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The Sixers’ Edge Could Be Some Late-Game Defensive Bullying

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The Sixers’ ferocious defense could be proven the key in the bubble

2020 NBA Restart - All Access Practice Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s known to anyone at this point that the Sixers are not relying on their offense to lead them to victory in tight games. Their abundance of length and ability to switch virtually anyone on defense allows them to dig in defensively and have the potential to cause headaches for teams looking to get into their offense in the half court.

Fans who trekked through the sludge so far this season have grown familiar with the struggles this Sixers roster faces as they gear up for an abnormal playoff bubble run. However, one thing that shines through and is truly delightful to watch is when the Sixers go full throttle god mode on defense and suffocate opponents to punch their way to a slim win.

In the bubble, the Sixers could look to rely on bullying much more. It’s safe to guess that for every team in the bubble, the games will start sloppy, especially on offense. Even with scrimmages, the speed and timing will take a few games (maybe even a few playoff games) to start to click. The Sixers should be looking to make teams as uncomfortable as possible in the half court.

Quick fun fact about the Sixers’ length: The estimated length of the starters’ summative wingspan is about 35 feet, which is approximately 420 inches (super cool), and also approximately the distance in the throw from Trey Burton to Nick Foles in Super Bowl 52 (which the Eagles won).

Back to basketball, we’ve seen the Sixers flex their defensive muscle throughout the season — holding Giannis to 18 points on 27 shots on Christmas Day, locking up Kemba Walker on opening night, pestering Jimmy Butler upon his return to Philadelphia, and more.

But today, let’s focus on their defense in the fourth quarter, and how it could lead to a winning formula in the playoffs.

Their drop scheme defense deters 3-point shots, but invites mid-range looks. If you’re willing to live and die by this approach, you better count on opposing teams not being purebred, traditional hoopers.

In the fourth quarter, the Sixers allow the fifth-fewest field goal attempts in the league. So the plan is to cut off efficient looks at scoring, while daring teams to shoot inefficient shots. The trouble so far has been that teams shoot 46.8 percent against the Sixers in the fourth, a bottom-10 defense in terms of DFG%.

In the fourth quarter, opposing teams shoot the ninth-most shots from 10-14 feet, and the third-most shots from 15-19 feet (only the Clippers and Bucks allow more from 15-19 feet).

Fans who have subjected themselves to this team night in and night out know by now that guards who can dribble often go scorched earth on the Sixers’ defense.

In the fourth quarter, the Sixers rank first in allowing shots off seven or more dribbles (16.5 percent of possessions) and rank third in shots off 3-6 dribbles (21.9 percent of possessions).

On over a THIRD of the Sixers’ defensive possessions, teams are putting up a shot off the dribble. On the off-dribble shots on 3-6 dribbles, teams are shooting 27.6 percent from 3.

So a team that welcomes inefficient shots but guards 3s well… seems good!

In the fourth quarter, opposing teams get the LEAST amount of catch-and-shoot looks against the Sixers. While the Raptors, Heat, Nuggets, Celtics, and Rockets allow over 46 percent of shots off a catch-and-shoot look… the Sixers allow just 38.3 percent of shots off the catch.

While that on it’s own is impressive, the brilliance continues as they allow the fewest catch-and-shoot 3s in the fourth. We often see Ben Simmons, Matisse Thybulle, and Josh Richardson smother ball handlers on the perimeter; it is truly a team defensive effort as all four off ball defenders are clamping up any open catch-and-shoot options. Forcing teams to put the ball on the floor and make a play inside the arc is a good recipe for winning basketball games in 2020.

Looking back on some games when the defensive intensity was cranked up, the game in Brooklyn on January 20 and a game in Denver on November 8 stand out as loud incidents of defensive bullying.

With two scrimmages under their belt, the intensity from the starters fades as the second half unfolds. It’ll be more telling in the eight seeding games how much the Sixers can turn up their defensive ferocity.