The Sixers had no business being in a competitive basketball game against the Golden State Warriors.
They had no business being competitive even if they were fully healthy, and that includes Joel Embiid. They really had no business being competitive with Tim Frazier and JaKarr Sampson as their starting back court. Not against a team that can legitimately make the claim of being both the best offensive *and* best defensive team in the NBA this season.
But there they were, climbing their way back to within 4 in the final seconds of last night's game after being down by as many as 18 earlier in the 4th quarter. Clawing their way back into the game on the backs of a suffocating defense, exceptional effort level, and some timely shooting by Robert Covington.
"You're not going to beat this team like you beat Charlotte. It's not going to be in the 80's," Brett Brown said before the game.
Even he didn't expect this defensive effort from his squad.
"I'm just so proud of our guys defensive improvement," Sixers head coach Brett Brown said after the game. "They take pride in playing defense. They know that it is our identity."
And boy what an identity it has become.
Since January 21st, a stretch that covers 12 games, the Sixers have a defensive rating of 96.7, the 3rd best in the league during that span. During that 12 game stretch, the Sixers played the 2nd best (Golden State), 4th best (Toronto Raptors), 5th best (Atlanta Hawks), and 6th best (Cleveland Cavaliers) offenses in the league.
|Defensive Rating since Jan 21st)|
|San Antonio Spurs||98.9|
* nba.com formula
This defensive improvement culminated in the Sixers holding the Golden State Warriors, a team that has a 109.9 offensive rating on the season, to an offensive rating of 87.8.
That 87.8 offensive rating was the lowest output for the Warriors this season. Golden State had averaged a 115.7 offensive rating in their previous 5 games.
Sure, the Sixers benefited from an off night from Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, who combined to shoot an abysmal 2-19 on uncontested field goal attempts, as measured by nba.com. But any time you can prevent a team as prolific as the Warriors from scoring on nearly two-thirds of their half-court sets, as the Sixers did last night, you have to be impressed. And for the Sixers, it just continues a string of impressive defensive performance.
It's especially impressive because of how many problems teams who move the ball well and shoot from the perimeter have caused the Sixers. The last time the two teams met the Warriors dropped 126 on the Sixers in a lopsided 40 point victory. You can very clearly see the growth in the Sixers defense.
Turnovers, and first half shooting, ultimately did the Sixers in. The Sixers shot only 2-12 from three point range during the first half and finished the night with 27 turnovers, which ties their highest in a game this season. Their 24.1% turnover percentage (basketball-reference.com) is, in fact, the highest percentage of the season. The Warriors league leading defensive rating is well-deserved.
The combination of the two were too much to overcome, even with a superb defensive outing. They tried, though. Nerlens Noel led the way defensively, finishing the night with 11 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, a steal, and a block. The Warriors did not make a shot in the vicinity of the rim when Nerlens Noel was around to protect it.
On the offensive side of the ball, Robert Covington once again led the way, chipping in a game high 21 points on 7-15 shooting from the field, including 4-10 shooting from three point range, to go along with his 8 rebounds and 3 steals. Covington scored 13 points on 4-6 shooting in the 4th quarter,
This is hardly a game to fret over. The Sixers are heading into the All-star break 4-4 in their last 8 games, with losses to the Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Golden State Warriors during that span that were far closer than the talent level dictates they should have been. The grand plan, one based around finding undervalued talent and developing them to their fullest, is showing legitimate signs of success.
Every game the Sixers steal, every shot that Nerlens Noel alters, and every three point shot that Jerami Grant makes provides a glimpse, even if it is a slight one, into what this team might be capable of years down the line if they continue to do their jobs effectively.
Just imagine how great it would be if they had signed Earl Watson.
Michael Carter-Williams update
After the game, Brett Brown talked about whether he was concerned over Michael Carter-Williams injury.
"I am concerned," Brown said. "The relief that I have is that Michael is concerned too.
"Very, very carefully will we determine whether he's going to play [at All-Star Game weekend]," Brown said. "nobody's going overboard on it, but we will pay attention to that prior to letting him play in New York."
Michael Carter-Williams is scheduled to play in the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday and the Skills Challenge on Saturday.
Joel Embiid video