The Sixers held Mavericks star Luka Doncic to 19 points on 4 for 15 shooting and took 19 more shots than their opponents Saturday night in Dallas — those are the major positives.
The glaring negative is that they also had their worst shooting performance of the season, hitting only 37.8 percent of their field goals in a 109-91 loss. From three-point range, the Sixers shot 24.3 percent.
The loss drops the Sixers to 25-15 overall and is their fifth defeat in a row on the road. They’re now 4-5 this season without Joel Embiid, who had successful surgery Friday on a torn ligament in his left hand.
Lasered in on Luka
The Sixers were both aggressive and intelligent early in their coverages against Doncic, blitzing and hedging against him several times in the pick-and-roll. Their scheme was smart, but the best part of their defense was simply Ben Simmons. He had four first-quarter steals as the Sixers forced eight turnovers in the opening period against a Mavs team that entered Saturday averaging only 12.9 turnovers, the fewest in the NBA.
Simmons scored six of the Sixers’ first nine points and leaked out for two dunks, including an uncontested one after Doncic considered resistance, then thought better of the idea when Simmons started to accelerate.
When Simmons left with three fouls in the middle of the second quarter, others picked up the slack defensively for the rest of the half. Josh Richardson guarded Doncic full court at times, James Ennis frustrated him with dogged defense on the Mavs’ final possession of the first half and Al Horford was solid in protecting the rim. There was a team-wide diligence and high effort in rotating and scrambling when Doncic did manage to penetrate, too.
A woeful third quarter
Following a half in which they grabbed the game’s first 10 offensive rebounds, had eight fewer turnovers than Dallas and missed a bunch of open shots, the Sixers could easily have led by more than nine points. They’ll regret not building a double-digit lead.
Along with continuing to struggle shooting in the third quarter, their level dropped across the board in other areas, and they understandably appeared frustrated. The Mavs won the third period, 32-16.
Simmons (11 points, 11 assists) was stymied in the second half, producing little in half-court offense and going scoreless.
Horford heats up too late
Horford’s began 1 of 10 from the floor but didn’t stop shooting. He hit his next five attempts and finished 6 of 16 for 16 points.
There wasn’t a discernible difference in the quality of Horford’s looks, just an improved rhythm and confidence once his jumpers started to fall.
Especially with Embiid out, much of the Sixers’ offensive success will fall on how frequently Horford converts the open outside shots that teams give him.
Mike Scott, the fifth starter for a second consecutive game in Embiid’s absence, had nine points (3 of 9).
Pelle is the backup center, for now
Norvel Pelle’s skill set isn’t all flashy dunks and blocks. The two-way player carves out space for his teammates as a screener and seems to understand timing and body positioning well.
The Sixers’ offense early in the second quarter featured Richardson-Pelle and Simmons-Pelle spread pick-and-rolls.
Four for you Josh Richardson, you go Josh Richardson. pic.twitter.com/K6YgnOLnRZ— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) January 12, 2020
Pelle again received the backup center minutes over eighth-year veteran Kyle O’Quinn, which was unsurprising after his strong performance Thursday vs. the Celtics.
A former Sixers backup big, Boban Marjanovic, hurt his former team with an efficient offensive night, scoring 12 points on 5 for 6 shooting.
As for Pelle, he finished with four points, six rebounds, five fouls and a block in 15 minutes. The NBA days remaining on his current two-way deal are dwindling (see story).
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