What do you get when two of the most offensive minded teams in the NBA get together and both teams don’t shoot well for most of the night, one of the teams plays a zone defense for ¾ of the game and the other team scores 25 fast break points?
The answer: You get one of the most unwatchable NBA contests in recent memory.
Unfortunately, the Knicks and their zone defense somehow managed to outplay the Sixers (12-26) down the stretch of this ugly contest and win a game that probably had Dr. Naismith rolling over in his grave.
It’s tough to decide which had a bigger role in the 76ers loss last night — the New York Knicks zone defense or the questionable lineup decisions Sixers Head Coach Eddie Jordan made in the 4th quarter, so we’ll examine both factors.
Let’s start by discussing Mike D’Antoni’s zone since the eighth grade defense the NYK ran last night is at the root of this Sixers L. Basically D’Antoni called the Sixers out last night by playing a zone. His strategy was simple, “If you can beat us from 20-feet and beyond this game is yours. I’m betting you can’t.” We think it’s a chicken-sh** way to play defense in the NBA, but the strategy has its merits against the outside shooting challenged Sixers. Frankly we’re surprised more teams haven’t played zone vs. Jordan’s squad.
In our opinion, Jordan’s first reaction to the zone should have been to grab the little used Jason Kapono off the bench and insert him into the game and let JK go to work. You remember Kapono, right? Stefanski traded for him in the off-season. He’s one of the best 3-point shooters in the League. He can pass the ball well and he makes smart decisions on the floor. A lot of people would refer to Kapono as a “zone-buster”. Well instead of getting Kapono some tick vs. the zone, Jordan instead thought it was a smart idea to continue to limit Kapono’s playing time. Last night Jordan did such a great job of limiting Kapono’s run that our only 3-point shooting specialist received a DNP-CD line in the box score.
With Kapono anchored to the bench, AI9 took it upon himself to attack the Knicks zone from deep. The result was a 0-6 night on 3PAs by Iggy. Does it make any sense to you to attack a zone with a career 32% three-point shooter leading the way from outside? It makes no sense to us at all either, but apparently it does to Coach Jordan. Thankfully, Carney (3-7) and Holiday (2-4) did supply some help from deep and prevented the Knicks zone from completely paralyzing Jordan’s offense. Otherwise this game could have been a real ugly loss for the Sixers.
As the game wore on, it became obvious to us that the lineup to play against the NYK zone should have looked like this: Holiday / Iverson / Kapono/ Brand (or Smith) / Dalembert. Why Kapono should have been in the game, we have already discussed. Holiday was able to penetrate the NYK zone on several occasions and get to the tin or drop off a pass to a big. He also was able to nail a couple 3’s, so he should have seen more then 16 minutes of run. It probably helped that Holiday was playing college ball less then a year ago where he saw zone D’s almost nightly. Iverson used his dribble drive and slashing ability to find open looks for himself through out the game. We know he’s hurting, but if asked Iverson would have given more minutes last night. A W over the NYK was that important.
Brand didn’t shoot the ball well, but every time he got the rock he seemed to have a wide open look. So because he was getting quality looks we were okay with Brand seeing major minutes vs. the zone. However, based on Brand’s shooting troubles last night we also would have given the sweet shooting Jason Smith a chance to work against the NYK zone. Finally, we would have stuck with Dalembert for as many minutes as his foul trouble would allow because he’s playing the best basketball of his career right now. (Speights’ 4th Q heroics were too late in the game to make our lineup wish list.)
Eddie Jordan saw things differently and chose to give major minutes to three of his starters who were all having an awful game. AI9 saw 40 minutes of action and was 2-9 shooting. Thad ran the floor for over 32 minutes last night and was 3-13 on FGA. Finally, starting point man Louis Williams played 24 ½ minutes was 1-7 shooting the ball and committed three turnovers. Give Jordan credit, he sure is loyal to his starters.
In addition to the NYK zone, the second biggest factor in the Sixers loss last night was the late 4th quarter lineup choices made by Eddie Jordan. Why Coach Jordan refuses to make defense for offense substitutions when he has the chance is beyond us. His inability to make these basic in-game adjustments frequently puts the Sixers defense at a huge disadvantage. Coaches all around the NBA execute these fundamental basketball moves in the final minutes of games. Hell, college and high school coaches get it right most of the time. But not Eddie Jordan. Nope, he’s got to keep those “shooters” on the floor.
The game was tied at 72-72 with 8:40 left in the game and no point down the stretch did Jordan put a defensive minded unit on the floor to help the Sixers get a stop. He didn’t even go with his best defensive group on the Knicks final possession. With under :20 remaining Jordan sent out a horrific defensive lineup that included a gimpy suspect defender in Iverson, the fundamentally weak Speights and a mediocre defender in Carney accompanied by defensive standout Iggy and shot blocking machine Dalembert. That is an inexcusable mistake in our opinion.
- Speaking of the last play of the game, did you notice that the NYK ran a sideline pick-n-roll play? The pick-n-roll has been a nightmare for the Sixers to guard all season and last night was no different. A badly limping Iverson (more on that later) trailed Chris Duhon the whole way as he dribbled toward the pick man David Lee (covered by Dalembert). Lee barely grazed Iverson before rolling to the hoop and because Iverson was trailing so badly, Dalembert had no choice but to turn Lee free and rush the open Duhon. Speights was two days late on his backside rotation and Duhon quickly flipped the ball to a wide-open Lee, who kissed it home for the GWer.
- More on Iverson…His knee is hurting badly and it’s most obvious when you watch him land on only one foot after each jump shot. The fact that he played 34 minutes and scored 16 points last night is amazing. So it was borderline disrespectful to Iverson’s tremendous effort that Jordan did not get #3 out of the game for that last NYK possession. Even when he’s 100% healthy, Iverson can not guard Duhon, so why would Jordan expect him to do it when he’s playing on one leg?
- Of course the Sixers end up with a long 3PA on their final possession of a one possession game. That’s just how our GW attemtps go. Last night’s chucker was Rodney Carney. And of course after the game everyone says that the shot was a “good look”. Unreal. We know that the initial drawn up “play” for Speights was stopped by a double team (A double team that came because Speights put his head down and drove baseline until he was behind the basket.), but the Sixers still have to find a better option when the ball swings around then a “hot” Carney shooting a 24-footer. Where was AI9? Also when was the last time you saw Iverson pass up a GWing shot attempt? It was almost sad to watch.
- Rodney Carney had 11 points in the 4th on 4 of 4 shooting.
- Speights had 10 points in 8:40 of tick during the 4th quarter. It was the only quarter in which he saw playing time.
- Last night the Sixers had 25 fast break points, 44 bench points and won the rebounding game 54-37 (including 18 offensive boards), yet still lost the game.
- What’s left to say about the way Sammy D is playing right now? The guy is simply playing the best ball of his career and starting to make the ludicrous contract Billy King gave him seem almost sane. Relax, we said, “almost”. But seriously, given what’s going on in his home country of Haiti, last night’s effort (12 & 21) was just amazing.