Brett Brown screamed. He slid in almost a defensive stance down the sideline and kicked his left foot in the FedEx Forum air.
With 32.5 seconds remaining in Tuesday night’s 96-91 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, Nik Stauskas fouled Tony Allen despite Brown’s pleas for his team play defense and not gift the Grizzlies a trip to the charity stripe.
Allen fortunately missed both, but the Sixers could not capitalize with the ball, trailing only 94-91.
On the next possession, Sergio Rodriguez dribbled the air out of the ball instead of trying to sneak past Marc Gasol on the wing. (This has been Rodriguez’s biggest problem re-adjusting to the NBA this season. When he draws favorable switches on pick-and-rolls, he rarely attacks from the get-go, often appearing to weigh his options while yo-yoing for a few moments before making a move) His lallygagging forced Dario Saric into a tough three-point heave with the shot clock quickly winding down.
As Saric’s miss floated above the rim, the Sixers had not one, but two tries to tip a rebound through the net, only to came up empty. Zach Randolph emerged form the scrum with the the ball to be fouled.
Again the Sixers caught a lucky break as Randolph missed both free throws, setting the stage for the increasingly common Brett Brown after-timeout inbounds plays.
Ersan Ilyasova was tasked with inbounding the ball on the left sideline. Rodriguez was stationed at the top of the key as Saric and Richaun Holmes staggered at the right elbow, clearly preparing to set a double screen for Stauskas awaiting the whistle in the far right corner.
Stauskas curled off the double screen as Holmes sneaked across the baseline to the strong side block to receive the inbounds pass. As Ilyasova inbounded to Holmes, Stauskas continued bursting off Rodriguez’s pick to set his own back-screen for the stretch-4. Ilyasova wasn’t open, as the Grizzlies doubled him off the pick, allowing Stauskas to leak wide open to the corner. Holmes made the right read, finding Sauce Castillo in the left corner, but his shot rimmed short.
It’s a 34.5-second microcosm of the Sixers’ late-game situations this season. This may have arguably been Brown’s most effective play design of the season, creating multiple organic options through succinct movement in ample amounts of time. Even still, Browns’ players were unable to convert.
It’s been the tune all season for the Sixers down the stretch of close games. Yes, Brown has had some blunders—just as players miss open shots—but he’s mostly been very effective down the stretch of close games: Mixing and matching offense/defense lineups and attempting to target weak spots in opposing defenses. But the Sixers clearly do not have the talent to consistently produce in those moments. I will die on this hill if I have to. Brown has done more than an adequate job in the games’ most pressing moments. It’ll be a joy to watch him coach with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid sharing the floor in those moments.
- Ilyasova had an insanely inefficient 23 points on 4-13 shooting from deep. He head fakes into a step-back threes far too many times when the lane is open after the pump. We’ll never know what opportunities Ilyasova is forfeiting by refusing to attack the rim.
-Holmes was a bushel of fun, playing 34 minutes with Embiid and Okafor sidelined. He scored 10 points, the six defensive rebounds are a little troubling again, but you have to love the energy he brought with three blocks, and being the lone rim protector on the floor often took him out of position to compete on the defensive glass.
-Although my lede certainly picked on him, I thought Stauskas had a really nice game. He made plays off the bounce that didn’t necessarily turn into points, but his ability to create off the dribble really helped the Sixers conjure some offense without a go-to scorer active.
-Timothe Luwawu! A career-high seven points on 3-6 shooting on 1-2 from deep in 16 minutes. Robert Covington’s injury has opened up some minutes for the young Frenchman, and I can really get behind him playing some regular minutes when Covington returns as well. The less Gerald Henderson plays, the better. He’s the one who’s sacrificed the most, playing just 16 minutes tonight as well.