Okafor Bounces Back, But Sixers Lose 10th Straight

Jahlil Okafor bounced back from his tough outing against Oklahoma City with 21 points and 12 rebounds, but the Sixers losing streak continues.

LaMarcus Aldridge scored 17 points and collected 17 rebounds in the Spurs 92-83 win over the Sixers | Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

LaMarcus Aldridge scored 17 points and collected 17 rebounds in the Spurs 92-83 win over the Sixers | Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

“The Sixers became the first team in NBA history to … ”

It’s a phrase you’re going to hear every game until the Sixers win their first game of the season.

After last night’s 92-83 loss to the San Antonio Spurs, the Sixers became the first team in NBA history to start consecutive seasons 0-10.

It’s hard to get excited about a game where the team continued to sink farther and farther into NBA infamy, but watching Jahlil Okafor bounce back from his dreadful 3-for-18 shooting performance against Oklahoma City with 21 points (on 9-17 shooting), 12 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 blocked shots was encouraging.

It was especially encouraging considering who it came against: Tim Duncan, LaMarcus Aldridge, David West, and the experienced Spurs front court.

Okafor complemented his normal series of spins moves and hook shots with three 13-15′ jumpers that found twine. He also went to the free throw line three times, making all three.

Okafor’s been a more consistent contributor of late. After averaging just 5.5 rebounds, 1 blocked shot, and 0.5 assists per game during the first four games of his professional career, Okafor has averaged 8.5 rebounds, 2.3 blocked shots, and 2 assists per game in the six games since.

SpanDef Reb %Ast %Blocks/48 min
First 4 games11.9%4.1%1.4
Last 6 games18.611.33.3
(Jahlil Okafor has been playing a more complete game of late. Data valid as of November 15th, 2015. All data courtesy of nba.com/stats)

Okafor was key during the Sixers late run, where they used a 14-2 run to cut a 16 point deficit down to 4. Okafor scored 7 points during the run, which included an and-1 on a gorgeous spin move, an 11 foot pull-up jumper, and a layup off of outstanding ball movement from the Sixers.

That outstanding ball movement is what makes the final three minutes of the game so perplexing. After an 18 footer from T.J. McConnell ended the run and pulled to within 4 with three minutes remaining, the wheels fell off. Everything the Sixers did offensively during the run they stopped doing during a three minute stretch with the game on the line where they failed to record a point.

The Sixers went through a four possession stretch where three of the possessions were ended by really bad passes, two by the previously sure-handed T.J. McConnell and one by Isaiah Canaan. The Spurs doubled Okafor in the post before he even received the ball, with his initial defender fronting him in the post, then a weakside defender providing help. The strategy effectively neutralized the Sixers best half court option and they never seemed to be able to get comfortable in the final few minutes.

Frustrating end to a game in a frustrating losing streak, but Okafor’s bounce back performance was probably the most important takeaway of the night.

Odds and Ends

* I thought Okafor played a relatively good defensive game. The matchup probably helped some. Despite San Antonio’s experience and skill level in the front court, they’re not explosive athletes at this stage of their careers. Okafor (mostly) rotated well and contested shots. Hhis 12 rebounds (9 defensive) were huge as well. It was perhaps Okafor’s best all-around game of the season.

* Speaking of rebounds, the Sixers still didn’t rebound particularly well, with San Antonio getting 25.5% of their available offensive rebounds to the Sixers only getting 12.5% of theirs. But the biggest reason for the differential was the Sixers poor offensive rebounding. They actually did a decent job keeping the Spurs (an admittedly mediocre offensive rebounding team) off the offensive glass.

* Outside of Okafor, the Sixers only had one other player in double figures in scoring: Jerami Grant with 12 points on 4-7 shooting, including 2-3 from three. Grant continues his strong play in the starting lineup. The rest? Nik Stauskas went scoreless (0-6) in his 18 minute run and is now shooting 33% from the field and 28% form three point range on the season. Isaiah Canaan shot just 2-11 from the field, and Nerlens Noel scored just 6 points (2-8), collected just 3 rebounds, and failed to record a block in his 31 minute run.

* Despite Noel only recording 3 rebounds and no blocked shots, I don’t think his defensive performance was bad. The Spurs have a front court where everybody on the team can pull the opponent 15-18′ away from the hoop. I thought Noel’s activity in the 4th quarter was instrumental in their run.

* T.J. McConnell struggled as much as he has at any point during his short NBA career. He did score 8 points on 4-6 shooting, but he committed a couple of really bad turnovers late in the game and finished with only one assist on the night. He did make some nice passes that weren’t converted into buckets, particularly in the first half, but the mental mistakes are just not something we’re accustomed to seeing from McConnell.

* Phil Pressey had one of his stronger games in his brief Sixers career, finishing with 8 points (4-7 shooting), 6 assists, and 0 turnovers in 15 minutes, although the airball on his 7′ floater, which went about 4′, was bad.

* The Sixers are expected to get Robert Covington back for Monday night’s game against the Dallas Mavericks at the Wells Fargo Center. Covington’s play was key last year in turning around the Sixers offense, and in helping the Sixers end the 17 game losing streak they started the season with.

Derek Bodner covers the 76ers for Philadelphia magazine’s new Sixers Post. Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.