The Philadelphia 76ers fell to the Utah Jazz last night for their 2nd consecutive loss as well as their 2nd loss of the season. It was a physical game that felt laborious for those watching, let alone those playing — a defensive battle between two defensively-talented teams. True to the reputation of the match up, both teams struggled to score efficiently. Except, of course, during a 7-minute stretch in the 2nd quarter when the Jazz flipped a 4-point deficit into a 2-point lead going into half.
You may be thinking to yourself, “Oh. So the Sixers were -6 over 7 minutes. That’s not that bad. It’s a small sample, some variance from 3PT could do that.” Just wait until you see the buckets, my friend. With 6:50 remaning in the 1st half, the Sixers defense began to fall apart with miscommunications, poor effort, and a total lack of decision-making (not poor decision-making, zero decision-making). The Jazz leveraged the opportunity to string together the easiest ~7 minutes of bucket-getting they’ll see all season.
It all started when Joel Embiid subbed out at the 6:50 mark following a Mike Conley foul on Raul Neto in transition. On the very first Jazz possession after resuming play, the following happens:
That was a poor defensive possession from the Sixers, but I don’t neccessary think there is a single player responsible. Ennis navigates two screens well, but then Bogdanovic sort of just beats Ennis off the dribble. It leaves Al Horford in no man’s land containing a driver and a roller, and while Al swipes at Bogdanovic, he never actually commits to contesting him. Matisse Thybulle sticks one of his tentacles in there, but to no avail. Bogdanovic drew a lot of attention but the deterrence just wasn’t there and a scorer of his touch is going to convert that layup much more often than not. 1 attempt at the rim, 1 conversion, 0 resistance.
The two teams exchange a couple possessions and 30 seconds after the above score, the Jazz are running in transition:
Horford is slow to get back and Gobert seals him off from the paint. The Sixers end up scrambling and there is limited communication. Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris, the only two players capable of contesting Gobert, don’t realize what’s transpiring until it’s too late. 2 attempts at the rim, 2 conversions, 0 resistance.
Next Jazz possession, Mike Conley bricks a three. The Sixers can’t scoop up the rebound and the Jazz get a 2nd chance. James Ennis is lost:
Ennis is in la la land and Tobi never recognizes the need to collapse. 3 attempts at the rim, 3 conversions, 0 resistance.
That bucket tied the game up and Brett Brown had seen enough — he calls a timeout. When play resumes, the Sixers force a turnover but also give up a three that came from an off-ball screen. The Jazz are surging and before things get out of hand, Brown puts Joel back in the game. Get that drop coverage going and Joel will always be around the rim. Now the Jazz will have to work for their buckets, right?
Solid execution from the Jazz there. And I get Raul Neto is a little guy. But for crying out loud, when you’re a defender so close to the roll man that for those viewing the broadcast, it seems as though the two of you have fused into a single body, TAG HIM! Just a little!
4 attempts at the rim, 4 conversions, 0 resistance.
Attempt no. 5 comes on the next play, and we finally see some level of deterrence at the rim, although it’s unsuccessful:
But that single shred of effort wasn’t going to keep the Jazz from going back to what was so clearly working. The very next possession, Rudy Gobert established such deep post positioning (under the rim) that Embiid had no choice but to foul Gobert on his shot attempt. Gobert sank both.
For the Jazz, the cherry on top was this nifty fake-out and score by Joe Ingles (during which, Neto again refuses to tag Gobert) for their final 2 points of the half:
In total, over that final 6:50, the Jazz had 7 attempts at the rim (excluding a putback). They made 6 and got to the line for the 7th for a total of 14 easy points... in a game that was decided by 2 points. The Jazz went from down 44-40, to up 58-56.
Players can’t go 100% on every play on defense, it is not sustainable. But the entire Sixers’ defense took off for a 7-minute stretch against the Jazz — perimeter defenders getting lost, opposing roll men roaming free, literally nobody around to check the rim at times. Repeated uncontested attempts at the hoop is unacceptable at the youth level of the game, forget the NBA. In what would finish a one-possession game, it’s crucial to control the things you can control. The Sixers defense had some mental snafus, it happens. But a big part of playing effective defense is giving effort, and in choosing to take it easy for just a portion of the game, the Sixers may have cost themselves a win.
The good news is that we shouldn’t expect this to become a long term trend. I think the Sixers altogether looked a bit sluggish at times last night, Utah seems to be of that Denver-variety of “tough place to play” — just a draining environment. Bad news is the Sixers have the Denver Nuggets next on the schedule! Hopefully the Sixers come out with a bit more intensity and a more locked in mental approach.