Winning Ugly – Observations from Sixers 133, Hornets 132 (OT)

That game should have been over midway through the 4th quarter. It should have been signed, sealed, and delivered. Done and dusted. Whatever cliche you wanna use.

Instead, a bunch of guys were forced into overtime minutes on the front-end of a weekend back-to-back because the Sixers blew a 21-point lead and needed Joel Embiid to pull their butts out of the fire.

That’s the story here. It’s not really about Joel’s heroics, fantastic as he was. This team should be closing out the Charlotte Hornets at home. They should be able to ride out a big lead. This is a year where they were supposed to be challenging Boston and Toronto for the top spot in the Eastern Conference, not hanging on for dear life at the Wells Fargo Center. We were supposed to be beyond this.

Problem is, this team just isn’t built to put these games to bed, at least not yet. They’re a motion offense team that finds a rhythm and groove and moves well in transition, and when you have a game like last night that features a bunch of bullshit, tempo-killing fouls, it’s just hard for a squad like the Sixers to keep that offensive groove. They don’t have someone who can create their shot off the dribble, like a Kemba Walker. They rely on Embiid and JJ Redick to do almost everything in late game scenarios, and I felt like they just looked really funky trying to score in the 4th quarter last night.

Brett Brown didn’t see it totally the same way. I asked him if he felt like he could dial up some more plays to help his team get back on track offensively when they’re out of sync, but he felt like the defense was more of the concern last night:

“Maybe. My answer normally is let’s try to horse Joel. Let’s put JJ and Ben in some stuff, let’s bring JJ off some pin downs. Scoring’s not the problem. I’m happy with 133 points. I feel like some of the shots that we missed, you’d like to have back. But maybe. I didn’t feel that, I felt the pain of defense. I felt the pain of Kemba. I felt the three-point pain way more than I did that we were struggling to score. I felt like we missed shots but a lot of ’em were good looks.”

Agree and disagree.

It’s true that the Hornets started hitting some three pointers, and Ben Simmons said after the game that the team wasn’t communicating defensively on the perimeter in the second half. But even though they gave up 34 fourth quarter points, they also gave up 35 in the third and 33 in the 1st. It’s not like Charlotte’s offensive output was drastically different in totality, was it? The Sixers had a 13 point lead with 11:42 in the fourth quarter and went on to score 6 more points by the time the clock hit 6:00. They hit two of 13 shots in that time period and just four field goals in the 4th quarter, one a prayer on the Embiid three pointer that saved the day.

So it has to be an offensive issue in addition to the poor perimeter defense down the stretch. The Sixers only scored 23 points in the final quarter after topping 30 in the first three.

Another thing that’s true is that the Sixers turn defense into offense, so when the other team is making shots, they really aren’t able to grab rebounds and run up the floor and sling the ball around. Those first half possessions are natural and mindless. The halfcourt offense is another story, and I felt like I just saw some clunkiness there, especially early in the shot clock during some of those fourth quarter possessions before the top unit was put back on the floor.

On this play here, Charlotte had just cut the score to 100-94, and Brown, coming out of a timeout, dialed up a horns set:

I think that’s their “twist” look, but I might have the terminology wrong. Dario Saric curls off an Amir Johnson screen and gets a decent post up against Jeremy Lamb, he just can’t get the reverse layup to fall.

That’s not the worst look in the world.

But on the very next play, they confused the base motion offense coming off a Charlotte make and had to settle for a Landry Shamet late three:

They’re improvising at that point, and at least it turns into a okay shot, but I don’t think you want a rookie taking pull-up three pointers when you’re trying to stave off an opponent run.

In some cases, they dialed up some stuff that just wasn’t executed cleanly, with credit to Charlotte for playing better defense.

This was another play Brown called out of a timeout:

Sorry for the hitch in the video, had to cut it from the NBCSP stream.

They go low post to Ben Simmons and then curl Redick off a couple of screens to try to spring him on the strong side, but Michael Kidd-Gilchrist defends it well. Improvising then, Embiid winds up traveling.

I just think they need to find a better way of regaining that lost rhythm in the fourth quarter. They really are not a team that can hand it to a Kemba Walker-type and let him create his own shot off the dribble. They don’t have a magic bullet when the entire offense is out of sync. Embiid can be that guy, but he’s not a crafty guard, he’s a big bodied center who will go down low and work to draw fouls.

Maybe that’s the solution, you know? He hit some important free throws last night, and since you don’t have anybody else who can create much of anything, you clear out, feed Joel the ball, and let him go to work. Let him get to the free throw line and close out the game that way instead.

The Sixers remind me a bit of a college football spread offense team that flies up and down the field, kind of like Chip Kelly’s Oregon. You cruise for most of the game, then all of a sudden the other team turns into Stanford and starts smashing you in the mouth. Can you adjust? Can you run the football? Can you chew up clock? The Sixers don’t have much of a change of pace other than Embiid in these late game scenarios, so they’re just going to have to lean on him until someone else proves that they can get a tough bucket in a tough situation to kill off opponent runs and end field goal droughts.

Wilson Chandler

He’s good. He’s what they need defensively down the stretch and will be an important piece moving forward.

He played 16 minutes last night per his restriction and contributed 8 points and 5 rebounds.

That’s it, three sentences on Chandler, because it’s Saturday morning and I’ve already spent enough time writing about a game that had no business going to overtime.

Other notes:

  • The Sixers’ City Edition jerseys looked pretty cool. The light grey vs teal was killing me though. Not sure if any of y’all are colorblind like I am, but the lack of contrast was killing me.
  • Jonah Bolden sighting. Eleven nice minutes from him. Five points and four rebounds with a three point make in there.
  • 7, 5, and 4 for Markelle Fultz, who was okay last night. I’m still waiting for that breakout game where he goes for 14-18 points.
  • Markelle threw an entry pass off the rim.
  • Crazy third quarter sequence where Markelle had the ball stolen from him, regained possession, got his shot blocked, then scrambled for the ball on the floor and threw a between the legs assist to Simmons for a dunk. Pretty wild play there.
  • Markelle’s 5th “foul” (on Malik Monk) was not even close to being a foul.
  • Brett Brown took a technical foul for the first time in a long time. I honestly can’t remember the last time he was T’d up. It was sometime last year.
  • Sixers fans won free Wendy’s frosties when Willy Hernangomez missed two free throws in the second half. It’s 40 degrees or whatever today, so enjoy your ice cream.
  • Somebody threw something onto the court after a series quick whistles in the fourth quarter. Matt Cord asked the crowd to “point ’em’ out” if it happened again. It didn’t.

Happy weekend.

The post Winning Ugly – Observations from Sixers 133, Hornets 132 (OT) appeared first on Crossing Broad.

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