76ers

No easy fix for Sixers' turnover woes

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No easy fix for Sixers' turnover woes

The Sixers turn the ball over too much. Everyone knows it, and they want to fix the problem. So why do they keep giving their opponents extra possessions, as they did in Tuesday's loss to the Pacers?

There are a few reasons, the most obvious being youth. The Sixers’ point guard, Ben Simmons, is a 21-year-old, albeit a supremely talented one who tied Magic Johnson Tuesday by posting the seventh triple-double of his rookie season. And the guy they turn to most for offense down the stretch, Joel Embiid, is still figuring out how to deal with the swarming defense and double-teams opponents throw at him.

“I think it’s hard to expedite people’s birth certificate,” Brett Brown said. “I think you’re seeing young guys, if you go to who and where, we have to get better with some individuals. As a team, we have to get better. Some of it I have to own. When you look at the trending that’s been going on, say after the All-Star Break, I think we have been improving. Tonight wasn’t one of those nights.”

Brown is correct the Sixers have improved with turnovers, at least until the past two games. In the first nine games after the break, the Sixers turned the ball over just 12.7 times per game, a substantial improvement from their season average of an NBA-worst 17.2.

“I think some of them were self-inflicted,” Brown said. “I’d be curious to go back and watch the tape and see how many of the turnovers were in the first three to four seconds of the shot clock; some of the decisions to make passes in early offense did not help us. And some of the turnovers I give Indiana credit for. But we can almost sort of all go home after that statement that turnovers were the single thing that I think influenced this game.”

There’s no doubt the Sixers could have beaten the Pacers without so many turnovers. The Sixers had 20 fewer field-goal attempts than the current No. 3 seed in the conference and they still lost by three points. If you’re the positive type, that’s encouraging. Still, it’s not a winning formula.

“We dug ourselves in a pretty good hole turnover-wise,” T.J. McConnell said. “You can’t beat a team with that many turnovers.

“It comes from being unselfish. Some of the plays we’re trying to make the extra pass and that’s the kind of guys we have, trying to get the best available shot, but sometimes that’s not the right shot. We’ll live with us being unselfish, but you just got to take care of it.”

It’s not realistic to expect the Sixers to solve this problem overnight. Especially given the pace they play (fifth-fastest in the league), they’re not going to be a low-turnover team anytime soon.

But it’s reasonable to think that, with a few tweaks, they can trend closer to their recent stretch with 12.7 turnovers per game than their 21 giveaways against the Pacers.

Whether it’s being a little more selfish, being smarter early in the shot clock or simply continuing to grow up, nights like Tuesday can become more and more uncommon.

Dwyane Wade praises Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Sixers

Dwyane Wade praises Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Sixers

This wasn’t Dwyane Wade’s first rodeo. 

The three-time NBA champ and former Finals MVP has played with and against the best players of the last 15 years. After his Heat team suffered a Game 5 and 4-1 series loss Tuesday night, the future Hall of Famer heaped praise upon the Sixers’ young stars, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.

“They’re the future of the NBA,” Wade said. “The NBA is in great hands with Ben and Joel and those kind of individuals.”

The young Sixers delivered at home, closing out their series in five games with a 104-91 win. Simmons (14 points, 10 rebounds, six assists) and Embiid (19 points, 12 boards) shined once again. 

As the Sixers look forward to an Eastern Conference Semifinal matchup with either Boston or Milwaukee, the question is simple: how far can these kids go?

“When you’ve got great individual players — no matter how old they are — they can do some special things,” Wade said. “These guys believe it. You can see it in their eyes. Embiid is not just talk. He’s not just a Twitter rat kind of person. He’s a player. He’s very good. 

“I believe in those guys. I believe they’re going to be special for awhile, but also, if they believe they can do it now, they can.”

Wade won two NBA titles with the greatest player on the planet, LeBron James. While the Sixers focus on now, there’s been a lot of talk from fans and media of King James' jumping ship and coming to Philly.

According to Wade, the Fresh Prince may be the only royalty the Sixers need.

“I don’t think he had a bad game,” Wade said of Simmons. “A young player like that, in his first playoffs — he didn’t have a bad game. You knew from the first time you saw him in summer league that he was special. If you know basketball, if you know talent, you know someone is special. 

“I think the thing that was impressive about him all year, is he just continued to get better and better and better. To the point where it’s like that guy in Cleveland — doesn’t have bad games. The imprint that [Simmons and James] put on the game is more than just scoring. [Simmons] does so much. The sky is the limit obviously for him and this organization. “

The Sixers have become a trendy pick to win the East and advance to the finals. Sure, they have youth, but Wade believes the organization has done an excellent job adding vetern players like JJ Redick, Marco Belinelli and Ersan Illyasova to complement Simmons and Embiid.

Wade experienced success at a young age and sees no reason this Sixers team can’t do the same.

“It’s definitely possible,” Wade said of the Sixers going on a deep playoff run. “Sometimes an organization, they get lucky and draft someone special. And these guys got to draft more than one person special and you were able to build around that. 

“That’s what these guys have the ability to do. I was lucky enough in my first year to go to the second round. And then the next year go to the Eastern Conference Finals and the next year win it all. It definitely can happen right away.”

Sixers' 2nd-half dominance emblematic of team's growth

Sixers' 2nd-half dominance emblematic of team's growth

Remember when the Sixers regularly stuttered out of the gates in second halves, coughing up leads?

That feels like a long, long time ago.

The ridiculously rapid growth of this team is hard to fathom. It's turning previous weaknesses into strengths, and its second-half performances are a perfect example.

The third quarter was pivotal in the Sixers’ 104-91 win Tuesday night (see observations), as they outscored the Heat 34-20 to take control of the game. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons provided the bulk of the Sixers’ offense in the first half, but that changed in the third quarter. Dario Saric scored eight points in the period, while Robert Covington made a pair of momentum-swinging three-pointers.

In total, out of 10 second-half quarters in the series, the Sixers lost just one — the fourth quarter Tuesday. 

That second-half dominance is turning into a big part of this team’s identity.

“It’s just the way we play — we play hard and we never let up,” Simmons said. “At the start of the season, we had a few letups where we just weren’t used to it, a few guys playing their first season, a new team. I think we’ve grown a lot.”

Erik Spoelstra experienced an unpleasant feeling of déjà vu during the second half of Game 5.

“In the second half, it felt like the majority of our fourth quarters vs. Philadelphia,” Spoelstra said. “Each of the games — except for Game 2 — they’ve stepped up their defense in the fourth quarter and it was tough to generate good, clean offense or at least getting the ball where we wanted it to go and executing with some level of coherency. You have to credit them.”

While the Sixers are developing at warp speed, this particular trend didn’t just start in the playoffs. As JJ Redick pointed out, the Sixers started taking over in the second half late in the regular season.

“I don’t think this is something we just started doing this series,” Redick said. “If you look at our winning streak, there were a lot of games that were close at halftime and the third and fourth quarters, especially defensively, were just terrific, and that’s what allowed us to have that winning streak.

“So this is something we’ve been doing now for a while. I know earlier in the year we certainly had blown a few double-digits leads in the second half. It’s something we were coached on and worked through as a group, so a lot of credit goes to Brett (Brown) and his staff for that.”

During the Sixers’ current stretch of 20 wins in 21 games, they’ve outscored their opponents in the third quarter by nine or more points 10 times. It’s a staggering reversal of their early-season issues coming out of halftime.

While we’re talking about the Sixers’ growth, we could delve into their newfound ability to take care of the ball (with the glaring exception of Game 4), or the massive improvements in their bench play, or Simmons hitting free throws under pressure.

However, the second-half dominance speaks volumes about the ways this precocious team has grown, and how it continues to develop.

“I think we’ve stayed on to something and we haven’t pivoted out of it,” Brown said. “This is how we want to play offense, this how we want to play defense, this is how we substitute, these are our crunch-time plays. This is just what we do. 

“We’ve been able to just incrementally get better as the season has unfolded. That’s always the thing that makes coaches most proud: the fact that your teams get better. And this team really is getting better. The pieces within the team are getting better and so it all adds up.”