If there's one thing Brett Brown can usually count on with his undermanned Sixers squad, it's effort.
Last night was one of the few times during Brown's season-plus tenure with the Sixers where that effort wasn't there. The result was a blowout 105-87 loss to a team that was 2-6 on the road coming into the game.
The Celtics hadn't won a road game since November 19th...against the Sixers. You have to go back to November 8th to find a road victory for the Celtics that wasn't played in Philadelphia.
It was especially concerning because of how the Sixers fell to the Grizzlies on Saturday night, blowing an 18 point lead in the last 7:39 of a 4th quarter marred by defensive miscues, then watching their offensive execution break down in a dismal overtime period.
"It's a fact that you do lay an egg from time to time in the NBA over 82 games, and tonight we laid an egg," A dejected Brett Brown said after the game. "We can't afford to have those types of letdowns. That's not this team."
With Tony Wroten appearing in only his second game back from a right knee sprain and K.J. McDaniels working his way back from a left ankle sprain, some rust was expected, particularly from the second unit.
But there's a gap between "some rust" and having your bench outscored 61-31, like the Celtics did to the Sixers last night. Kelly Olynyk led the way with a career high 30 points on 12-17 from the field.
The Sixers starting unit built an 11-2 lead in the first quarter, they then went on an 12-5 run to start the third. But Sixers head coach Brett Brown simply didn't have any answers when he went to his bench, with Tony Wroten, K.J. McDaniels, and Henry Sims combining to score 14 points on 21 field goal attempts. On average, the Sixers starters had a Net Rating of -2.3. The 5 bench players Brett Brown gave more than 10 minutes to had an average Net Rating of -43.9.
"We started the game well, we subbed, and it went south," Brown said. "I think that some of that is KJ [McDaniels] coming back into the mix and Tony [Wroten] trying to figure it out,"
McDaniels' struggles from the perimeter continue, as he shot only 2-10 from the field and 0-4 from three point range. Over his last 7 games McDaniels is shooting a dismal 27.4% from the field and 15.2% from three point range.
"I think sometimes you get a little bit ahead of yourself on what really is a good shot," Brown said about McDaniels' struggles before the game. "In my opinion, he's taking quicker, more contested shots that produce a lower percentage."
"I rewind tape sometimes and I look at him, and you're sort of at times a fan because of his athleticism, where you see his forehead level with the rim, and he's blocking a shot or he's got this quick jump that is something uniquely special," Brown continued. "So I'm looking at that thinking 'You should drive a heck of a lot more than you do'."
"Settling for long two's, settling for contested shots, that's the challenge for him and his growth," Brown continued about McDaniels.
The other interesting case is Wroten. Wroten, who insists that he's not limited by his knee injury, played nearly 30 minutes last night, but shot the ball only 3 times. Wroten had hinted at some frustration about his role after the Memphis game.
When asked whether Wroten could be disappointed in not starting, and whether that could be impacting his play, Brown was uncharacteristically abrupt in his response.
"I don't know. I don't know. I hope not," Brown said.
Besides the struggles with the second unit, it was the Sixers inability to get out in transition that really did them in on the offensive side of the ball. The Sixers continue to operate the least efficient half-court offense in the NBA, with both the lowest shooting percentage and the second highest turnover rate in the league when confined to the half-court.
Both of those deficiencies were glaring last night. Boston held the Sixers to only 1 transition point, forcing the Sixers into a half-court game that they weren't able to have success in, even against Boston's mid-pack defensive squad. The end result was that the Sixers shot only 35.5% from the field and committed 22 turnovers. Over the last 4 games, the Sixers have more turnovers (82) than assists (81).
This all derailed what was otherwise a career night for Nerlens Noel and also Furkan Aldemir's NBA debut. Noel, who had scored just 4 points on 1-12 from the field over his previous two games, ended the night with a career-high 19 points on 9-12 shooting, flashing a variety of nice makes including a baseline jumper and a running left-handed hook in the lane that looked more in control than some of his previous attempts. He also added 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocks in 29 minutes of play.
For a player so raw, with so many offensive holes in his game that still to be addressed, Noel's passing has been a pleasant surprise. He made a couple of nifty passes inside and ended the night with an assist percentage of 30.8%.
Aldemir, the native of Turkey who the Sixers just signed, played sparingly, ending the game with 9 minutes played, although he got a good run in the second half. He looked a little hesitant and unsure of where to be, which is to be expected for a player who just practiced with his team for the first time earlier in the day. His timing on pick and rolls, a very big part of his offensive game, seemed especially off.
Still, Aldemir got the team a couple of extra offensive possessions in the second half due to little more than sheer effort, and capped off the night by making a baseline jump shot. The first part of that sentence is what to expect from Aldemir, who primarily operates off of the pick and dive and off of the offensive glass, where his outstanding effort really shines. The jump shot? I believe that was the first jump shot Aldemir had made this season, whether talking about the Turkish League, Euroleague, or NBA.
"I think we have to work on all those offensive things," Brown said about Aldemir before the game. "Making free throws, 18 footers, that is not his strength."
"He reminds me of a Fabricio Oberto type," Brown said, comparing Aldemir to a player he coached in San Antonio. "Something that can fit in. More of a glue guy than somebody you're just going to dump it to and say go to work."
"He's no different than a lot of our guys where we have to develop some offensive skill," Brown said.
Odds and Ends
- Michael Carter-Williams had another up-and-down game, scoring only 13 points on 12 field goal attempts, with 5 turnovers to go along with his 6 assists.
- Hollis Thompson's inconsistent play continues, as he scored only 2 points (1-3 from the field, 0-1 from three point range). He had been struggling before Saturday's 21 point effort where he shot 5-5 from three point range.
- Robert Covington, who had scored 20 or more points in 4 of his last 5 games, struggled for the first time in a while. He scored only 13 points on 15 field goal attempts, including only 2-8 from deep, with both three point makes coming in the first few minutes of the game. I did think he played some solid defense in his 29 minutes of play.
- Luc Mbah a Moute was second on the team with 72 touches, which led to 4 turnovers. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
- Alexey Shved was the one bright spot off the bench, scoring 10 points, including a made three pointer, in his 10 minute run.
- The Celtics shot 0-5 when Aldemir was defending the rim. I'm not sure if that's necessarily representative of his defensive impact or not, but it's interesting to note.
Next up is the struggling Charlotte Hornets, who are 6-18 on the season, including 2-8 in their last 10 games and 1-10 on the road this season. After that, the Sixers embark on their annual holiday road trip, playing their next 7 games on the road. Their next home game is January 5th against the Cavaliers.