Sixers suffer second straight defeat in loss to Celtics: Likes and dislikes
The Sixers (8-2) hosted the Boston Celtics (8-2) on Wednesday. Philadelphia wanted to bounce back from Tuesday's loss to the Pacers. Boston wanted to push its winning streak to four games. The short-handed Sixers dropped their second in a row, losing to the short-handed Celtics, 117-107.
Before we get to the game, some notes.
The Celtics were without Jaylen Brown, who had a non-Covid illness. Kristaps Porzingis missed the game with a right knee contusion.
Jordan Walsh is on assignment with Boston's G-League affiliate and was not available.
JD Davison and Nathan Knight are on two-way assignments with the Celtics' G-League affiliate and were out.
Joe Mazzulla started Jrue Holiday, Derrick White, Sam Hauser, Jayson Tatum, and Al Horford.
The Sixers were without Nico Batum due to personal reasons.
Kelly Oubre Jr. has a fractured rib and was out.
Terquavion Smith, Javonte Smart, and Ricky Council IV are on two-way G-League assignments with the Delaware Blue Coats and were not available.
Nick Nurse started Tyrese Maxey, De'Anthony Melton, Robert Covington, Tobias Harris, and Joel Embiid.
- Want to know how you can tell that Boston wasn't locked in on defense at the start of this game? Covington - who, according to Synergy, had seven dunks, total, last season - had two put-back dunks cutting from the weak side when the shots went up early in the first quarter.
- Covington flashing through space on cuts actually became a theme of this game. He bailed teammates - especially Embiid - out of trouble a number of times in the affair. Of course, it doesn't really matter if he doesn't capitalize on the opportunities. He wasn't a great finisher at the rim in his first go-around with the Sixers, but credit to him for taking advantage at the cup in this game.
- Philadelphia looked absolutely dead in the water after Tatum laced a fade-away jumper along the left baseline to give the Celtics a 17-point lead on the first possession of the second quarter. And then, Jaden Springer happened.
Springer laced a corner three when the Sixers were drawing dead on offense in the second quarter. He then promptly stole the ball in the open floor and took it home for a dunk, igniting the home crowd. He stripped Tatum later in the affair, taking the ball all the way for a reverse dunk to bring The Center to life and cut the deficit to four points in the fourth quarter.
I thought he was overly aggressive on defense at times, setting himself up for fouls or turnovers by giving too much obvious contact or rushing things. But, he was the injection of life Philadelphia needed in this game. For the time being, Springer should be a strong candidate for the minutes currently going to Marcus Morris Sr., if not for those currently going to Patrick Beverley, too.
- One of my favorite things to watch with this team right now is Maxey deciding he will not be denied in the open court. He used to fade away from contact at the rim. Now, Maxey is going in to eat whoever is in his way. He attacked the teeth of Boston's defense multiple times in transition, forcing them to foul or concede open layups. If you found your eyes widening in anticipating of what was about to unfold, you weren't alone.
- We have a decent sample size of ten games now, and, while the Sixers have some pieces that have been in and out for various reasons, the data is starting to mean something. One of those data points is it's abundantly clear that the Sixers need ball-handling in the non-Maxey lineups.
In this game, Nurse went with Patrick Beverley, Melton, Morris Sr., and Furkan Korkmaz around Embiid for a stretch of those non-Maxey minutes. Similar to Tuesday, the problem was none of those guys can credibly dribble or pass against defensive pressure. To make matters worse, Boston had Luke Kornet in the game for Horford, along with other deep bench players like Dalano Banton and Svi Mykhailiuk.
The Celtics kept Holiday in the game with that group, and he guarded Embiid. But, regardless of who is on Embiid in that unit, the Celtics are spoon-feeding an opportunity for the big fella to get it going in the game. Yet, the Sixers couldn't even get the ball inside to him. It must be brought up, although I think it's acceptable to give Nurse a bit of a pass given that Philadelphia was down two rotation players on the second night of a back-to-back in this game.
- What is not acceptable is that Nurse went back to Morris in the second half when Springer ignited a Sixers run to get back into the game during his stint in the second quarter.
- I get Beverley has never been an ace on offense, but he's not even passable right now. Cannot pass up the open looks from three at the rate he is right now. If you work on it, and it's a shot the defense is giving you, fire it up. At the very worst, take a dribble or two in and pull up for a long two. That might be a better shot for Beverley anyway, as he's not getting any lift from beyond the arc right now.
- But, passing on layups when Embiid reads the double-team correctly and finds you wide open under the basket is also quite bad. Really seems like Beverley is in his own head right now.
- Was quite a sleeper from Embiid - who, if you've seen his pregame workouts the last two nights, does not look like he's feeling great right now - on the second night of a back-to-back. Not exactly excusable when he put up a stinker in the fourth quarter on Tuesday, too.
But, if it felt like all the good work the Sixers had done to get back into the game was undone when Embiid checked back in from his usual rest to begin the fourth quarter, that's because it was. The Sixers were outscored handily in the minutes Embiid was on the court. The moment in the fourth quarter that stuck out the most for me was Embiid attacking a close-out and falling victim to some thieving hands. Embiid has built a portfolio of infamy for turnovers at the worst possible times in games, particularly against the Celtics.
- The Sixers have largely done a good job of executing against certain matchups they like in fourth quarters this season. But, on Wednesday, it certainly felt like they leaned too hard into the Hauser isolation once they got the switch they wanted. They became obsessed with that micro-level strategy at a bad time, and didn't really try to zoom out and focus on a macro-level strategy.
It felt like you were watching an homage to the Harden offense last season, the Sixers poking at one specific area of the floor instead of trying to make the defense work on both sides of the floor by spreading things out.
- I asked Nurse about this after Tuesday's loss, and he countered by pointing to Philadelphia's excellent rim rate through these first ten games, but the Sixers are just getting crushed on basic math. Your margin of error is uncomfortably slim when you attempt 20 fewer threes than the opposition does. There's a balance that must be found between shots at the rim and shots on the perimeter, because two is always less than three no matter how you try to frame it.
The Sixers (8-3) will visit the Atlanta Hawks (6-5) on Friday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m., Eastern time. You can catch the action on NBC Sports Philadelphia.
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