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The 76ers beat the Miami Heat, but there was plenty of room for improvement defensively

Miami Heat v Philadelphia 76ers - Game Five Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

The Sixers allow 112 points per game on average. In home games the number is unsurprisingly lower, just 109.6. On Thursday they held the Miami Heat to just 102 points. All of this would suggest that defense was not a problem for the team, who was without the services of it’s Defensive Player of the Year Candidate, Joel Embiid. The team learned yesterday that he’d be out at least a week with knee soreness.

But despite the overall effort, and some clutch steals by T.J. McConnell, there were some times when the Sixers seemed to have communication errors. You know, the type you might expect from a bunch of guys who’ve only played 5 games together, and were making up for Embiid’s absence too.

Keeping in mind this entire exercise is a bit nit picky, here were some of the plays last night where the defense broke down for one reason or another; all things that might be more fun for the players to go over in a film session following a victory.

Room for improvement defensively

Above Tobias Harris is overplaying the pick-n-roll ball handler. He’s essentially treating Justise Winslow, an improved three-point shooter (37.2% 3pt) like Steph Curry. Harris was so worried about Winslow either turning the corner or getting an open look he gets fooled on the slip by Kelly Olynyk. Should never be that easy.

Above Mike Scott is defending James Johnson (35.2% 3pt). Johnson is positioned closer to 20th and Walnut than he is the three-point line. Scott could have easily cut off the driver while recovering to close out if need be. And if Johnson gets an open look from there, it might be one the Sixers could live with. A layup shouldn’t be.

JJ Redick and Jonah Bolden defending a side pick-n-roll above. Bolden seems to fear the pull up more so than the lob-dunk. He should flash help to deter a drive, then back-pedal to deter the lob and force the pull-up. It’s a pick your poison moment but 10 foot pull ups are less fatal than dunks.

Picking on Bolden again who had a rough night. Above, he seems overly-concerned with a potential switch onto Rodney McGruder and insufficiently concerned with preventing his own man from slipping for a dunk.

More breakdowns on switches. It’s hard to know what JJ was thinking here. In his mind, I think Ben Simmons picks up Dwyane Wade and Jonathon Simmons takes the diving MgGruder. It’s bad enough that it’s hard to know who was to blame but my hunch is JJ wanted something to happen that was too complex to convey on the last-second switch.

Many miscues last night fit a theme of giving the Miami Heat wings the same type of credit shooters on the Golden State Warriors might receive. With less rim protection than normal sans Embiid, it would have made sense to have gone the other extreme and allowed more open mid-range jumpers in order to pack the paint.

Way too easy for Olynyk to angle Bolden, above, away from a good contest here.

Ben Simmons can be really disruptive on D. But sometimes whether he gets a deflection or misses one, there’s a scramble drill. Above, Boban Marjanović opts to take away a 15’ pull up from Winslow when he should probably have lived with it. Winslow finds Hassan Whiteside for the dunk.

Above, Bolden thinks Mike Scott is going to pick up the rim runner, but Scott is spying a shooter in the corner. Again the team seems more concerned with things that are probably less dangerous than open dunks.

Here it appears Boban can see that Scott is on Olynyk but Boban just doesn’t want to go chase a shooter out beyond the 3 point line. Instead he opts to play what feels like a hint of zone. Winslow finds the seam in it and nails the triple.

Harris and Redick scramble to stop the corner 3. Nobody takes away the baseline.

Rewind? Harris and Redick with another miscue on a simple off-ball screen. They don’t seem to have much of an idea when they’re going to switch and when they’re not.

Final Thoughts

Some of these types of plays are likely philosophical at the coaching level. Coach Brett Brown does not like to give up open 3’s and the players are aware of times that is a true risk. On the other hand, lots of these issues are probably related to such little practice time. You may have noticed most of the glaring mistakes were by the newest Sixers and one rookie in Bolden.

Unfortunately, they have a few more games without Embiid who will be reevaluated in a week and little time to practice. One adjustment they may want to make before the next game against Portland tomorrow is to work harder to protect open dunks and force more open midrange shots instead.

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