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April 06, 2015

Sixers drop an ugly one to league-worst Knicks, 101-91

Andrea Bargnani scored 25 points, primarily while being guarded by Nerlens Noel

Sixers NBA

The Sixers lost to the lowly (well, even lowlier than them) New York Knicks 101-91 on Sunday night at Madison Square Garden. Here’s what I saw:

The skinny

To quote the fictionalized version of Herman Boone, Joey Crawford (Cardinal O’Hara), Mark Lindsay (Malvern Prep), and Haywoode Workman let the boys play in The Big Apple tonight. 

The Knicks took advantage. The likes of Lou Amundson, Quincy Acy, and Jason Smith — Move over ‘27 Yankees, there’s a new Murderers’ Row in town — were aggressive around the hoop on both ends of the floor for the entire game, and the Sixers never matched the #KnicksTape’s brand of physicality. Brett Brown complained about the officiating after the game a little bit, which he rarely does.

“I’m confused,” he told reporters after the game. “We had 55 paint attempts. I’m confused why we only shot [eight] free throws. I thought that people like Jerami [Grant] did a really good job of driving. Evidently, they didn’t believe that there were fouls being made, and so I’m confused.”

You gotta respect Brett bringing some numbers to back up his argument, although I admittedly have no clue what a “paint attempt” is. Honestly, I didn’t think the refs were all that unfair. Sure, a 29-8 free-throw disparity doesn’t look great on paper, but sometimes the game just shakes out that way. At least from the here, the Knicks were a little better, and also perhaps a little tougher. Mostly, the Sixers did a lousy job of guarding a team that, as constructed, basically guards itself.

Offensive observations

1. I’m going to talk about his stats in detail a little further down, but Hollis Thompson has been really effective shooting the ball ever since coming back from his month-long absence (upper respiratory infection). He shot 6-11 (5-6 from deep) and was good enough that we’ll even let slide the ridiculous dunk attempt late in the game that got stuffed.

2. Ish Smith had his typical Ish Smith performance as of late: Inefficient volume scoring that was super-fun to watch, and a solid to excellent floor game that was highlighted by an ability to live in the paint on the pick-and-roll.

3. Weird night for Nerlens Noel offensively. On some possessions, someone like Amundson (i.e. not very good) completely stoned him. On others, Noel made impressive offensive moves, a few of which didn’t require a speed move like usual. I’m interested to see if his skill level takes a major leap forward if his strength level does the same. Tonight, he wasn’t at a huge strength disadvantage, a rare occasion.

4. As far as shot selection goes, process did not win out tonight. To be fair to the Knicks, a lot of the mid-range shots that they took were wide the eff open:

5. CELEB WATCH: I saw Phil Collins, John McEnroe, and Cecily Strong on the broadcast, which is what you would expect from such a hot ticket. Three of my favorites! Collins might’ve gotten the loudest cheer all night from the packed yet reserved Garden faithful. There was a real “Quiet Please” slash Wimbledon vibe in NYC.

Defensive deductions

1. Like I mentioned above, these Knicks have generally taken Phil Jackson’s beloved Triangle Offense and turned it into something entirely different from how Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant executed when The Zen Master was on the bench. Against the Sixers, it actually looked pretty sharp, though. The Knickerbockers were able to score on this specific action multiple times:

That’s too easy. Why is Robert Covington guarding Langston Galloway 30 feet from the hoop again? Did Temple even guard Langston Galloway 30 feet from the hoop?

2. A disclaimer, before I make the next point: Yes, I completely understand that the experiment has only gone on for a few games and the situation could change greatly with the addition of a certain Cameroonian 7-footer. All caveats aside, the late-year transition to the 4 hasn’t come naturally to Noel. Andrea Bargnani is a not a good stretch 4, and he scored 25 points on 8-15 shooting against Noel simply because he is a stretch 4.

Noel largely thrived this year patrolling the paint, and playing primarily against centers has provided him with the ability to freelance and create havoc. When the rookie is matched up against someone like Bargnani who spots up on the 3-point line, his first instinct is still to guard the ball and make a play against any semblance of a drive. That doesn’t work, and Noel consistently wasn’t quick enough in recovering to Bargs on the pick-and-pop.

“They used our aggression [in defending the pick-and-roll] and they would separate and there was daylight for him,” Brown told reporters.

3. Moving forward, this might be the question I’m most interested in: With the direction the league has moved in, can Noel guard 4s on a consistent basis? And even if he is able to, will much of his value on the defensive end of the floor (blocking shots, reaching around for steals, switching in the pick-and-roll) be neutralized at that spot?

4. While still an inspirational story, it’s fair to say that Jason Richardson has a lot of trouble staying in front of NBA players nowadays. I would say that he couldn’t guard me, if I wasn’t extremely conscious of how bad the average pick-up basketball player (which I would qualify) is in comparison to J-Rich even at this stage of his career.

5. Maybe above all, Furkan Aldemir is going to have to work around his lack of footspeed on the defensive end. A lot of times, he’s in the right position on the back line and even makes the correct read on the drive only to show up a split second late. The slight delay makes a major difference. Aldemir is committing 6.1 fouls per 36 minutes, which is basically Greg Oden territory.

Dunk's Watch

A quiet night overall for the watch, as I could only find one play that fit the bill. OVERALL GRADE: C

These two are usually good for at least one of these per game. Grade: B

Stat stuff

Hollis 2

I was pretty disappointed with Hollis Thompson's play before he got sick, but he’s quietly one of 16 players in the NBA that shoots over 3.7 treys per game and connects on at least 39.3 percent of them. Since returning on January 13th, Thompson is making 44.7 percent of his 3s, which is no joke. The soft-spoken guard's resurgence has been a nice under-the-radar subplot for this team.

Credit to Anthony Capelli for bringing this to my attention.

Player of the game

Didn’t hand one out during last night’s recap, so to backtrack a little, Robert Covington’s shooting efficiency in Charlotte earned him the nod over Ish Smith. In New York, Thompson was the guy who got it done. Post-Trade Deadline Standings: Noel 10, Smith 6, Covington 6, Thompson 4, Grant 3, Robinson 3, LRMAM 1, Sampson 1, Richardson 1, and Canaan 1.

Injury report

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (shoulder soreness), Thomas Robinson (twisted ankle), and Isaiah Canaan (sprained foot) all missed the game against New York.

Tweet of the night

Presented without comment, except to say that if you like the NBA and aren’t following this guy, you’re doing it wrong.