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Down four of their five regular starters, the Sixers got destroyed by a pretty bad Nets team, losing 136-121 in a game that was never close.
Here’s what I saw.
— The game ended.
— Terquavion Smith hit five consecutive threes. Ricky Council IV flashed some real athleticism around the basket. Shout out to the two-way guys.
If I’m being truthful, I would have rather watched him shamelessly gun for the entire second half than watch…whatever it is they did for the third quarter and the start of the fourth. Certainly wasn’t basketball.
— Other than the entire game?
— With their full, non-Embiid roster available, things are (probably) not going to look as dire as they did on Saturday. Tobias Harris and De’Anthony Melton have their flaws, sure, but the former is a guy who can create his own shot and score an efficient 20 in a larger role. Melton is admittedly streaky, but he gives you functional ballhandling, good connective passing, and a credible outside threat.
It is hard to overstate how bad Philadelphia’s offense looked on Saturday. The Nets only had one person they needed to worry about the entire game, and Brooklyn has good options to throw at Tyrese Maxey on switches. Mikal Bridges, Ben Simmons, Royce O’Neale, and even Nic Claxton can (temporarily) take the Maxey assignment, and they did a good job of forcing Maxey to work hard for his looks whether he was operating on or off the ball.
As a result, limited offensive creators were asked to do far too much. I’m not even sure that’s accurate — with a power vacuum in the lineup, a few remaining players were allowed to lean into the worst version of themselves, hijacking the offense for little-to-minimal gains.
Kelly Oubre was arguably the worst offender. His inability/unwillingness to create for others isn’t a huge deal in a specialized role, but the Nets could predict exactly what he wanted to do every time the ball hit his hands in the halfcourt. His lone make of the first half was a sensational dunk with Ben Simmons standing under the rim. Everything else was complete junk, with Oubre either tossing up junk or getting his shots turned away because Brooklyn knew they could sell out to contest his shots.
On the other side of it, I think (and most would agree) Patrick Beverley wants to play the right way. He is not an opportunist, so his attacking attempts are necessary rather than a product of tunnel vision. But when you end up in a situation where your best option on a given possession is to clear out a side of the floor so that Beverley can attack in isolation, and attack the baseline at that, you are in some deep shit.
Regardless of the recovery option the Sixers and Embiid pick, it appears he is going to have to miss an extended stretch to get right. That being the case, they are going to need Nick Nurse to institute some more order and structure for the guys who are left. It’s a bit easier to preach the “play free” message on offense when you have the league’s leading scorer using 39 percent of the possessions and limiting freelance opportunities for guys who don’t need them. But this group has a tough road ahead to try to manufacture points, and they’ll need as much help as they can get.
— I want to harp on Oubre just a bit more. Early in the third quarter, the Sixers’ wing was 9/9 from the free-throw line, which is a testament to how hard he attacked the paint. And yet, with 10 shots from the field to supplement those free throws, he had managed just 11 points. That is borderline impossible!
If anything, Oubre’s defense has been the bigger disappointment lately. He started the year off in sensational form, playing some excellent man defense while avoiding some of the off-ball pitfalls that have caused coaches frustration in the past. I don’t know where that guy went, but his defensive issues have been borderline destructive.
On that subject…
— You could make a strong argument that their defensive concerns are bigger than the issues on the other end, and that’s a pretty big deal when you shoot under 40 percent from the field for halves at a time. It is hard to tell if anyone knows what they’re supposed to be doing from play-to-play, which should not be the case in early February even for a banged-up team.
Every major defensive principle that you can’t violate is being ignored on a nightly basis. Their transition defense was horrific against the Nets, allowing guys to walk into transition threes with nothing close to a real shot contest in sight. It wasn’t any better in the halfcourt. On seemingly every possession, there was at least one missed rotation, one guy with his head in the clouds, one guy arriving late, or one guy never moving at all. It is one thing to be undermanned and another to simply dog it, and the Sixers managed to merge both into one shittastic performance.
While there were attempts to mix in different looks and strategies throughout the game, they were lucky to get 3/5 of the guys on the floor buying into the look on a given possession. Their zone defense was abysmal, for example, and when they tried to put two on the ball to force it away from the likes of Cam Thomas and Mikal Bridges, the rest of the group forgot that you still need to try to defend the other players on the floor. Trapping a ballhandler only to let the recipient of the pass walk into an eight-footer is not exactly what you’re after when you double-team the initial ballhandler.
The players own their portion of the blame for this, obviously, but the Sixers being a practice-heavy team that looks this out of sorts on defense is not the greatest look for Nick Nurse. Reserving judgment for when they have a semi-competent roster available is the right call here, but this needs to get better in a hurry.
— On volume and efficiency, the Sixers are nowhere close to good enough from the three-point line right now. Quality looks are going to be harder to come by without Joel Embiid, who gets constantly doubled and frees the rest of the group. They will get some help from the injured or ill guys when they return to the lineup, but even then, Nic Batum and Tobias Harris aren’t high-volume shooters.
— Nick Nurse, I respect the commitment to work, but it should be illegal to call two consecutive timeouts down 26 points with 3:29 left. Mandatory two-month probation at the very least.