JJ Redick

Mike Scott's heel injury could be a big problem for Sixers vs. Raptors

Mike Scott's heel injury could be a big problem for Sixers vs. Raptors

CAMDEN, N.J. — Considering the depth of the Toronto Raptors, the Sixers possibly missing a key part of their bench is not ideal.

Mike Scott, who is essentially the team’s sixth man, is listed as day to day with a heel contusion and plantar fasciitis. Scott left Game 5 Tuesday against the Nets late in the second quarter and did not return. We’ll know more about his status for Game 1 when the official injury report comes out at 5:30 p.m. on Friday.

When asked if he was game planning for Scott to play, Brett Brown bluntly said, “no.” Brown mentioned it would be a “blessing” if Scott were to be available.

While his veteran savvy, toughness and shot-making — especially in Game 4 — will clearly be missed, Scott’s versatility will be crucial in this series. With Boban Marjanovic, it’s hard to know what you’ll get. He was excellent in the Brooklyn series, but could be a poor matchup against Serge Ibaka, who the Raptors have been using as their backup five.

Scott offers the ability to play backup five if Marjanovic struggles. Ibaka is lethal in pick-and-pop situation with his midrange jumper. While Ibaka may be tough for Scott to deal with in the post, he’s a much better option for pick-and-roll defense.

Scouting Kawhi

Kawhi Leonard is really freaking good. That’s not breaking news, but it’s a point being drilled into the Sixers as the team is being pelted with questions about the All-Star forward.

Leonard is arguably the best two-way player in the league and has killed the Sixers this season, averaging 30.3 points a game and tormenting Ben Simmons defensively.

Brown, who was with the Spurs as an assistant when Leonard was coming up, acknowledged some of the issues Simmons and the Sixers have had against Leonard. Brown didn’t want to put too much stock into the regular season matchups, but has ideas on how to help his young point guard deal with the former Defensive Player of the Year.

“Obviously, I’m not going to tell you,” Brown said. “Maybe the knowledge I have coaching him [will help]. The history we’ve had having a little bit of success [against him], some unsuccessful that we have to do better at. We hope that we’re studied. I believe we are. He still remains an All-Star and one of the great players in the NBA for a reason.”

After having arguably the best regular season of his career, Leonard has carried it over into the postseason. He averaged 27.8 points a game in the Raptors’ first-round matchup against the Magic while shooting 56 percent from the field and a ridiculous 54 percent on 5.2 three per game.

“Kawhi is a bonafide superstar in this league,” JJ Redick said. “There’s only a handful of guys like that spread over 30 teams much less 16 teams in the playoffs.”

Does he look all the way back from the quad issues he dealt with in San Antonio?

“I think he looks better,” Redick said. “Yeah, he’s pretty damn good.”

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Sixers summon 'dark' boxing analogies, make the highly unusual seem normal in blowout Game 5 win over Nets

Sixers summon 'dark' boxing analogies, make the highly unusual seem normal in blowout Game 5 win over Nets

As an observer, it was difficult to process what you were watching. 14-0. 20-2. 30-6. 

The Nets missed their first eight field goal attempts. Joel Embiid had 10 points before Brooklyn had any. In their last chance to preserve their season, the Nets had their lowest first-quarter scoring output of the year — 15. 

None of the numbers made sense, and it felt like nobody at Wells Fargo Center could quite believe what was happening besides the Sixers’ players.

They understood this was a possibility, JJ Redick said after their 122-100 win to advance to a second-round playoff matchup against the Raptors (see observations)

We had talked about how a team’s mindset down 3-1, if you can take their heart early, you might have a chance to put them away, deliver the knockout punch, all the boxing analogies I can come up with. I have some dark analogies, but I shared those with the team. I don’t want to share them with you guys, but they’re dark. But yeah, you gotta put people away. 

The Sixers put the Nets away so early there wasn’t much of the exultation, relief or sense of profound fatigue that might typically correspond with winning a a playoff series — especially one that featured various skirmishes, trash talk and fines.

Joel Embiid’s analysis was understated.

“Tonight was a good game,” he said. “If we're as focused as we were tonight, then we got a pretty good chance to accomplish what we want. After the type of game like tonight, you go back and watch the tape and see what worked out and what didn't. Obviously we've got to lower our turnovers (19), but other than that I thought our defense was great.”

With the exception of Game 1, the Sixers ultimately did what they were supposed to do against the Nets. It’s exciting to move on to the second round, sure, but it isn’t foreign or unexpected.

After winning the first playoff series of his eight-year NBA career, Tobias Harris acknowledged he’s likely never been involved in a game that began the way Tuesday night’s did.

“Probably not,” Harris said. “I think our start really dictated the whole pace of the game. We said it after last game — we get out to a good start, really kill their momentum, kill their vibe all around. I thought the start to this game was impactful, was powerful for us. When we talk about imposing our will, that was a sound example of that.”

Taking a 24-point lead in the first quarter, depleting an opposition of whatever energy they might have had left, matching playoff records — none of those things should be easy to accomplish against the Raptors.

The expectations will change in that series as well, with the Sixers no longer assuming the role of favorites. The boxing analogies Redick employs might need to shift.

The Sixers’ reaction to Tuesday night’s obliteration of the Nets, though, indicates that they don’t feel much of anything is beyond their capabilities. 

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Sixers seal spot in second round of NBA playoffs with elite, record-tying defensive performance in win over Nets

Sixers seal spot in second round of NBA playoffs with elite, record-tying defensive performance in win over Nets

Before his team took the floor, Brett Brown admitted the Sixers had “dodged some bullets” in their first four games against the Nets. He was especially wary of Joe Harris, the NBA leader in three-point percentage during the regular season, noting the open looks he’d missed.

The Sixers’ defense made sure Brooklyn didn’t have any more bullets in the chamber Tuesday night in a 122-100 win that sealed a spot in the second round (see observations).

Though aided by Brooklyn’s abysmal effort, the Sixers’ first-half defensive performance couldn’t have been much better.

Ben Simmons smothered D’Angelo Russell, who shot 1 for 9 in the half. Jimmy Butler hunted the ball, recording three steals and causing chaos. The rotations were sharp, the communication crisp, and the intensity only escalated as the Nets’ shoulders collectively slumped. 

Brooklyn at one stage had as many made field goals as turnovers (seven). It finished the half with 31 points, tied for the fewest the Sixers have ever allowed in a playoff game, per Basketball-Reference. 

“Maybe the best we’ve defended all season, given the problems they present for our team,” JJ Redick said. “The first half was as good as you can guard.”

Defense was a concern for the Sixers entering the playoffs. Third in defensive rating in 2017-18, they finished this year tied for 13th. Pick-and-roll defense was a familiar problem. The big-picture question Brown posed at the start of training camp about how to cope when teams went small and tried to pull Joel Embiid away from the rim remained open throughout the season. 

They seem to have hit on some solutions, though simply having superior individual perimeter defenders compared to last season’s team might be the most important one. 

“I’m not going to say anything about last year's guys,” Embiid said, “but it doesn't make a difference. We got to stick to the game plan and usually the game plan is to drive all these guys to me and let me do my job as the best defensive player in the league.”

An excellent fourth quarter in Game 4 and a record-tying half in Game 5 doesn’t indicate that the Sixers’ defense is flawless. They’ve yet to show they can defend this well on a consistent basis, and potential liabilities like Redick and Boban Marjanovic will likely be challenged more in the second round against the Raptors. 

The Sixers have demonstrated, however, that all the platitudes about defense fueling offense and being a priority in the playoffs are more than just words.

“I think [losing Game 1] immediately forced us into recognizing that we are vulnerable if we don't play like we got to play defense,” Brown said. “If I were to go to one specific thing, the first game was a reminder that we better guard the way that we said we wanted to defend them or it's going to be a long series and one that we could lose.”

Regardless of whether Redick is making shots or Simmons is effective in the half court or Embiid can dominate Marc Gasol and company, this level of defense should keep the Sixers in every game. 

If Butler is to be believed, the Sixers are capable.

He didn’t agree with Redick that this was the best the Sixers have defended all season.

“Nah,” he said, unmoved. “We’ve been locking up at practice.”

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