76ers

Sixers' new additions shore up old problems with perimeter defense, turnovers

Sixers' new additions shore up old problems with perimeter defense, turnovers

On paper, the Sixers’ flurry of moves before the trade deadline vaulted the team into championship conversations.

In person, the new version of the Sixers won its first game, beating the Nuggets on Friday night, 117-110 (see observations). And though the team’s abundance of offensive weapons will likely get the most attention, that’s not what impressed head coach Brett Brown the most. 

“The last six minutes defensively stood out,” Brown said. “You could feel it, you could see it, that our guys went to a different place, particularly Ben [Simmons] and Joel [Embiid] in pick-and-roll defense in terms of intensity and execution with some of the schemes we were trying to do. I thought as a whole our starting five during the run in the last five to six minutes, they were excellent defensively.”

General manager Elton Brand added five players to the Sixers’ roster Wednesday and Thursday — Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic, Mike Scott, James Ennis and Jonathon Simmons. It wouldn’t be fair to classify any one of them as a below-average defender.

Instead of having to try to avoid mismatches with subpar defenders like Landry Shamet and Mike Muscala, Brown can now have faith in a solid, veteran wing like Ennis and a strong, switchable defender in Harris who also happens to average over 20 points per game.

“Just all over the place, you can see why people think he’s an All-Star,” Brown said of Harris. “And I think that his personality and his basketball intellect stands out. I thought he had some tough defensive plays down the stretch. He might not look like Jimmy [Butler] looks but gosh, he had some tough plays down the stretch.”

Harris, who had 14 points, eight rebounds and three assists in his Sixers debut, should fit in well on a defensive unit that now has the personnel to adapt to a variety of lineups. For instance, 7-foot-3 Boban Marjanovic is a good option against less agile centers like Denver’s Nikola Jokic, while Jonah Bolden could fill in as Embiid’s backup against a less favorable matchup for Marjanovic. 

“A lot of potential,” Harris said. “I think we're a team that's very versatile on the defensive end — different size, different strengths. We have one of the best at-the-rim players in the league — two of the best with Joel and Boban. It's going to be a really good defensive team. I think tonight we were really locked in and solid. We were really good. Just us getting that going for us is going to be really big. Using that going forward is going to have to be our key.”

Outside of their defensive impact, the way Harris, Marjanovic, Scott and Ennis took care of the ball Friday night was remarkable. In 76 combined minutes, those four turned it over once. And that collective performance isn’t a complete fluke. Harris, Scott and Ennis all have turnover percentages under 9.0 this season. 

On a team 27th in the NBA with 15.7 turnovers per game, it’s a welcome quality that addresses one of the Sixers’ weaknesses, just like their pre-deadline lack of players who could play decent defense against multiple positions. 

The offense could very well take some time for the Sixers to figure out. And easy baskets might not present themselves often in a postseason series against the Celtics, Bucks or Raptors. But the Sixers’ defense should now be good enough that they have a chance against any team. 

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'Tired as s---' Jimmy Butler plays closer, seals the deal vs. Celtics

'Tired as s---' Jimmy Butler plays closer, seals the deal vs. Celtics

It was just a couple weeks ago that everyone was questioning Jimmy Butler’s role in the Sixers’ offense.

Why is he deferring so much? Does he not fit into the system? Has he lost a step?

Well, so much for all of that.

Butler’s role as the team’s closer was never more evident than in the Sixers’ 118-115 win over the rival Celtics (see observations).

The four-time All-Star put the team on his back, scoring 15 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter, including a dagger jumper with 5.5 seconds left. He helped the Sixers conquer their Boston demons while showing just what he brings to the team’s elite starting unit.

“They put the ball in my hands in the fourth and tell me to make plays and make shots,” Butler said. “I think as of late I’ve been a doing good job of that, but that could be anybody to tell you the truth. As many weapons as we have on this team, anybody could get the hot hand, anybody could put the ball in the basket — it’s just the last few nights it’s been me.”

All this begs the question: Why can’t Butler do this through the first three quarters?

Butler was just 2 of 9 for seven points as the Sixers managed to cut a 15-point deficit to five entering the fourth quarter. Having just played 38 minutes in Charlotte on the first night of a back-to-back, Butler offered a pretty simple explanation for why he couldn’t get going early Wednesday.

I was tired as s---. I’m not even going to lie to you. That back-to-back got me. And we didn’t have [Joel Embiid] last night either. So quarters one through three I was trying, it wasn’t going my way, but we won, so I don’t care about quarters one through three.

While it’s certainly fair for Butler to blame fatigue, there is probably a better analytical explanation.

When the Sixers’ offense is going, there’s a focus on pace and space. Brett Brown’s system is predicated on player and ball movement. Even on a poor shooting night, the Sixers had more assists than the Celtics despite 11 fewer made field goals.

Butler is a player that excels in iso and pick-and-roll situations. While that may not fit perfectly into what the Sixers do offensively, in grind-it-out games like Wednesday against Boston and Sunday in Milwaukee, it’s necessary.

Before Butler’s arrival, there was no player Brown could turn to and just say, “Go get me a bucket.” 

Butler is that guy.

I don't think his demeanor changes. I think he's more comfortable in that static set where we're playing at a slower pace,” JJ Redick said. “There's a real value in having someone who's capable of making plays against a set defense, somebody who can shoot over the top of guys and really take advantage of mismatches. I don't know that you want to play that way for four quarters, but certainly at times going down the stretch, there's value in that.

While Butler sealed the deal, it was Joel Embiid who willed the Sixers back into the game in the third quarter (see story). Embiid dominated and kept the Sixers afloat until it was time for Butler to play the closer role.

And that wasn’t an accident.

“We talked about it before the game,” Embiid said. “I told him that I needed him tonight, that I needed this win and he told me to get him to the fourth and he was going to take over. That’s all I tried to do and obviously in the fourth, he’s our best closer. [We’ve] got to put the ball in his hands in the fourth and I’m going to do my thing whenever I have the ball, but that was my job tonight and he showed up and in the fourth he was fantastic.”

Embiid sets ‘em up, Butler knocks ‘em down.

Sounds like a hell of a plan.

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How long has Joel Embiid been trolling Marcus Smart? Look at his first Instagram post ever

How long has Joel Embiid been trolling Marcus Smart? Look at his first Instagram post ever

It turns out, Joel Embiid has been trolling Marcus Smart for way longer than we think. Even back into their college days. This trolling scheme has been five years in the making, in fact.

In honor of March Madness kicking off today, we’re going to bring you back to Embiid’s college days and his very first interaction on Instagram that cemented his legendary status as the GOAT of social media trolling. 

His very first Instagram post, which features him dunking on Marcus Smart in January of 2014. What a time. Here it is, in all it’s glory.

Guess Embiid really did invest in some real estate in Smart’s head, about five years ago and Smart has not forgotten about it. 

That much is clear, as tensions during the Celtics-Sixers game escalated to the point where Smart shoved Embiid from behind in what the center called a ‘”cheap shot” later in postgame. Smart was ejected from Wells Fargo Center for this incident. 

 

Bet he was thinking about that Instagram caption from 2014, which has aged so very well. 

So Smart, how much is the rent? Embiid will probably tell you it’s free.

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