76ers

Sixers look like a playoff team in win over Timberwolves

Sixers look like a playoff team in win over Timberwolves

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The Timberwolves were an anomaly in a recent stretch of sub-.500 opponents for the Sixers — a playoff contender holding their own without Jimmy Butler in the tough Western Conference.

The Sixers took care of business, 120-108, but it wasn’t without a hitch in the final quarter.

The Sixers had a 98-71 lead after three, a big enough gap for Brett Brown to comfortably sit his starters in the fourth. Well, it should have been a big enough lead. The Timberwolves cut that deficit to 10 points, and Brown turned back to Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Robert Covington, Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova to quiet the Timberwolves’ push.

“For us, we don’t want to go back in,” Simmons said after the game. “We want to see our guys play and finish out the game because we know they’re capable of that. But to see our guys not do that, it’s kind of annoying but we’ve got to get on top of that and everybody has to be ready to play.”

This was a less-than-ideal situation as the Sixers are looking for ways to rest their high-minutes players, particularly Embiid, who had only clocked 22 minutes through three quarters. In total, Embiid and Simmons played less than two minutes apiece in the fourth, but the reserves have to take better control of leads so the starters don’t have to return at all.

"I trust the guys that were on the floor," Embiid said. "We just wanted to make sure we had it locked and that nothing was going to happen. But it was nothing."

The Sixers improved to 42-30. They could have clinched a playoff spot with a Pistons loss to the Bulls, but Detroit won Saturday night, 117-95.

• Simmons needed less than three quarters to record his 10th triple-double of the season: 15 points, 12 rebounds, 13 assists.

• Joel Embiid was having a good time out there on his way to 19 points, six rebounds and three blocks.


• Led by those 13 assists from Simmons, the Sixers dished a total of 33 dimes. Their five-straight games of 30-plus assists are their longest such stretch since December 1981. With assists, turnovers can be just as significant. The Sixers committed 14, equal to the Timberwolves, but gave up only 13 points compared to the Timberwolves’ 22.

• The Eagles continue to show their support for the Sixers:

Sixers Talk podcast: How hot is head coach Brett Brown's seat getting?

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NBC Sports Philadelphia/USA Today Sports Images

Sixers Talk podcast: How hot is head coach Brett Brown's seat getting?

On the latest edition of NBC Sports Philadelphia's Sixers Talk podcast, the crew dives into Brett Brown's job security, the Sixers' playoff prospects down in the bubble, and much more.

(1:35) — Are the Sixers giving fans a reason to be optimistic?
(15:58) — Might be time to lower the playoff expectations
(29:35) — How hot is Brett Brown's seat getting?

Subscribe and rate Sixers Talk: 
Apple Podcasts / Google Play / Spotify | Stitcher | Art19 | YouTube

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Brett Brown thinks Sixers' fourth-quarter defense 'stinks,' so what are the answers?

Brett Brown thinks Sixers' fourth-quarter defense 'stinks,' so what are the answers?

The Sixers’ late-game defense in their first two seeding games has been subpar. They allowed 46 fourth-quarter points Saturday against the Pacers and escaped with a 132-130 win over the Spurs on Monday night despite conceding 43 points in the fourth. 

Brett Brown is, to put it mildly, not pleased. 

I think it stinks,” he said Monday in a video conference call. “I think it’s not anything that we are or believe in or talk about. We were very lucky to win tonight. … The good news is it is well within our reach immediately to flip the switch. We need to have an immediate paradigm shift and an admittance that we can’t afford to pick and choose. And in the last two games we have done that.

“I give credit to Indiana, and certainly the Spurs tonight — those guys scored. Their three scorers scored. But in general, it ain’t going to get it done. It’s not who we are and it needs to be fixed, and fixed it will be. And it needs to start with the mentality, and I know our players understand that. It’s not like that speech I just gave is a mystery. They’re smart enough to know it to be true.

With a 178.0 defensive rating in fourth quarters at Disney World, the Sixers are worst in that statistic by over 38 points. It would be stunning if their fourth-quarter defense remains anywhere near this poor. 

The team’s first two games in a “bubble” during a pandemic with assigned bench seating and virtual fans have been somewhat odd, as one might expect. Instead of labored, inefficient offense and solid defense, we’ve seen a team that’s scoring just fine but far from sturdy on the other side of the ball. One Sixer who hasn’t often resembled his pre-hiatus self is Ben Simmons, a strong First Team All-Defense candidate. 

Per NBA.com/Stats, opponents have shot 17 of 24 when defended by Simmons (70.8 percent) in Florida. He’d held opponents to 41.3 percent shooting before the NBA’s suspension, the lowest mark of any Sixers regular, and thrived against high-level scorers. T.J. Warren and DeMar DeRozan have had success against him.

Some of the answers to this problem for the Sixers should be simple. Simmons, who fouled out in 25 minutes Monday, has to show these were merely two games below his normal high standards. Collectively, the Sixers need to be stingier against dribble penetration and close out on shooters with greater urgency and effort.

A schematic tweak or two might be advisable down the line. It appeared early in the year that the Sixers would be significantly more willing to blitz the pick-and-roll and generally play aggressive defense under new de facto defensive coordinator Ime Udoka. The team’s default pick-and-roll coverage with Joel Embiid on the court remains having the guard try to work over the screen and Embiid dropping. (Al Horford often plays "up to touch," or a little higher up.) That’s the norm across the NBA, but perhaps the Sixers could be a bit more flexible in choosing when they deviate from it. 

“We’ve gotta do a better job defensively to be the best defensive team in the league,” Embiid said, “so we’ve just gotta take the challenge. … The last two games, we haven’t been able to keep our man in front of us. We’ve just gotta do a better job, and in those situations I’ve just gotta do a better job of protecting the paint and making sure I correct some mistakes.”

Ultimately, it’s improbable that the Sixers will make a deep playoff run unless the team’s defense in its opening seeding games ends up looking like an aberration. 

“One thing that we have to get to is understanding that we know we can score,” Tobias Harris said, “but at the end of the day we can make these games a whole lot easier if we lock in defensively and get stops and let that fuel our offense — it makes us more efficient.”

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Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

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