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March 18, 2015

Sixers topple misfiring Pistons, 94-83

With the victory, Philadelphia eclipsed the 15.5 Las Vegas over-under total and clinched the season series over Detroit

Sixers NBA

The over has now officially hit for the second straight year, as the Sixers collected their 16th win of the season on Wednesday night. Suck it, Vegas! Oh wait, that’s not how that works. Anyway, the Sixers defeated the listless Detroit Pistons 94-83 at the Wells Fargo Center. Here’s what I saw:

The skinny

No offense to the Sixers, who played a nice and controlled game, but my main takeaway from tonight is how poorly Stan Van Gundy’s Pistons are playing (and yes, I’m definitely playing to my audience by mentioning the coach by name). Before defeating the Memphis Grizzlies last night, Detroit had lost their last previous ten games, and after watching them play up close for 48 minutes, another long winless drought could very well be upon them.

As for the home team, they received fairly even contributions from all ten players. Nobody stood out, but as a collective group, they were far sharper than the Pistons. Their defensive rotations were quicker. Their ball movement was crisper. Their execution was simply better.

And again, it’s not like the Sixers slapped together an amazing performance. It just looked that way sometimes in comparison to the opponent.

Offensive observations

1. This Ish Smith thing is getting to be pretty crazy. You know, the thing where he completely controls entire game and lives in the paint. For someone who was picked up off the scrapheap, he has been a pleasant surprise. Smith finished with 15 points, 8 assists, and approximately 15 ankle-breaking crossovers.

2. By my unofficial count, Thomas Robinson (6-9, 12 points) made at least three excellent face-up moves in the first half. On a couple of those, he scored fairly easily against a legitimate rim protector in Andre Drummond. Robinson’s game plan was smart, as he utilized fakes and his quickness advantage to score. “I knew it would have to be all counters,” Robinson said. “You can’t go straight-up on him.”

I had a nice talk with Robinson after the game. He mentioned that video of Zach Randolph in attack mode from last night against Detroit provided him with the roadmap. Z-Bo is a player that Robinson says he wants to model his game after, specifically two-time All-Star’s combination of physicality and footwork.

“A lot of people say the bully kind of ball won’t work, but I think Z-Bo made a living off it,” Robinson said. “He’s 6’8”, 6’7”, whatever, but he uses his body better than any forward in the league.” For my money, Robinson can replicate some of Randolph’s game if his midrange jumper can improve. More than anything, that is the area of his game that he should work on this summer.

3. Nerlens Noel connected on a few early jumpers and finished a couple of pretty lob plays in his 22-minute run. He suffered a right foot contusion and didn’t return to the game, although Brett Brown said afterward that he should be good to go on Friday.

4. Brown called his shot. The coach’s ability to draw up set plays after timeouts (ATO’s) goes under the radar due to the team’s lack of success, but his clipboard game is strong. Before the game, the coach said he’s been calling Noel’s number a lot lately in those situations. “In timeouts, you can take wrinkles out of what we do and really try to feature him,” Brown said.

It makes sense. Noel is clearly not a guy who you can simply ask to get a bucket, so a way to provide him with touches is by designing set plays specifically for him. A Noel alley-oop effectively ended the Atlanta game a few weeks ago, and Brown again got his rookie a lob by running a sweet back screen out of “Horns.” There’s a prime example of the wrinkles he’s talking about.

5. Strong perimeter shooting from Jason Richardson (who had been struggling big time) and Hollis Thompson, who combined to go 5-8 from beyond the arc.

6. I like how Brown utilizes Jerami Grant and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute in a similar fashion as small-ball 4s. The Sixers often run plays where those guys set high ball screens and then sort of sprint out to the wing instead of popping slowly. Once they receive the pass, Grant or LRMAM can shoot the 3 or attack off the bounce as their defender scrambles to get back to them.

7. Robert Covington again struggled from the field. If I were Brown, I’d move Covington back into the starting lineup to see if that can jumpstart him.

Defensive deductions

1. The Pistons took a lot of contested shots. “Point of attack” is normally a football term to describe the offensive line, but in basketball it can apply to perimeter defense. I thought the Sixers were much better at the point of attack tonight. The Pistons only managed to score 20 points in the paint. “I think our length and overall commitment to trying to play better defense factored into getting to shooters,” Brown said.

2. Part of the reason that Brown said he kept Noel out is that Furkan Aldemir performed admirably coming off the bench. Aldemir scored a bucket and contributed four boards in nine minutes. He even blocked a shot, perfectly exercising Furkicality.

3. Overheard after the game: “That has to be the worst triple-double in history.” The comment was referring to Reggie Jackson, who went for 11, 11, and 10. The Pistons beat writers certainly agree:

Dunk's Watch

This was an extremely ragged game overall, but like they usually do, the Sixers found a way to come up with a couple of big-time dunks. As a combination, you could do much worse than these two. OVERALL GRADE: B+

Tayshaun Prince should not be forced to singlehandedly play transition defense. He’s appeared in far too many NBA games to try to keep with a rookie. Grade: A-

I love the dunks that are so good that the player falls down. Now that I mention it, there has to be a more efficient name than “dunk that is so good that the player falls down.” Grade: B+

Stat stuff

Sixers Defensive Rating (First Quarter): 106.7 (26th out of 30)
Sixers Defensive Rating (Second Half): 98.3 (1st out of 30)

These numbers are brought to you courtesy of Brett Brown, who mentioned them before the game. I’m not typically crazy about reading too much into trends based on specific portions of games — I generally like to chalk that stuff up to good ‘ol randomness — but the Sixers defense really does seem to pick up steam as the game moves along. Over almost a full season, the gap between those two numbers is pretty difficult to ignore.

“To me what it speaks to is youth, erratic starting lineups, dealing with different things of that sort,” Brown said. “And what it also speaks to is fitness, competitiveness, the ability to make adjustments, and to find a new life where they can crawl back into games.”

A young NBA roster can be a two-sided coin. Sure, the Sixers fall behind all the time, but they’re almost too naïve to realize that many teams pack it in when faced with such a large early deficit. Tonight, Brown’s team only surrendered 21 first quarter points.

Player of the game

Smith has bounced around the league because he’s such an inefficient shooter, but he’s been pretty darn economical when it comes to POTG honors. Tonight marks the fifth time he received a nod in only 13 games played for the Sixers. Post-Trade Deadline Standings: Noel 7, Smith 5, Grant 3, Covington 3, Thompson 3, LRMAM 1, Sampson 1, Richardson 1, Canaan 1, and Robinson 1.

Embiid update

I don’t want to send the masses into hysteria, but it’s definitely worth noting that Joel Embiid hasn’t gone through his regular pregame workout at home since last Wednesday. If you’ll recall, that was the day Brett Brown reported Embiid’s visit with his doctor in California had gone well and the third overall pick could actually ramp up his regimen. Embiid then worked out before the game against Chicago.

Since that night, the opposite has been true. It’s not like Embiid is wearing a walking boot around the arena or anything, but he mainly does some stationary dribbling whenever he appears from the tunnel and takes the court. Whatever happened, the Sixers are definitely exercising some caution.

Sixers do a solid

Prior to the game, a kid was taking some warm-up shots alongside Nerlens Noel, who had at least a couple of feet on the little guy. It was Quahmier Wilson, 10-year-old son slain Philadelphia Police Officer Robert Wilson III. Jason Richardson showed him around the locker room and the Sixers also apparently provided him with some gear. Nice gesture from the organization.

“You just take a big gulp and you look at that kid and he’s all wide-eyed and fired up to be here, and to see him interact with our team and to see the team interact with him, that’s a heartfelt moment,” Brown said.

“We just wanted to tell his family, and especially his son, your dad was a hero and we thank him for that,” Richardson later added.

 Life is much more than sports, but sometimes sports can provide a momentary distraction from life. I hope that was the case for Quahmier and his family tonight. Rest in peace, Officer Wilson.