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Following the Sixers’ Game 2 victory over the Brooklyn Nets, a couple of Sixers players mentioned the fury with which Brett Brown laid into the team at halftime. According to Mike Scott, Brown “cussed them out” for their defensive effort in the first half. And it worked — Brett lit a fire under the team.
While the Sixers scored a season-high for points in a quarter with 51 in the 3rd quarter of Game 2 versus the Brooklyn Nets, their defensive performance deserves as much praise as their offensive performance. Below are two defensive plays (among many) that stood out during Philly’s dominant showing.
All-Around Team Effort
The Nets had a pretty simple but solid design in the above play. Things start off with D’Angelo Russell handling the ball on the near-side, above the break. Here’s the sequence the Nets are hoping for:
- Jarrett Allen sets an off-ball screen-and-roll on JJ Redick, freeing up Joe Harris.
- Joel Embiid will have to make a decision: a) stay home and follow a rolling Jarrett Allen, offering very little pressure (a trailing Redick) on Joe Harris, the NBA’s most prolific three-point shooter or b) commit to Joe Harris to deter the three-point shot, allowing Jarrett Allen an unimpeded path to the hoop or at least producing a mismatch.
- Depending on Embiid’s decision, Russell will make a reactionary pass to a wide open teammate.
But here’s the thing about Joel Embiid: he’s got enough range to add an option “c” — essentially do both a) and b). He checks Joe Harris on the perimeter to deter a pass, then swiftly recovers on Allen when Russell finds him rolling.
However, even if Joel had not recovered, you can see Jimmy Butler opt to live with an open DeMarre Carroll to deter Allen. And had Allen possessed the passing chops to find Carroll, Tobias Harris had the awareness to at the very least be in position to close out on Carroll (as well as Rodions Kurucs for that matter) or possibly even deflect a pass to Carroll:
Allen has no option but to kick it out to Kurucs and start over.
From there, Tobias Harris shuts Kurucs down with excellent defense, meanwhile Ben Simmons glues himself to the hip of a cutting Russell:
Also of note in this play is that in order to guard Russell off-ball, Ben Simmons keeps an eye on Joe Harris — not Russell. Ben understands that if Russell is to receive the ball back, D’Lo is likely to utilize a screen from Harris, and so Ben just needs to read Harris’ intentions to track Russell. This allows Ben to keep the ball action in his peripheral vision while maintaining an awareness of Russell’s whereabouts.
There’s nothing exceptionally strategic about this defensive sequence. It simply was a result of high effort, high awareness physical defense. It’s a very encouraging sign for a team, and specifically a lineup, that just hadn’t yet seemed to achieve continuity on that end of the floor.
Ben Simmons was all over Russell
It would be an injustice not to mention Ben Simmons defensive intensity last night. He was all over Russell at times, making Russell look like he didn’t belong on the same court as his former high school teammate. The following play is a microcosm of Simmons’ defensive effort in Game 2:
The Nets desperately wanted to get D’Lo the ball on the above play, bringing the offense to a halt until they were able to do so. When he finally did receive the rock, Simmons hounded him. The result is a highly contested floater that the Sixers are happy to live with.
When Ben is bringing this level of intensity, suddenly Philly’s season-long susceptibility to guards isn’t as concerning.
If the Sixers are able to consistently tap into last night’s defensive effort, this series becomes a lot less threatening. What’s more important is that if the Sixers are to advance, they will certainly, without a doubt, have to stay at that level to reach their goal of a Finals appearance.