76ers

How will Joel Embiid, Sixers deal with double teams in playoffs?

How will Joel Embiid, Sixers deal with double teams in playoffs?

Off-court weirdness and uncertainty aside, one thing we can say with confidence about Joel Embiid is that, when healthy, he’s going to encounter plenty of double teams.

Embiid has handled double teams well recently, identifying the help defender early and making the right read. 

He realized Sterling Brown was doubling middle off Tobias Harris here and smartly spun back toward the baseline for the layup. 

He seems to have preserved his ability to make these type of instinctive decisions despite his frequent absences. 

In Chicago, Embiid again noticed the double team coming from Harris’ man, Brandon Sampson. Ryan Arcidiacono slid over to pick up Harris, leaving Jonah Bolden open momentarily. Embiid found him as JaKarr Sampson’s rotation was just a split second late.

There are still hints of the over-dribbling and indecisiveness that were problems for Embiid earlier in the season.  

He just doesn’t often have the time to take a couple of dribbles in one direction and spin back in the other. With Giannis Antetokounmpo doubling on the play below, Embiid needed to commit to his baseline drive on Brook Lopez, not dribble right into Antetokounmpo’s path. 

Though the defense often makes Embiid’s mind up for him, the Sixers have started to dictate the terms of their post offense around Embiid more.

One way they’ve done that is through Embiid manipulating help defenders. Against a team like the Bucks, who doubled Embiid time after time in the second half Saturday, with Ben Simmons’ man typically the help defender, it’s a simple and smart strategy.

Embiid sees Antetokounmpo coming to double off Simmons in the short right corner here, and his pass fake makes Antetokounmpo think twice.

Another way is more of the proactive “slashing” Brett Brown told us about a few weeks ago

Brown said he was interested in Tobias Harris and Jimmy Butler cutting behind Embiid against “blind” defenders, which we’ve yet to witness much of. However, Simmons is often a good candidate to cut off the ball when his defender doubles Embiid. 

Instead of taking up his customary spot in the short left corner, Simmons seals at the front of the rim on the play below when he notices Antetokounmpo is doubling Embiid. He earns position in front of Pat Connaughton, who’s been forced to take Simmons and abandon Mike Scott in the left corner. 

Both Simmons and Zhaire Smith slashed on this next play vs. the Bucks. It wasn’t especially pretty, as the two ended up in the same spot, but it did confuse the Milwaukee defense. George Hill and Antetokounmpo collapsed into the lane to pick up Smith and Simmons, and neither rotated over to the open Scott.

A benefit of Simmons cutting from the top of the key or the weak side wing instead of the short corner is that his defender has to go a couple steps further to double Embiid.

It’s not a big difference, but, with Simmons starting on the right wing, Antetokounmpo has slightly more distance to travel to reach Embiid on this play than if Simmons had been stationed in the short corner. Even though Simmons is a non-threat to shoot from three-point range, Antetokounmpo isn’t comfortable leaving him completely until Embiid has already started to make his move.

You’d expect the Sixers will mix up Simmons’ starting points a little when Embiid has the ball down low in the postseason, and also encourage more off-ball movement around Embiid. The primary focus is on nailing the fundamentals of sound spacing, but they’ll also aim to throw in some slashing and place pressure on the defense. 

An irregular but intriguing option to counter double teams for the Sixers is the “snug pick-and-roll” between Simmons and Embiid. 

Embiid gives the ball to Simmons in the post here and sets a good screen, which forces the Bulls to put Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot on Embiid. If Simmons gets Embiid the ball down low quickly, that’s a golden opportunity for Embiid to score on a much smaller player. 

It likely won’t be a go-to option, but the snug pick-and-roll could be a good way to get Embiid deep post touches. The deeper he gets the ball, the more difficult and ineffective it is to double him. 

Embiid is far too dominant in the post not to see frequent double teams in the playoffs. We'll see whether the Sixers can put him in favorable positions for countering double teams, and we'll also see just how much Embiid has refined his skills at dealing with them.

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Al Horford makes a donation for coronavirus relief in Dominican Republic, regions where he's played in United States

Al Horford makes a donation for coronavirus relief in Dominican Republic, regions where he's played in United States

Al Horford has donated $500,000 to support coronavirus relief in the Dominican Republic, as well as in each region of the United States where he's played for a team, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium.

Horford’s father Tito was the first Dominican-born NBA player, and Al was born in the country. The family later moved to Michigan, where Horford attended Grand Ledge High School. He went to the University of Florida and has played for three NBA cities — Atlanta, Boston and Philadelphia. 

Several other members of the Sixers organization have also made charitable donations during the coronavirus pandemic. Joel Embiid has pledged to donate $500,000 to COV-19 medical relief efforts. Ben Simmons launched “The Philly Pledge,” an initiative which encourages donations to Philabundance and the PHL COVID-19 Fund that’s received support from a wide range of Philadelphia athletes, among them teammates Matisse Thybulle, Tobias Harris, Norvel Pelle and Marial Shayok. 

Sixers managing partners Josh Harris and David Blitzer have made several donations related to coronavirus relief, including to Philabundance and to CHOP and Cooper Hospital.

Limited partner Michael Rubin aims to have his company Fanatics produce a million masks and gowns for hospital and emergency healthcare workers. 

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Sixers Home School: The night Allen Iverson crossed over Michael Jordan

Sixers Home School: The night Allen Iverson crossed over Michael Jordan

There's a lot of home schooling going on right now, so why not use some of this time to learn more about the history of your favorite teams? In this edition of Sixers Home School, we look back at the night Allen Iverson crossed over Michael Jordan.

In a vacuum, rookie Allen Iverson crossing over the legendary Michael Jordan on March 12, 1997, at what was then known as the CoreStates Center was impressive enough.

Putting it into context makes you understand just how big of a deal it was at the time.

The 21-year-old Iverson was having a strong rookie campaign after the Sixers drafted him No. 1 overall. He was still a month away from setting an NBA rookie record with five straight games of 40-plus points. He wasn’t sporting what would become his trademark cornrows — though he did rock them when he won MVP of the Schick Rookie Game. 

This night was when he began to really put a bow on what would turn into a Rookie of the Year season.

As for Jordan and the Bulls, they were ho humming their way to a 69-win season and their fifth title in seven years. Jordan was 33, and though his game had evolved, he was as dominant as ever. Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman provided all the help he would need.

But on this night, it wasn’t about the Bulls, who celebrated receiving their championship ring ceremony by trouncing the Sixers and shutting down Iverson earlier in the season.

This was about the kid from Hampton, Virginia. The six-foot guard from Georgetown that grew up idolizing His Airness, but also told a coach back in high school that he was good enough to take him. 

“I remember the first time I played against him,” Iverson said in his Hall of Fame speech. “I walked out on the court and I looked at him, and for the first time in my life a human being didn’t look real to me.”

Though the first time the two actually talked was not necessarily cordial.

“The first time I ever talked to him was that year playing in the Rookie Game,” Iverson said in an interview with Complex. “I’ll never forget it because he said, ‘What’s up, you little b----?’ I’ll never forget it.”

Whether the moment provided extra motivation or what, Iverson was at times the best player on the court — which, given who was on the court, is a hell of a statement.

Iverson would finish with a game-high 37 points and foul out in a four-point loss. No, the Sixers didn’t win that night, but the fact that Iverson nearly willed a team full of guys like Scott Williams, Mark Davis and Rex Chapman to a victory over that juggernaut was remarkable.

But over the course of time, nobody remembers — or really cares — who won that game. It was the moment A.I. crossed over M.J. It wasn’t quite a torch-passing moment as Jordan would go on to win another MVP and championship, but it was a clear indication that Philadelphia had drafted a star.

That highlight dominated every sportscast the following day and had Sixers fans' imaginations running wild.

The legend of Iverson only continued to grow from there as he became one Philadelphia’s most celebrated athletes and joined his idol in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016.

Years later, he spoke to Jordan about the moment he got him with his legendary crossover.

“I went to a Charlotte game and I was telling him how much he meant to me and how I rocked with him,” Iverson went on to say in the interview with Complex. “He was like, ‘Man, you don’t rock with me like that because you wouldn’t have crossed me like that.’”

For as much as Iverson had idolized Jordan, his desire to beat him and be the best outweighed that.

“I always knew that once I got to the league, I was going to try my move on the best,” Iverson said, “so he was just a victim that night.”

That night, a star was born and a legacy was just beginning.

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