brown said. “With a minute or something left we had that offensive rebound, and (Robert Covington) tried to find JJ and ended up throwing that pass between his legs. But I give Miami credit; I felt like the runs we were making, that they ended up making some shots to stop the runs. I give them credit. But I think Dwyane’s steal changed the game. If you had to pick one defining moment, one defining play. I think it was that.”

Brett’s right; it felt like Miami would answer every time Philly was able to get within single digits. Kelly Olynyk hit a couple of big shots specifically, and it seemed like one of those games where the Sixers were going to be kept at arm’s length, no matter how hard they fought. When they finally did get within striking distance, Wade took over from there, and now we’ve got a 1-1 series heading down to Miami.

The pessimist would point to the Sixers shooting poorly and struggling to get into their offensive rhythm and flow. You could point to Miami’s hand checking and grabbing and slapping and bitch and complain about the officiating, which was pretty rough for both teams, if we’re being honest.

The optimist would say that they cut a double-digit deficit to two despite playing an atrocious second quarter, a period in which they were outscored 30 to 13 (Wade actually had more points than the Sixers in that quarter.) If Philadelphia’s 18-28 three point mark in game one was unsustainable, then last night’s 7-36 mark was an aberration weighing down the other end of the scale.

And of course you can point to the absence of Joel Embiid, who said after the game that he’s “fucking sick and tired of being babied.”  I would be stunned if he doesn’t play in game three.

So it depends how you want to look at it. Whatever the case, I think this was a somewhat sobering loss. Or.. I dunno. I don’t know if “sobering” is the right word, but it’s more of a “come back down to Earth” type of thing. I don’t know how realistic it was to think the Sixers were going to win 18 in a row or rip off three straight victories to open the series or sweep a well-coached team like Miami. A lot of folks out there were throwing out these outrageous predictions, claiming that the Sixers were going to roll right into the NBA finals. That was never going to be the case, and now you’ve got a young-ish team really learning what playoff basketball is all about.

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Joel Embiid is “F^%$#@! Sick and Tired of Being Babied”

Kevin Kinkead - April 16, 2018

Posted on Instagram shortly after the Sixers’ game two loss:

Brett Brown was asked about this during his press conference and didn’t seem at all concerned.

Paraphrasing his answer while trying to type as fast as I can:

“Joel wants to be with the team, wants to play. I get his frustration. The medical side and different reasons, I won’t go there. But the (social media) is completely driven out of team and competitiveness, that type of flavor.”

We’ve seen this before. Remember when Joel thought his minutes restriction was “fucking bullshit?” That turned out fine, and Brown wasn’t bothered by that line.

Either way, looks like Joel is ready for game three.

Game two observations in the morning.

Game Two: Five Things to Watch For

Kevin Kinkead - April 16, 2018

The Sixers held serve on Saturday night, putting on a second half clinic to sink Miami in game one of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

Now we get the interesting part – the adjustments, the coaching wrinkles, and the true nuance of a seven game playoff series.

Both sides were presumably tight-lipped about X’s and O’s after game one, but between the quotes, stats, and game film, there’s enough to parse heading into Monday evening.

1. Defending Ben Simmons

JJ Redick was asked on Sunday what changes he anticipates from Miami:

“They’ll probably make an adjustment on how they guard Ben, or what their strategy is with Ben, how they shift to the basketball and how they load up on Ben. And maybe they switch more off the ball with Marco and I. Those are probably the things I’d probably anticipate.”

Simmons finished with 17 points, 9 rebounds, and 14 assists in his playoff debut. He shot 5-13 from the field and scored 7 of his points from the foul line.

It’s not easy to defend a 6’10” point guard. We’ve seen him get to the paint even when opponents sag. He’s fast enough to breeze by tight positioning as well and something in between those two philosophies is usually a non-starter.

Looking through his misses from Saturday night, I saw this:

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RIP Hal Greer (1936-2018)

Kevin Kinkead - April 16, 2018

His number 15 was the first to be retired by the Philadelphia 76ers.

Franchise legend Hal Greer passed away this weekend at the age of 81, confirmed Monday morning in a team press release:

“The Philadelphia 76ers organization mourns the passing of Hal Greer, an NBA champion, Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer and team legend. Throughout his 15-year career with the Syracuse Nationals and Philadelphia 76ers, Greer solidified his place as one of the greatest basketball players ever. An NBA champion in 1967 and 10-time NBA All-Star, Greer’s legacy includes being the 76ers’ all-time leader in points, field goals, field goals attempted, games and minutes played, culminating in him being named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History in 1996.”

Greer spent his entire 15-year career with the Nationals and Sixers. A Huntington, West Virginia native, he played four years at his hometown Marshall University before being selected 13th overall in the 1958 NBA draft. He was an All-Star every season from 1961 to 1970 and played alongside Wilt Chamberlain and Billy Cunningham on the Sixers’ 1967 title-winning team.

The list of franchise records is extensive.

He scored 21,586 points, finishing ahead of Allen Iverson, who logged 19,931 as a Sixer. A.I. was on pace to set the new record before his trade to Denver.

Here are the other stats, in a visual format from Basketball Reference. Look at how far ahead Greer is in some categories:

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Sixers Notes: No Joel, Dario’s Stroke, and Offensive Rebounding

Kevin Kinkead - April 15, 2018

No Jo tomorrow.

The Phantom of the Process, also know as Joel Embiid, was officially ruled out on Sunday afternoon. He recently cleared the NBA’s concussion protocol but will have to wait a little while longer to make his playoff debut.

Head coach Brett Brown spoke about his 7’2″ center, explaining that the flow of the series doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the timeline for return.

“It’s still about what’s best for Joel’s health,” Brown said. “To have him come back and save the day because we lost game one, that was not going to happen. The fact that we won game one also doesn’t influence it. It’s all the same thing; it’s what is best for Joel’s health. It’s been determined that he should not play game two.”

After the way the Sixers played last night, they certainly don’t need Embiid, at least not right now. Philly ran Miami and Hassan Whiteside off the court in the second half with a small ball lineup featuring Ersan Ilyasova and Dario Saric in the front court, along with Robert Covington, who played a bit of power forward at times.

In terms of how Embiid’s return would change the Sixers’ style of play, JJ Redick didn’t seem to be too concerned with any theoretical disruption of what the team has been doing over the course of nine straight wins without the all-star.

“We’ll still play fast,” Redick explained. “We’ll play a little bit slower, a few more set plays to get him the ball in the post, but I don’t think the philosophy changes all that much. Probably when we’re at our best is when we’re balancing sort of making sure he has touches in the post with that sort of flow action that we played with the last couple weeks.”

Markelle Fultz echoed those sentiments.

“I just think we’d have a post presence that we could go to at any time, go get a bucket there,” Fultz said. “He also can space the floor just as well as anybody on our team and shoot the three ball. So I just think it’s going to make it more dynamic. I think guys are going to be open from his screens. He can get a lot of guys open. So it’s definitely gonna help out a lot.”

It was a tempered mood at the training complex. Brown and his players spoke around 12:30, then did a 30 minute film session before hitting the court. They aren’t getting ahead of themselves.

“We protected our home court,” Redick said. “Doc Rivers used to always say something along the lines of, ‘a playoff series doesn’t really begin until someone gets a road win.’ All we’ve done is protect home court for one game.”

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