After losing nine straight games to the Los Angeles Clippers over the course of nearly 5 years, the Sixers finally took down one of the NBA’s premier teams. Despite allowing the Clippers to shoot nearly 53 percent from beyond the arc, Philadelphia held them to just 42 points in the second half en route to a 121-110 victory.
Los Angeles may have been without star point guard Chris Paul, but the Sixers were missing the services of Joel Embiid, and the two are probably of equal value to their respective teams.
Wednesday’s win put the Sixers at 8-2 in the month of January, and kept them just 5.5 games out of the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. The Liberty Ballers staff tried to wrap their heads around another impressive victory, and discussed the impact of Brett Brown as a potential playoff push looms.
Jake Pavorsky: So, turns out the Sixers are still pretty good, even without Embiid. Where are we at with this team? Can they actually make a playoff push? And how much credit does Brett Brown deserve for this?
Kyle Neubeck: In all seriousness, I'm less concerned with the results and wins than the fact that this team has a real identity as a young, up-tempo unit that attacks you at the rim on both ends. They share the ball, they get out and run, and they clearly look better as a team when their defenders can close hard on shooters with the knowledge they have a willing and capable backline defender.
Brown had preached tempo with this team for years, and it always looked like a fool's errand with all the turnovers it caused, but it's starting to produce. Add Ben Simmons into this mix -- and perhaps somebody like a Lonzo Ball in the draft -- and you are really cookin'.
Xylon Dimoff: Brett deserves a ton of credit here. It's important to remember that he's about new at his position as the rest of the young players, and he's learning with the team. He still throws out some, um, dubious lineups (Ersan must have some serious dirt on him to get to play over Nerlens in crunch time defensive possessions), but it's worth mentioning that every Sixer from the dreaded 2015-16 season brought a new skill with him to this year -- yes, even Hollis; yes, even Jah. I think the lineup stuff will improve with time, but in the meantime the Sixers are whipping the ball across the court better than I've ever seen in my 15 years of watching this team (they lead the league in passes per game by a mile at 354.4, Boston ranks second at 329.6). It's impossible to ever know how much of a role a coach has ever played in development, but the leap this year is just too significant to brush Brett aside.
And here's the thing: the Bulls (8) are bad and the Pacers (7) are worse; the Pistons have no idea what they are; the Bucks have thus far slipped in 2017; the Magic have been slipping for a good four years; the Knicks have been slipping for most of my life. The Sixers are 5.5 games back of the eight seed and have Ben Simmons looming, and are going to the damn playoffs.
JP: Everything about this team is a win-win right now. If they continue playing like this, a potential eighth seed doesn't look to crazy, and you focus on a potential pick swap with Sacramento. If they fall off a bit, the chances of a high lottery pick are even better, and you still have the knowledge that the future is incredibly bright.
Out of all the guys on the LB staff, I've probably been the hardest on Brett Brown, and he's making me eat my words lately. He's got a great mix right now of veterans and quality young talent, and I think he's finally figured out how to make it work. With Okafor out of the picture, the lineups are really starting to click now, and they're finally playing the brand of fun, uptempo basketball we envisioned when Brown first took the job. The one thing that's impressed me most with Brett lately is that he seems to be getting more creative with the play calling now that the team has developed some more chemistry. They're finding some quality quick hitters, and creating easier looks, especially around the rim. The floor has opened up more than ever before. Of course, Noel and Embiid play a significant role in that too.
I think regardless of how the rest of the season turns out, this current time is worth treasuring, and should have everyone excited about the longterm outlook of the franchise.
Matt Carey: Brett does and has always deserved credit for prevented the dreaded "losing culture" from becoming a reality. Tonight's win is especially impressive to me because one of the things I feared happening was that the on-off difference with Embiid would become a fait accompli and guys would just be accustomed to the idea that if Embiid didn't play, they weren't good enough to win.
I still think playoffs is a stretch. There's too many teams to pass, too many games on the road, too many back-to-backs on the horizon. I'd love for it to happen, but I don't think it will. I'd love for them to get close to get the taste of a playoff race down the stretch though.
This is definitely the right kind of acceleration of the process though. Go, whoever is playing the Kings.
Shamus Clancy: I love the identity this team has cultivated over the last month. Tough, tough defense between Embiid, Noel and Rock and then a free-flowing, fun offensive attack as Embiid stands as the fulcrum with Saric providing occasional sparks and McConnell doing his best 2011 J.J. Barea impression.
It appears that Brown is able to keep this identity going, and with that, team success, whenever [REDACTED] doesn't play. Maybe some correlation there?
KN: I've been saying for weeks that Simmons' eventual introduction could cause a slight downturn when he first comes back -- he's a big piece to try to implement on the fly -- but I'm starting to question whether I actually believe that or not. He seems like he should be able to fit right into the style of play. I'm worried I'm getting overconfident and it's all going to come crashing down.
Jake Hyman: What really stands out about Brett Brown, to me, is his late-game approach. The team looked shellshocked with the game on the line and the ball in their hands early in the year, but letting his players improvise during crunch time has fostered positive results over the weeks. It shows the faith he's built with this unit. The "violence-at-the-rim" theme is back again, Brown is shocking teams with a "beta" version of what this team eventually will manifest into and he seems to be a "players" coach. Giving T.J. McConnell and Nik Stauskas starting roles, low-key, will have short-term benefits for their confidence and is undoubtedly beneficial long-term.
Simmons' acclimation, if/when he returns, along with Embiid absences cloud the Sixers' upside as a playoff contender. It's okay to be one year away.
Jake Fischer: I was at the game tonight—my first of the season!—and in person, it's pretty obvious Brett Brown's enthusiasm and energy is what feeds T.J. and Covington and Embiid and Nerlens to scream and shout, play with constructive emotion and beckon the crowd. The dude spent a decade under Pop -- his game-planning was bound to come into form once the roster developed. This is the true beginning of Hinkie's manifestation. It's not a fluke. Enjoy it, fellas.