It was another game decided by less than 5 points for the Sixers. If I'm telling you this before you even saw the game, I'm willing to bet 97% of you would know the end result (and about 62% would be pissed that I'm telling you what happened before you saw it). The Sixers utilized their league leading defense to muster up a second half comeback against the Knicks but ultimately not enough to come away with a win. The offense was predictably atrocious in the closing minutes and the Sixers let the Knicks skip out of Philadelphia a game closer to the top of the Atlantic Division lead.
I left work finding it was a nice spring day outside, I listened to everybody's favorite nice weather music (Wiz Khalifa) on my drive home, got my Tony Horton on, all leading to me being extensively primed for a nationally televised Sixers game. Every event leading up to the game (including my shower - the water pressure was on another level) lead me to sincerely believe this was my night and the Sixers would come out and trample on the recently hot (so hot right now) Knicks. Well the boys in white quickly made sure I wouldn't feel that anymore.
The Sixers started the game missing their first 14, yes 14, shots from the field (collecting 3 Thaddeus Young free throws as their only points in that span). While many times an 0-14 streak is a result of an even mix between bad shots and shots just not falling, this slump was heavily slanted towards the former. There was far too much one-on-one, far too little off-the-ball movement or screens of any kind, all leading to forced shots at the end of the shot clock. Just to make that stretch even more infuriating, the Sixers were turning the ball over at a rate uncharacteristic of this year's team. For those who watched the game on CSN Philly, you heard Malik Rose describe that span, along with the rest of the first half, as "ineptitude at its finest" and "setting offensive execution back 15 years".
Despite the Sixers first bucket not coming until a mid-range jumper from Elton Brand with 4.5 minutes left in the quarter, the Sixers were still very much alive thanks to their league-leading defense. The defense on Carmelo Anthony from Andre Iguodala and Jeremy Lin from Jrue Holiday neutralized the backcourt scoring attack of the Knicks. With the effort on that side of the floor, the Sixers hung around for the next two quarters and went in to the final quarter somehow trailing by only one point.
And it was in that quarter that we saw the same thing we've been banging our heads against a spiked wall all year from. A lack of offensive execution, coherent offensive sets of any kind, and questionable lineups yet again were the death of the Sixers at the end of the game.
The knee jerk reactions that we fans instinctively go to at times like these are to blame someone. Whether it be Doug Collins, Louis Williams, or any other player on the team, we always try to pin the losing outcome on one certain individual. In tonight's case, it was a combination of all three.
I feel like we say it every time the Sixers can't pull a close game out (which has been all 8 games this year decided by 5 points or less), there has to be an offensive plan at the end of the games. This is a balanced scoring team for a reason; they move the ball, they take advantage of mismatches, they find the open man. When they revert from this is when the offense collapses exactly like we saw in the closing minutes.
Lou hit a couple of huge shots towards the end of the 3rd quarter. He hit a runner in the lane attempting to get a 2-for-1 opportunity, quickly followed by a 3-pointer to close the gap to just 1 point at the end of 3. This was an instance of good BOSS turning quickly into bad BOSS. Lou went into iso mode early and often in the 4th, making just 1 of his 6 field goal attempts in that time. Even though this strategy clearly wasn't working, the Sixers (players and coach) seemed uninterested in switching things up. When Lou had the ball at the top of the key, the rest of the team was standing around waiting for him to do something. Yes Lou went into BOSSiso mode, but his teammates didn't give him much of an option late. Somebody has got to step up in that huddle whether it be Collins (preferably), Dre, hell even Tony Battie, and say this style is not working now and has rarely (if ever) worked for them before. A designed play or set needs to surface that give them various different options based on how the Knicks lined up defensively. An isolation doesn't give them much of an option of anything unless an off the ball defender falls asleep at the helm.
But the lack of offensive sets towards the end wasn't the only damaging factor in tonight's loss. Midway through the fourth quarter, knowing all too well they were getting hammered on second chance points all half, Collins went with a lineup that had Jrue, Lou, and Jodie Meeks in the backcourt with Dre at the 4 and Elton at the 5. I scratched my head when I saw this set come out (the left side of my head itched at the time, so I'm not sure if this was the main cause) but I thought I'd let it roll before passing any judgement. Quickly I was reminded why I was so confused at the start.
All game long Jrue was stifling the one they call Linsanity. His length and ball hawking skills allowed him to keep Lin a non-factor for the first three quarters. When the new lineup came out, Jrue was put on JR Smith while a combination of Jodie and Lou was put on Lin. If you want to know how this faired for the Sixers, just go ahead and take a look at Lin's 4th quarter numbers why don't ya? Go ahead, I'll wait. Steve Blake's on TV so I can just pause on a close-up of him and drool. Done? So you can clearly see that Lin was doing whatever he wanted with either Lou or Jodie. Lin was coming off the high screen-and-roll, getting to into the paint with ease on his way to 10 made free throw attempts in that quarter alone. And when he kept getting into the lane possession after possession, there was never a change to put Jrue back on him.
The combination of perplexing defensive assignments and a reoccurring lack of any sort of cohesive late-game offense held the Sixers back from getting a win at home against a team in the Knicks that is now rising up the Atlantic Division standings under interim coach Mike Woodson.
A few things before I go:
- Spencer Hawes was downright disgusting (in a bad way) tonight. His first half numbers turned out to be a sexy 1 point on 0-5 shooting (two air balls in there too), 1 defensive rebound, and 3 turnovers; and it didn't get much better in the second half either. He gave a valiant effort defensively but Amare Stoudemire is flat out an atrocious match-up for Spence. Now that the Knicks decided they may want to incorporate Amare into their offense, he had his way with the Washingtonian and everyone else for that matter on his way to 21 points on 14 shots.
- The only offensive bright spot for the Sixers in that first half was Elton Brand who shot 6-9 for 12 points. His mid-range game was that of the EB I've seen over the course of his career. Unfortunately it didn't carry over into the second half as he shot missed all 3 of his shot attempts for the remainder of the game.
- Evan Turner from two weeks ago, where have you gone? In 26 minutes, Evan had just two points against a team that he physically abused for 24 a week and a half ago. Yes he had less opportunities and played off the ball more, but he played poorly in the process.
- Andre Iguodala was, per usual, stellar on the defensive side of the ball against Melo. Iguodala was in Melo's proverbial (and I hope literal) grill al night allowing him just 10 points on 5-15 shooting. It's games like this that, at least for me, any offensive output from Dre is gravy. The effort he puts into shutting down one of the league's best scorers is enough for me.
- While the Sixers offense had a blood disorder (anemia), I don't want to take any credit away from the Knicks defense tonight. They were extremely active on that end of the floor and caused a lot of those rushed/forced/disgusting shots from the Sixers. It wasn't only stupid decision by the Sixers that caused their 9 first-half turnovers.
- Old Man Knees is infinitely cooler and knee-sier than Spike Lee.
- Do you think Meredith was secretly rooting for the Knicks?
A tough loss to a division opponent tonight and doesn't get any easier as the second place Boston Celtics come to town on Friday. I'm sure they remember quite clearly the shellacking the Sixers game them a couple weeks back and will be ready for some revenge. We'll see you then!