Sixers slaughtered by threes in loss to Nets: Likes and dislikes
The Sixers (30-17) hosted the Brooklyn Nets (19-28) on Saturday. Philadelphia wanted to build on Thursday's victory in Utah. Brooklyn wanted to rebound from Wednesday's loss to the Phoenix Suns. The Sixers gave up almost as many made threes as made twos in a game that was never close, succumbing 136-121.
Before we get to what I saw, some notes.
The Nets were without the services of Dorian Finney-Smith, who has a sprained left ankle.
Dennis Smith Jr. was out with a sore right foot. Day'Ron Sharpe missed the game with a hyperextended left knee.
Dariq Whitehead is dealing with a stress reaction in his left shin and was not available.
Noah Clowney is on an assignment with Brooklyn's G League affiliate and was out. Keon Johnson and Jalen Wilson are on two-way assignments with the Long Island Nets and were not available.
Jacque Vaughn started Spencer Dinwiddie, Cam Thomas, Cam Johnson, Mikal Bridges, and Nic Claxton.
The Sixers were without the services of Joel Embiid, who has a lateral meniscus injury in his left knee.
Tobias Harris was out with an illness. Nico Batum missed the game with a tight left hamstring. De'Anthony Melton is recovering from a stress response to lumbar spine soreness and remained out.
Robert Covington remained out with a bone bruise in his left knee.
Kenny Lofton Jr. was out due to personal reasons.
Nick Nurse started Tyrese Maxey, Kelly Oubre Jr., Danuel House Jr., Marcus Morris Sr., and Paul Reed.
- There were no new injuries to report in the immediate aftermath of the game, so the Sixers had that going for them!
- Sometimes, basketball is really, really simple. The first half was a great example of that. The Sixers played catch-up the entire front 24 minutes, but you can't chase a sports car with a bicycle and expect to catch up. The very crux of the issue was that the Sixers did not make shots. They took superb care of the basketball, they just couldn't throw it into the ocean. The problems associated with that don't end with possessions ending with zeroes instead of twos or threes. Every missed shot is an opportunity for the other team to run on offense, which also requires you to run like a chicken with your head cut off on defense.
Philadelphia made two triples in the final three minutes of the second quarter, but the well was otherwise dry from beyond the arc. They also couldn't do much at the rim, with Maxey the only available player to possess adequate touch to finish over Claxton at the hoop.
The other problem was that Brooklyn wisely blitzed ball screens for Maxey, shutting off the water before the newly-minted All-Star had a chance to leak to the rim and create downhill pressure. Putting two on the ball creates a four-on-three opportunity if you just make a quick pass to a teammate elsewhere on the floor. But, the Sixers also don't take nearly enough threes as is. Not a good trait to have when Claxton is the guy standing between you and the basket. As little shot creation as the Nets have, the Sixers had even less with four of their five regular starters out. So, not much catch-and-shoot or fake-and-go equity even if Maxey makes the pass.
It took Maxey most of the first half to find his hot hand, which meant the Sixers couldn't get anything going on offense. Of course, perhaps it wouldn't have been the end of the world if the Sixers were just passable on defense.
- Even Philadelphia's best attempts at closing out on shooters were bad because they were reckless, the Sixers throwing themselves uncontrolled at the open white jersey and risking contact often. But, they didn't have to worry about that all that much because most of Brooklyn's threes were wide open.
Oubre and House got absolutely roasted as off-ball defenders, falling asleep often enough and long enough for Bridges and other Nets to quickly relocate for great looks from three. And when it wasn't them going space cadet off the ball, the other problem that has long plagued the Sixers surfaced - they couldn't contain dribble penetration.
While Brooklyn is quite starved of creation in the halfcourt, they have a bunch of players who can catch and go when the ball swings their way. With Thomas, Bridges, and Dinwiddie all capable of navigating pick-and-rolls and getting downhill to put pressure on the rim, the Sixers were in hell.
Brooklyn cracked Philadelphia's first line of defense with ease, holding downhill pushes long enough to get the Sixers to rotate. From there, it snowballed. Brooklyn was one or two passes away from open threes all game long, and the Sixers did nothing to thwart attacks on the paint. If it wasn't a drive that led to a kick-out for a shooter on the weak-side wing, it was a drive and kick to the corner, followed by a baseline drive and kick to the opposite corner, followed by a swing pass to the next white jersey for an open three.
The Sixers didn't have the juice on offense to sustain much of anything, and they damn sure didn't have the discipline to stop the snowballing on defense.
- Here's the harsh reality of where Philadelphia is - as great a player as Maxey has become this season, he's a small guard. Ask Damian Lillard how easy it is to keep a team afloat by himself. Small guards with impressive athletic pop are pick-your-poison defensive assignments. Small guards who have burst but rely on a perimeter game are much easier to contain.
With Embiid sidelined until who knows when, teams are going to blitz Maxey every time he starts to heat up. Brooklyn has the tools to really silence him for a prolonged stretch, other teams won't have the personnel to sustain that effectively. But, the blueprint is really simple.
I will say, Saturday was a rather extreme example because the Sixers had so many of their regulars out. Thursday's win in Utah combined some unsustainable shooting from Maxey with really good play from Harris. That was enough to win that game. But, barring nightly heroics from those two, the only way to help this team while Embiid is out is to make a relatively impactful trade by Thursday's deadline.
The Sixers (30-18) will host the Dallas Mavericks (26-22) on Monday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m., Eastern time. You can catch the game on NBC Sports Philadelphia.