Honestly, if you didn’t already think that the 76ers 2009-10 season was on the brink of complete collapse, then last night’s F-ugly loss to the Washington Wizards should have been the final piece of evidence you needed to throw in the towel. Thanks to a brutal 4th quarter effort, the Sixers flushed three quarters of decent play down the toilet, took an L without much of a fight and now what little hope there was of gaining some momentum off the big W in Boston has vanished.
You’ve heard this story before, horrific defense, questionable lineups / substitutions and poor shooting doom Philadunkia’s home team.
The good news is that the keys to last night’s loss are easily identified because they’re the same issues that have plagued the Sixers all season: ole’ defense that leads to lay-ups or gimmes for the opponent; mind boggling lineups decisions and rotation of players that haveno regard for defensive match ups or which Sixers have the hot hand; no killer instinct, thus no ability to put opponents away; and the inability to make shots at key moments in the game. Now that we’ve revisited the Sixers four Achilles heels (Is it possible to have 4?), let’s breakdown each weakness specific to last night’s loss.
Swiss Cheese Defense
For starters, the Sixers allowed Gilbert Arenas to do whatever he wanted in the 1stQ. Wide open Js, dives to the tin, runners, you name it, Agent Zero got the look he wanted, when he wanted it. You can not permit a bona-fide NBA star like Arenas go off from the jump, especially in front of his home crowd. You’re simply asking for a long, tough night if you let that happen. Somewhere in that 1stQ, a hard foul needed to be delivered to shake Arenas up or the Sixers needed to force the ball out of his hand and make other Wizards beat them. Neither of these things happened and the result was a 15 point 1st Q for Gil and a moment in the 1stQ where the Wiz led 22-11. But the Sixers survived that awful start, got back in the game andwere actually leading by five in the 4th Q. It was then, after he laid low for nearly two full quarters and seemed to have cooled off, that the Sixers allowed Arenas to take over the game yet again. He scored 12 of his 31 points in the 4th and almost single handily carried the Wiz to the victory. Look we know your not going to totally shut down Arenas, especially the way he has been rolling lately (24.9 ppg. in his last 10 gms), but your defense has to at least make him work for shots in an effort to slow him down. The Sixers did not do this and Agent Zero delivered.
The Sixers as a team are poor perimeter defenders, but Louis Williams may be one of the worst perimeter defenders we have ever seen. He simply can not keep any guard in the NBA in front of him and out of the paint. Do you think Louis Twittered last night / today about the fact that he got abused several times by 10-year NBA journeyman Earl Boykins who was just got picked up by the Wizin November? Doubt it. We won’t even discuss what Arenas did to Louis on the plays that the two were iso’d one on one. Our favorite defensive lapse by Louis came at the 11:10 mark of the secondQ. The Wizards had a sideline in- bound play in their offensive endof the court. Arenas took inside position on the block, with Louis “on him” (but with his back to the ball). Arenas called for the ball by raising his hand and before Louis could even get in his defensive stance, Caron Butler threw the ball right past his ear to the open Arenas and agent Zero dropped it in for an easy two. It was simply disturbing o watch.
But Louis is not the only defensively negligent Sixer. Except for Sam Dalembert, no one on the Sixers rotates to close down the paint once an opposing guard has beaten his Sixer perimeter defender. When Dalembert was not in the game last night there was parade of Wizards players driving the ball right down the lane for easy buckets or dimes to open bigs.
Lastly, when the Sixers absolutely, positively must havea stop they can get them. Down 92-90 with4:50 to go, Caron Butler converts a reverse lay-up. Down 94-90 with4:24 left, Butler gets a dunk. With the Sixers down 96-92 at the 2:03 mark of the 4th and desperately needing a stop, Boykins get a lay-up. Stops win games and the Sixers don’t get ‘em.
Lineups / Rotation of Players
We’ll start with the fact that last night there were numerous sightings of Sixers players on who we had recently filed missing person reports.
- First, Jason Kapono was on the court to start the 2nd Q and he hit for 7 points in less the nine minutes of play. He was pulled for no reason at the 3:22 mark of the 2nd Q and played fifty-three seconds the rest of the night. Can anyone say Donyell Marshall circa 2008-09?
- Jason Smith, who hadn’t seen any action in four games, randomly got inserted into the game at the end of 3rd Q and played for nearly five minutes into the start of the 4thquarter,. We actually thought Smith shook off the rust and played well. While he was in, Smith helped the Sixersflip a seven point deficit (74-67) into a four point lead (84-80) with 9+ minutes remaining in the game. Of course he was also removed from the game and never heard from again. It’s odd that Jordan would play a guy who hadn’t seen the floor in over a week during a tight Eastern Conference game. It’s even stranger to us that Jordan pulled him when it seemed Smith had gone in, played well and provided a spark.
Jrue Holiday started the game last night and we thought did a nice job defensively as well as distributing the ball. He did have 3 TO’s, but he certainly did not deserve to begin the 3rd Q on the bench and be limited to 4 minutes of burn in the 2nd half (18 total). Holiday is the best defensive guard on the Sixers. How is he not in this game when they needed stops during the 4th Q?
In the 3rdQ, Wizcoach Flip Saunders had run out of patience waiting for his starters to get it together so he made a 5 in / 5 out substitution at the 8:00 mark of the 3rd . The Sixers quickly scored a bucket against the Washington bench to extend their lead to 58-52. Now instead of going with his starters in hopes of putting this game away vs. Washington’s subs, Jordan throws out a lineup of Louis / Rodney Carney / EB / Speights/ Willie Green for much of the third. That lineup, arguably the worst defensive five the Sixers could put on the floor, allowed the Wiz featuring Nick Young, Earl Boykins and Andray Blatche to keep this game close, so that Agent Zero could win it in the 4th.
Other then the general principle that EJ will always play guys who can shoot the ball over players who can defend and rebound, there simply appears to be no rhyme or reason to Jordan’s lineups, division of minutes and substitutions. He does not put players in a position to succeed within each game nor has he defined any roles on this team, so players don’t know what to expect on a nightly basis.
No Killer Instinct
We’ve touched on this season long issue in prior posts as well as in the previous section. Again leading by 6 with less than 8 minutes to play in the third, the Sixers were facing a Wiz lineup consisting entirely of bench players. Good teams, playoff competitive teams, teams who when they have their foot on an opponent’s throat don’t let up, would have seen this as an opportunity to put this game away and cruise to a W before their upcoming Ice Capades induced west coast swing. The Sixers aren’t that team. So the Wiz subs got to enjoy their moment in the spotlight and actually looked good at times. Now it would have helped the Sixers cause if Jordan had reacted to Flip’s motivational mass substitution by putting the Sixers first-five on the floor, that’s for sure. Still not one of the Sixers playing during that stretch of the 3rd displayed an ounce of desire to take over the game and put a smack down on Washington’s second unit and sew this game up early.
It’s no secret that as a team the Sixers do not shoot the ball well from outside and last night was no different. The Sixers were outscored 33-19 in the fourth quarter thanks to hitting only 6 of their 18 FGAs. It also should be noted that they were 4-13 on 3PAs against Washington. But for us it’s about more then misses. It’s about average shooters taking bad shots. Shots they have no right taking. In the Sixers case we’re talking specifically about long range Js and 3PAs by average to poor outside shooters. The Sixers should be looking for easy baskets or trips to the FT line by taking the ball to the tin or using Brand and Speights in the post area. Instead they hoist ill advised shots that display no respect for the long standing basketball shot taking guidelines — time, score & role.
A perfect example from last night was the series of shots the Sixers attempted with 1:01 remaining in the game. Down by four (101-97) and coming out of at timeout, Willie Green throws up a 14-footer on which his feet were never set and he was not square to the basket. We question first and foremost why WG is taking that shot, but if you’re going to take a bad shot, at least give it a chance of going in by using proper shooting technique. Then with the Sixers trailing 101-98 and thirty-eight seconds remaining, AI9 launches yet another 3PA. This one from roughly 23-feet and before all of the other Sixers had made it over half court. Finally, down 103-98 with thirty ticks left, Louis makes a terrible decision to drive the ball into the lane which was filled with Wizards. He jumped straight into Andray Blatche who depending on your view, blocked his shot / tied up the ball / fouled him but there was no call. That’s three chances to pull within one or two points in clutch time that were tossed away by the Sixers because of bad shot selection.