Down 23 at halftime, there was grumbling about the Sixers in the media room.
“They just don’t have it tonight.”
“They need Joel Embiid.”
“These refs are horrendous.”
“I’d rather poke my eyes out than watch a replay of this game.”
Paraphrasing there, but that’s the sort of stuff we were talking about it. I figured I’d come up with a crappy lede about Valentine’s Day, then try to wrap up the story quickly since we didn’t need to spend too much time on what looked like a 30-point blowout loss.
Then.. I don’t know what happened.
They came flying out of the gates in the second half, defending and rebounding and running the floor like a team possessed. And it was strange to watch unfold, because we’re used to seeing the Sixers blow the big lead, not the opponent. It was like Seinfeld’s “bizarro world,” where everything is backwards.
But they really got it done on the strength of those things I mentioned above. They limited Miami to 40 second half points; just 19 in the 3rd quarter and 21 in the 4th. Brett Brown told his team at halftime that defense was going to get them back into the game:
“(The message was) that we have enough firepower in this room to come back, but nothing will happen unless we guard, and our defense we held them to 40 second-half points. It was a 65-40 swing. We went on a 12-0 run in the third, I think Dario had 14 points in the third, but we felt that within this room we have enough firepower offensively, but nothing can happen unless we just have some level of sting to our defense.”
It truly was a team-effort in the comeback, with unlikely contributions from the likes of Richaun Holmes, Trevor Booker, and Marco Belinelli on his Sixer debut. Holmes went for 11 points and 9 rebounds in 28 minutes. Booker added 9 and 9 as Philadelphia just demolished Miami on the glass by a 60 to 29 margin. Holmes and Booker combined for eight of the Sixers’ 23 (!) offensive rebounds, while the Heat finished with just three on the evening. The the Sixers were +20 on the offensive glass without Joel Embiid on the floor. That’s really outrageous when you think about it.
Belinelli added 17 off the bench on 7-12 shooting and the Sixers’ second unit, normally one of the worst in the NBA, contributed 39 points in the victory.
Brown was asked if he felt like it was the best win of the season.
“It’s high, it could be number one. It feels like it’s the best as I speak. I think when you have a disruption, not to be in a negative way, but the ecosystem got changed a little bit when there’s no Joel and here comes Richaun, I thought Richaun was tremendous. Justin Anderson out, and then you give Marco all these minutes and no matter what we think of their talents, which we think highly of, they still haven’t played a second of basketball with us and it rocks your ecosystem so my thing is as I look at our bench, and I see the contributions that Richaun made and Trevor Booker made and Marco Belinelli made, kind of unlikely suspects to flip a game that we were losing by 24 at home and claw back and have a tremendous win and to achieve our goal of winning the five games at home sure makes the holiday a heck of a lot more enjoyable. ‘Team’ is the word you want to hear.”
Instead of going into the All-Star break on a sour note, they got the job done, ripping off five straight to improve to 30-25.
If the playoffs began today, the Sixers would play the Celtics:
Not to get ahead of myself here, but if they can wriggle into the 6th seed, that would set up a series against the new-look Cavs. Talk about interesting. That would be something else.
Anyway, we’re at the All-Star break. And Joel Embiid didn’t play last night. The optics obviously don’t look great when he sits the final game before the break and then heads west to take part in the game itself, the Rising Stars challenge (he should probably sit that one out) and the skills competition.
I get it. It looks poor.
But the reality is that he’s played in 16 of the last 18 games and 44 total this season. That’s pretty damn good, right? If I put it in a vacuum and said, “Joel has played 44 of 55 games this season,” you’d probably take that in a heartbeat, yes?
Try to think of it that way and accept the fact that they are five games above .500 in February while Joel has played 80% of the games and even a pair of back-to-backs as well.
Glass half full. That’s the theme of my first year on the Sixers beat, and my reaction to the Holmes/Booker pairing last night.
I know Richaun’s defense is not what it needs to be, and I understand that’s why he’s buried on the bench behind Amir Johnson. But it’s hard to deny Richaun’s offensive spark and the pure energy boost he’s capable of bringing on a thunderous dunk or loose ball scrap. At 24 years old, you can certainly coach him up on the defensive side, but the raw offensive talent is already there.
Booker is a man of few words, but said this about playing alongside Holmes as a 4/5 pairing:
“That’s what we do. We both bring energy. When both of us are on it, it’s tough. That’s what we do. We brought the energy and just try to get the team going. That’s what we did tonight.”
Think of a second unit that includes T.J. McConnell, Marco Belinelli, Justin Anderson, Trevor Booker, and Richaun Holmes. It’s not an offensive juggernaut, but you’ve got a TON of hustle and heart on the floor, and maybe you go to that in situations like you experienced last night. Three of those five played a big role in the win.
The Italian Stallion
Belinelli subbed in with Booker and JJ Redick around the 4:00 mark in the first quarter, playing with a grouping that looked like this:
- JJ Redick
That’s four of the five I mentioned above. It seemed like Brett made a conscious effort to keep Belinelli on the floor with Redick at the same time to allow the shooters to work off of each other and run some simple designs, certainly nothing overly complicated since Belinelli only had 48 hours to integrate himself into the team.
He mentioned that post game:
“At some point in the game me and JJ were on the court and we called just a double exit, kind of just for us. I practiced yesterday and I practiced this morning. It’s not easy, but we’ve been in this league for a long time, and my memory isn’t that bad (laughs).”
A lot of times they just started Belinelli in the corner and found him running off screens for spot-up shots.
I think the best design was this, which Brown used coming out of a 4th quarter timeout:
Dump it down to Simmons in the corner, run both your shooters off down screens, and sell the curl.
Redick uses Tyler Johnson’s over-pursuit to get him on a second screen from Holmes, then hits the open three pointer.
Really nice stuff all-around here:
Most importantly, it’s just good to have another shooter who can warrant that type of look and who requires teams to actually respect his range. The Sixers’ second unit has struggled immensely and last night Belinelli did exactly what he was brought in to do.
Flop, flop, flopadelphia
Not sure about Goran Dragic’s All-Star Game credentials, but he’s got a spot at the Academy Awards alongside Meryl Streep and all of “those Hollywood liberals.”
Fans were apoplectic last night after he got a pair of highly questionable calls, the first an elbow to the face that I don’t think actually hit him in the face:
Okay, so he did get hit in the face, but not by much. And this was Robert Covington’s natural shooting motion, so ehhhhhhhhh. He did a really nice job selling it. There’s a guy on the Sixers who also does a good job of selling contact.
Dragic also got this call:
Not a charge.
Shot clock violation?
Never in my life have I seen a ref call a premature shot clock violation, but that’s what happened last night:
Ref blows the whistle on Ben Simmons for a shot clock violation before the buzzer goes off pic.twitter.com/L4lKhr1HzD
— The Render (@TheRenderNBA) February 15, 2018
It was correctly overturned, but that’s just a bizarre jawn. Tony Brothers was “on one” last night, as the millennials would say.
Let’s just double check to make sure the video replay was right:
Ok, yea, they got it right.
Ben Simmons had a somewhat short/snippy answer regarding his jump shot on that play, which I’m 99.9% sure was the longest shot of his career. And it was contested, too. More on that in a sidebar today or tomorrow.
But since I didn’t work in a Valentine’s Day reference, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite love songs: