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March 31, 2015

Sixers drop crucial game to Lakers on last-second layup, 113-111

Jordan Clarkson’s shot with less than a second remaining gives Los Angeles the victory

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There you have it, folks. Wayne Ellington was in no man’s land, but Ish Smith got caught ball-watching on the weak side of the floor. Jordan Clarkson snuck along the baseline unnoticed and was able to give the Los Angeles Lakers a late 113-111 overtime win on Monday night at Wells Fargo Center. Here’s what I saw:

The skinny

Basketball philosopher and Philadelphia’s very own Rasheed Wallace accurately summed this game up pretty well during one of his more memorable press conferences from a few years back:

Both teams actually did play hard. Was it particularly good basketball? For long stretches, absolutely not! Still, the effort was there throughout and the crowd, which also included many Laker fans, was entertained enough down the stretch by a game in which both teams had more incentive to lose than possibly any other single instance in NBA history. Clarkson made the shot, and the Lakers are very likely going to sit through one of the most nerve-racking lottery nights ever because of it. All that said, the players and coaches don’t want to hear about tanking.

“I get the question, but I sit back and look at going to Cleveland and holding someone to 87 points,’” Brett Brown said. “You close out a Denver Nuggets game by holding them to nine points on their home court [in the fourth quarter]. And so at some point you keep answering the question and say, ‘Look at the effort the guys give defensively’ and I don’t have much more to say.”

Brown and the players on the floor wanted to win the game. Did it help that the team’s two best stretch 4 defenders (Jerami Grant and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute) weren’t in the lineup against the Lakers’ Ryan Kelly? You bet. Was their absence intentional/strategic? No idea. Regardless if Brown wants to hear it or not, his team lost the battle and could’ve won a far more important war tonight. That’s the way this league goes sometimes.

Offensive observations

1. Repeatedly down the stretch of the fourth quarter and in overtime, Brown decided to place the basketball in Nerlens Noel’s hands out of timeouts, mostly in isolation situations at the foul line extended. By my rough estimation from looking at the play-by-play, he drew two shooting fouls (only 2-4 at the line, though), passed the ball out once, and worked a nice dribble handoff with Hollis Thompson for a bucket of his own another time. On a night where Noel took 18 shots and ten free throws to get his 19 points, his Kyra Sedgwick impression wasn’t perfect, but he did OK.

“Although he was 5-10 (from the line) tonight, I’ve got confidence he’s going to step up and not be intimidated by the moment,” Brown said. “Like he really wants to shoot a free throw. He’s not afraid to shoot a free throw. And so once you have that mentality, I think he’s going to the rim to dunk, to make a play and invite contact.”

“It’s still early, I’ve still got a lot of things to work on, but it was a good start,” Noel said.

2. On the subject of free throws, from my vantage point right behind the basket — Think of it as the NBA 2K angle — you basically have a perfect view of someone shooting free throws on the other end of the court. Everything about Nerlens Noel’s mechanics (elbow placement, follow through, rotation on the ball) is so much better than it was previously. That’s a great start. The $64,000 question is whether or not he can eventually progress to the point where those mechanics can consistently translate to game situations and at game speed.

3. Ish Smith’s final line (8-20 shooting, 17 points, 3 assists, 0 turnovers) isn’t all that great, but there’s something to be said for a guard who can get into the lane at will. He made some big shots to keep the Sixers close at the end of the game.

4. Noel on Ish: “I love that kid, man. He finds me whenever I’m open, and honestly he’s the first true point guard I’ve ever really played with. And he said I’m one of the [first true pick-and-dive] big men he’s played with so I think we complement each other so well.” SHOTS FIRED?

5. Just for clarification, I thought both Noel and Smith were below average offensively tonight along with Robert Covington (and if we’re assigning blame for the loss, they’d go at the top of the list). They just did some of the more interesting things out on the floor.

6. Glenn Robinson III got 25 minutes of run out of nowhere, scoring eight points and collecting six assists. Not a bad effort from the rook.

7. Thomas Robinson is Mr. Activity. Love that guy’s motor.

8. Brown had an interesting reasoning for why he wanted Noel attack early when the shot clock was unplugged and the game tied:

“Normally on the road, you’re probably going to walk it down and go for a last shot. That’s my philosophy, right or wrong. At home, I like to go early and you know, try to get a few opportunities, and I had timeouts to burn.”

It worked out fine tonight, but I’m pretty sure that strategy isn’t the correct decision. I’d always want to take the last shot, whether it’s at home or on the road.

9. Isaiah Canaan played one of his better offensive games as a Sixer, going 3-7 from beyond the arc and getting to the free-throw line an impressive seven times.

Defensive deductions

1. Not to spoil my day-after story too much, but from a hoop nerd standpoint, watching Noel try to balance being a MENACE AT THE RIM and stick to stretch 4’s on the perimeter was super interesting. He had some trouble deciding whether to stay attached to Kelly or try and trap Clarkson. It didn’t help that Clarkson torched Smith on the high pick-and-roll when Noel stayed home.

2. Covington and Robinson III were the victims of some amazing shot-making from Ellington (Bill Oram’s story on the Episcopal grad’s first game home since his father was killed is worth a read) and Jabari Brown. The latter hit some really difficult step-back jumpers out of isolation sets.

3. In the second half, Brown switched to an aggressive full-court man-to-man pressure with a green second unit that had been struggling making rotations in half-court situations. It worked and they were able to force some turnovers, even though Kelly did burn it for a dunk on one play.

None

Sloppy game overall, but there was some really awesome individual plays. Alas, I’m only going to present you with one of them because it stood out that much above all the rest. OVERALL GRADE: A



Sacre bleu!

Stat stuff

Nerlens Noel/Furkan Aldemir On-Court Net Rating: -8.5

Just to continue with the theme of “Nerlens at the 4,” I thought I’d mention how these two are faring in the admittedly small sample they’ve played together.

Player of the game

Didn’t recap yesterday’s game at Cleveland, but Bobby Buckets’ three-point shooting earned him the nod. For tonight, T-Rob’s energy made him the best Sixer on the floor. Post-Trade Deadline Standings: Noel 10, Smith 5, Covington 5, Grant 3, Thompson 3, Robinson 3, LRMAM 1, Sampson 1, Richardson 1, and Canaan 1.

Pregame notes

Jason Richardson missed his second consecutive game with swelling and soreness in his left knee, and Brett Brown warned that his part-time starting shooting guard might be out for a few more days. In Friday night’s blowout loss to the Clippers, the 34 year old shot 1-6 from the field and was an ugly minus-21 in only a 13-minute run. As you would expect, he didn’t look very great doing so.

“He had that breakout game in Oklahoma City where he just looked a little bit like the Jason of old,” Brown said. “And then from that point on, you could tell that [the surgically repaired knee] has taken its toll.”

While I was watching Joel Embiid’s warm-ups, Tom Moore of Calkins Media talked to Richardson in the locker room. The 13-year vet apparently thinks he should be OK to play the next game. We’ll see:

Jerami Grant (upper respiratory infection) and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (left shoulder soreness) sat out tonight’s proceedings. The Lakers called with Carlos Boozer (upper respiratory infection) and possibly even re-raised with Jeremy Lin (upper respiratory infection), who destroyed the Sixers in Los Angeles a week ago.

I thought yesterday’s close call in Cleveland was a microcosm of the Sixers’ season after getting past their brutal 0-17 start: Decently competitive basketball, stingy defense, and almost complete offensive futility. They held an excellent Cavs offense featuring LeBron James and Kyrie Irving scoreless over the last 4:03, but couldn’t score themselves over the final 3:57 after Robert Covington knocked down a triple to bring them within one.

“When you look at us going one for six from the free-throw line and that wide-open 3 that I think Ish can make more than he’s going to miss when that open, we didn’t score but we actually had looks,” Brown said.

Tweet of the night

It’s a dog-eat-dog world at the bottom of the NBA standings, especially when the Steve Nash trade blows up in your face.

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