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March 04, 2017

How the Sixers forced Carmelo Anthony to miss this time around

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In one of the quirks that makes the NBA my favorite league going away, the Philadelphia 76ers and New York Knicks, two below-average professional basketball teams, are 3-for-3 in playing entertaining games during the 2016-17 season.

First there was the T.J. McConnell buzzer-beater that may be the highlight of the Sixers’ season, with Joel Embiid ringing a stunned McConnell’s neck in excitement afterward. Nobody is forgetting that one anytime soon.

And then last week, the shorthanded Sixers charged hard down the stretch to take a late lead at Madison Square Garden, only to be done in by a Carmelo Anthony step-back jumper with less than a second left:

As fate would have it, that play is right where Sixers-Knicks Episode III, Friday night in Philly, was decided. Like, pretty much the same exact action into a pinch post ISO on the left side for Melo.

As you can see above, the Sixers left Robert Covington alone on an island last Saturday night. And while “Rock” did a fine job forcing Anthony to catch the ball behind the three-point line, he got hit with that trademark Carmelo jab step and the 10-time all-star ended up hitting a tough shot.

As Mark Jackson says five times every broadcast, “Good defense, better offense.”

There Brown was at 5:20 p.m. on Friday, about two hours before taking on New York again, talking about the decision-making Process that goes into defending a super-talented one-on-one scorer like Anthony in the clutch.

“You’re always wondering, ‘Should we have gone to hit him [with a double] straight away?’” Brown said. “And we were close. Could we have flipped him baseline and come from the baseline side? We’ve changed up things. My Philadelphia friends have heard me talk about the ‘Anybody but…’ rule.”

Hold your horses right there! We’ll get to the rest of what Brown said, but the Sixers media is very familiar with the “Anybody but…” rule. Brown explained it last year:

“Everybody has different sort of strategies, we have a thing called [the] ‘Anybody but…’ rule. Anybody but Dirk, anybody but Kobe, anybody but Durant, anybody but the MVP. We’ll take our licks whatever else happens. To have Curry walk down a game is not how we’re going to leave this gym.”

This was right after the 10-win Sixers almost knocked off the 73-win Golden State Warriors, which would might have been a bigger upset than ‘85 Villanova-Georgetown. On the game’s last possession, the Sixers played “Anybody but Steph Curry” and the Dubs went tic-tac-toe for a wide-open Harrison Barnes corner three:

Now that we have the rule explained, back to what Brown said about Anthony’s game-winner.

“We’ve done this over my years here and we’ve done it with mixed results. In that particular one, we wanted Robert to go ahead and guard [Carmelo]… As a team, we recognize his incredible skill to score. From that 20-foot isolation spot where he rocker steps and creates space with people on him, without people on him, he’s as gifted a scorer from those two floor spots as there is in the NBA.”

And with the score 103-102 Sixers with 16.5 seconds left in last night’s game, the Knicks put Anthony in the same position. The difference? He was guarded by Justin Anderson, and as soon as Derrick Rose cut opposite, Robert Covington hit him with a double team. Here’s some grainy cell phone video!

The Sixers got back to “Anybody but…” and Carmelo missed, giving the Fighting Saric’s ended up with a 105-102 victory over the dysfunctional Knickerbockers. And as Brown explained, there was a lot that went into that simple decision to double Anthony:

•    The Sixers talked about this wrinkle a lot at their shootaround this morning.

•    Instead of forcing Anthony baseline and bringing a help defender from there, they instead played behind him and brought the double from up top.

•    In Brown’s words, doubling from the top was “dragging something out from the closet.” It was the 2006 playoffs to be exact (“a long, long time ago), specifically a hard-fought series between Brown’s Spurs and the Sacramento Kings. San Antonio couldn’t guard Ron Artest and Bonzi Wells in wing isolations, so the Spurs decided to double them from the top of the key.

Melo was able to get a tough shot off, so it wasn’t technically “Anybody but…,” but the point is that he still had to beat the blitz.

“I thought it hurt him,” Brown said of Anthony. “Like we went at him, we just sped him up. I think it was very encouraging anytime you do that in practice and then you’re able to close out a game with it. I credit our guys for doing it just the way we wanted them to.”

Clutch Stats
 Net Rating

As you see above, the Sixers were an abject disaster in “clutch situations” (game within five points, less than five minutes left) last season. If you’ll recall, Brown took a lot of heat for that. They’re still not very good in 2016-17, but there has been at least some improvement. As the team continues to get better, Brown’s late-game calls will be more scrutinized.

For one night, though, “Anybody but…” did the trick just fine.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann