Putrid defense dooms Sixers in loss to Pacers: Likes and dislikes
The Sixers (29-13) visited the Indiana Pacers (24-20) on Thursday. Philadelphia was looking for its seventh consecutive win. Indiana wanted to snap a three-game losing streak. The Sixers had no response to an early punch from the Pacers and played from behind the rest of the night in a 134-122 defeat.
Before we get to what I saw, some notes.
The Sixers were without the services of Tobias Harris, who has an illness.
De'Anthony Melton remained out as he recovers from a stress response to lumbar spine soreness. As did Robert Covington, who is recovering from a bone bruise in his left knee.
Marcus Morris Sr. missed the game with plantar fasciitis in his left foot.
Mo Bamba was out with right knee inflammation.
Kenny Lofton Jr. missed the game due to personal reasons.
Nick Nurse started Patrick Beverley, Tyrese Maxey, Kelly Oubre Jr., Nico Batum, and Joel Embiid.
The Pacers were without the services of Tyrese Haliburton, who is managing a strained left hamstring.
Isaiah Wong is on a two-way assignment with Indiana's G League affiliate and was not available.
Rick Carlisle started Andrew Nembhard, Buddy Hield, Aaron Nesmith, Pascal Siakam, and Myles Turner.
- Embiid appeared to be in quite a bit of pain after knocking knees inside in the second quarter. But, he stayed in the game and looked relatively unhindered. We'll see if it shows up on the injury report ahead of Saturday's battle with the Nuggets, but good to see him walk it off.
- If you want a good example of the strides Embiid has made as a leader, he was quite visible in coaching up his end-of-bench teammates in the fourth quarter. He even celebrated when KJ Martin tied a Pacer up to force a jump ball. In years past, he would've sat between teammates and hung out until the final buzzer. But, he made sure to help simulate meaningful minutes for the youngsters in garbage time.
- The Sixers played catch-up the entire first half. And there was no meaningful catching up done, merely fighting back to the surface after seemingly verging on the cusp of drowning. Even with Haliburton out, it wasn't really surprising that the Sixers were not mentally ready to absorb a punch from Indiana. The Pacers are young and fast; the Sixers - who were very short-handed - trend towards old and not universally quick. So, one team was running a sprint while the other was jogging. Literally.
Philadelphia was none too interested in defending in transition in the first half. There was no resistance, the Pacers getting the ball up the court for dunks in two passes or less even after Sixers baskets. The Sixers did nothing to slow the Pacers down, and they hemorrhaged points down the middle of the floor.
- The guy coming off a historic night in Philadelphia was part of the fundamental issue. And as efficient as Embiid was in the first half (19 points on 8-for-15 shooting), he played to contact quite a bit. Rather than play through the whistle, he played to the whistle. When the contact came, he stopped dead in his tracks, assuming that the call would be there for him. When it wasn't there, the Pacers were already halfway down the floor while the Sixers were reeling to recover.
- The first half of this game was one of the better arguments you can make in favor of trading for a high-level player before the February 8 deadline. In the playoffs, teams will do exactly what Indiana did to Embiid at times in the first half. The Pacers fronted and backed him in the post, outright denying or deflecting entry passes when Embiid had deep position. If Philadelphia was even able to get the ball to him, the touch started well outside of the deep post.
You can ultimately adjust to counter that with Delay action, which the Sixers did. Embiid set up higher in the offense so that Indiana couldn't feasibly front and back him without leaving someone open directly in his line of sight. He even made a point to request the ball coming up the court so that he could attack straight on without any sort of double-team.
That's all well and good, but it's probably not feasible that the Sixers achieve their ultimate goal with that as their only means to counter pressure before Embiid even touches the ball. The fact of the matter is that playoff defenses will choose to give role players open shots if it means not letting Embiid get comfortable. Rather than hope that role players sustain positive shooting variance for one series let alone four of them, the more fool-proof method would be to add a piece or pieces that have the gravity to make defenses re-consider applying so much pressure on Embiid.
Sure, they'll still try it. But, that means one of Philadelphia's better shooters or scorers is getting open somewhere down the chain. Ultimately, opposing defenses will have to resort to less aggressive coverages to spread the attention across a handful of players.
- In case I hadn't already made it obvious, this was not a display of basketball intelligence for Philadelphia to be proud of. But, the silly fouls right at the basket were perhaps the most frustrating part of watching the Sixers defend in this game. Every attempt to go on a run and get back into this game was quickly thwarted by a weak foul that did nothing to hinder the basket on the other end. The Sixers didn't even give themselves a chance.
The Sixers (29-14) will visit the Denver Nuggets (31-15) on Saturday. Tip-off is scheduled for 5:30 p.m., Eastern time. You can catch the showdown on ABC.
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