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Brett Brown, Sixers Inbound Play vs. Nuggets (Film Review)

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Taking a look at an inbound play run by the Sixers, and when we’ve seen it before.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Sixers dismantled the Denver Nuggets this passed Monday, 123-104.

With the electric environment surrounding Markelle Fultz’ return to the court during that game, there was a lot to take in. Joel Embiid yamming on Paul Millsap. Markelle utilizing the hesi pull-up jimbo.

But something that might have been missed in all the commotion was an inbound play the Sixers ran early in the 4th quarter for an easy dunk. It was actually pretty tough to catch even if you were looking for it, as the cameras were zoomed in on Mason Plumlee — had to Google Miles, Marshall and finally Mason Plumlee to figure out which one was on the Nuggets — as the play developed.

Below is a video of the play. You’ll see (or miss) Joel Embiid set a screen on Robert Covington’s defender, as Cov cuts to the basket. JJ Redick will hit Covington with a perfectly placed pass for the easy dunk. The video shows the play in real speed, then slowed down with a freeze frame. During the freeze frame, take note of where every Sixers player is.

Embiid’s brick wall of a screen is impossible to get through for Covington’s defender (apologies, I can’t tell who it is), and Mason Plumlee misses the switch. On the near side, Ersan Ilyasova sets a screen either on his own man or Fultz’ (there’s not enough of the play in the shot, so same as earlier, I can’t tell) as Fultz drifts out to 3PT land. The Ilyasova and Fultz motions don’t really matter as much, and serve more as a way of keeping their defenders occupied than anything else.

Solid inbound play right? Well, you’ve likely seen it before. Specifically, if you watched the Sixers January 3rd, 2017 game — that’s from last season — against the Minnesota Timberwolves, you’ve seen this play.

Allow me to jog your memory. The Sixers were up 91-88 with 6.5 seconds remaining as the Timberwolves inbounded in the Sixers’ defensive territory. The initial look went to Karl-Anthony Towns just beyond the 3PT line. Towns passed off to... Ricky Rubio, the guy you’d most want taking a 3PT if you’re cheering for the defense, as Rubio drained a triple with 1.6 seconds to go.

The Sixers called timeout to advance the ball. With less than 2 seconds remaining, the Sixers had no choice but to get a look off the inbound play; no second chances. Dario was inbounding, and then they ran the following play (like the first, it will run in real speed, then slow motion with a freeze frame):

Embiid sets a screen for a curling Covington. Nik Stauskas and Ilyasova (#7 last season) run actions on the nearside that first see Ilyasova and Sauce screen each other? Then Ilyasova screens his defender as Sauce creeps out to 3PT land, both motions essentially serving as decoys.

Pretty much the same play as the inbound play from Monday’s Nuggets game. Some might even use the word “exact”. But here’s how they differed ever-so-slightly:

  1. In the Nuggets edition, RoCo starts at the elbow before cutting to the rim off of Embiid’s screen. In the play from the Timberwolves game last season, RoCo starts down by the baseline, cuts up to the elbow to curl around Embiid’s screen toward the rim.
  2. Dario Saric throws the pass against the Timberwolves. It’s just a bit off aim and out of rhythm with the recipient, but does the trick in giving RoCo a tough but makeable layup (tip-in?). The inbound against the Nuggets has JJ Redick deliver the pass to Covington. Redick’s pass is perfect, leading to a Covington dunk.
  3. The Nuggets switched, albeit late, to try to stop the play. The Timberwolves had Covington’s defender fight around the screen to stick with Cov, out of fear of leaving Embiid alone. Neither worked.

How about those freeze frames? A bit blurry, but they illustrate the similarity.

Nothing at all complex about these two highly effective plays. Just Brett Brown trusting Dario and JJ to make the pass that needed to be made, and trusting Cov to finish the easy look.