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The Sixers battled back from a 22-point deficit to draw within striking distance vs. the Hawks, but their comeback bid fell short in a 127-121 loss to Atlanta.
Here’s what I saw.
— It seems unlikely that Cam Payne will endear himself to Philadelphia the way Patrick Beverley did, but if he shoots the ball the way he did on Friday night, it won’t matter whether he’s funny on a podcast or has that dog in him. Payne was not shy at all in a starting role, and while those shot mechanics were ugly as sin, all that matters is if you can get it to go down.
Payne also managed to come down with a couple of offensive rebounds early in this game, including a putback in traffic that might register as the most improbable player/bucket combo in the league. I suppose after watching Patrick Beverley sky for rebounds this season, I shouldn’t be too surprised at the smallest guy on the floor being one of their more active rebounders.
— As one of the resident Kelly Oubre skeptics on the beat, I will give him this much — his pursuit of his own misses is excellent. There are a lot of drives into traffic from Oubre that end with horrible-looking attempts for the first shot, only for Oubre to hit the floor and explode through the air for the offensive rebound before the opponent knows what hit them.
He was a force on the O-glass, and that made him a force at the charity stripe. Good job on that front, if nothing else.
— You have to give Philadelphia credit for hanging around in this one, because that much has not been guaranteed during their recent swoon. Didn’t change the final result, but for a group of new guys and backups who haven’t played together much, a decent effort.
Now if only they could produce that effort for 48 minutes…
— This is a pitiful defensive team right now, which is about what you’d expect for a team with so many new guys and (frankly) a lot of offense-only players. The lack of cohesion is understandable to a point, but there’s a complete lack of understanding even between guys who have been on the roster all year. That seems bad!
There was a first-half possession where the Sixers made a shot, and then gave up a wide-open corner three roughly five seconds into Atlanta’s next possession, as three guys ran in a bunch down the floor and picked up nobody. For a team that practiced as much as they did early this year, it seems impossible that they should be this bad defensively.
— Buddy Hield is the most prolific NBA shooter of the last seven years, and that’s saying something because the league’s reliance on the three-point shot has exploded during that time. But if you have followed this team for longer than 10 minutes, you had to expect that the Sixers would trade for a marksman and he would immediately stink it up from deep in game one. That’s just kind of how it goes for this franchise. He was 1/5 from deep going into halftime, and it didn’t get a whole lot better after that.
At the very least, I thought you could see the decision-making process was sound, You can tell he came from an Indiana offense that demanded quick decisions because Hield wasted very little time when the ball came his way. Either he was rising into his shot, looking to beat a defender off of the dribble, or swinging the ball to a teammate in search of a better shot. Hield had a reputation as a black hole coming out of Oklahoma, and I think it’s clear he has ironed some things out there, which is a good sign for his fit with this group at full strength.
Hield also hit some passes that caught me off guard, throwing a few skip passes over the top to hit shooters in the corners. If he can be a secondary playmaker of any kind, that’ll provide a boost to his on-court value, and the shotmaking will come eventually. Even on a cold night, I would have advocated for Hield to hunt more shots, because the track record is good enough to justify it.
— Watching this Sixers team try to rebound pains me deep in my soul. But saying they try to rebound is also giving them credit they haven’t earned a lot of the time.
— Paul Reed was certainly not perfect in this game. He took a couple of tough midrange jumpers I would have liked to see turn into passes or moves toward the basket, and while his activity is good, he had a few rebounds stolen from him as a result of ill-timed leaping. High point the ball, my dude.
That being said, he was one of very few guys whose effort I never questioned. It helped that his main point of comparison is Mo Bamba, who plays basketball as he got hit by the rhino dart Sean William Scott shoots into Will Ferrell’s neck in Old School. But still!
— I am not expecting the Sixers to be a well-oiled machine right now. They are down four regular starters including their two best players, and when that happens in the NBA, you’re going to struggle to beat just about anyone. I have a level of sympathy for them and know they need to simply get to the All-Star break.
That being said, we can use those excuses when they get out-talented or out-executed by better, healthier teams. When they ignore the low-hanging fruit, get beaten to rebounds for no reason, walk up the floor in semi-transition, and mail it in all over the place, I just don’t have patience or tolerance for that. Do your job, or get the hell off of the floor.
Tobias Harris staying with the Sixers through the deadline is understandable with their stated goal of summer flexibility, and he has had plenty of good moments this season. But for a guy who often gets credit for his locker room presence and ability to adapt, he has been clinging onto the canoe along with everyone else lately. His defensive commitment has been poor, despite noting how they need to forge a defensive identity without Joel Embiid. There are a lot of people who wanted to see anything/anyone different coming out of the trade deadline after seeing him disappear as a matter of habit in the spring, and I sort of get it, especially if he can’t help them pull out of this current tailspin.
Watching Mo Bamba rebound is one of the most infuriating experiences I have had covering this team. Missed shots carrom in his direction and he just stares at the ball, lost in his own mind, apparently unaware that defensive rebounding could be the job of the tallest guy on the floor. His pursuit is non-existent. And maybe a passive approach would work if he did the early work for good positioning, but he frequently puts himself in bad positions and then gets dislodged by smaller players as they bulldoze right through him for second-chance points.
What is the point of being tall if this happens:
The worst part about it is that when Bamba has his head up and puts in the effort, he’s clearly capable of making plays. Bamba turned away four different Hawks shots at the rim in this one, showing off that wingspan with some excellent rim defense. It’s hard to ignore the long stretches of inactivity when you see what it looks like when he tries.
Kelly Oubre’s worst habits have been apparent on both sides of the ball, leading to a lot of aimless drives into traffic and horrible shots with a hand in his face. But at least the drives have been productive. The late closeouts and rotations on every other possession are simply brutal.
(Your opinion on Oubre probably tells me more about your stances on basketball vs. mine than any other player on the team. We could sit here and celebrate him being the leading scorer for the Sixers, and laud him for generating free throws by attacking the rim with reckless abandon. Those things are real, and it’s why he has been hard for NBA teams to quit on. It’s hard for me to shake the images of him pulling up for early-clock threes for no discernible reason, though, and I never feel like I’m more than a play or two away from him making the dumbest play I have seen all night.)
The Sixers seem to be carrying themselves as if Kyle Lowry will come here after the Hornets buy him out, and that’s all well and good, but for the interim period, they are way short on depth players who are about the right stuff. When Buddy Hield shows up and is more bought into a team-first identity than half of the rotation, that’s a horrendous sign. Hell, Cam Payne settled in relatively well after starting the game in full gunner mode. These guys need to get on the same page, and fast.
— There are not a lot of smart players available for the Sixers right now, and I think that shows up all of the time even if you can’t tie it directly to the box score. Watching KJ Martin commit two different fouls 90 feet from the basket in the third quarter was infuriating enough that I nearly got out of my seat on press row to beat the traffic home. And he’s certainly not the only one regularly doing idiotic nonsense like that, though he may be the leader in the clubhouse for those fouls.
(It’s him and Oubre in a race for No. 1, that’s for damn sure.)
— Gotta love guys refusing to take end-of-quarter shots to protect their percentages in a game that was decided by six points. Great stuff.