Okafor Dominates in Sixers’ 114-89 Rout of Blazers
Rarely have the Sixers fired on all cylinders during the first half of their 2015-16 season, especially during their record-setting 1-30 start.
Things started to turn around when the Sixers received an early Christmas present, nabbing veteran point guard Ish Smith for a pair of second round draft picks.
The Sixers won three of their first six games after the Smith acquisition, receiving an immediate payoff from the trade. While they followed that up with a brief four game losing streak against the Atlanta Hawks, Toronto Raptors, Cleveland Cavaliers, and the Chicago Bulls, the team was clearly headed in the right direction.
While the team was showing signs of progress with Smith in the lineup, consistency was a problem. That was on full display Thursday night when the Sixers blew a 24-point first half lead to the Chicago Bulls.
For perhaps the first time all season, the Sixers were firing on all cylinders, for all four quarters of play, Saturday night against the Portland Trailblazers.
The game started similar to Thursday’s night affair against the Bulls. The Sixers came out and jumped on a tired team, as the Blazers were playing their third game in four nights, having just won in Brooklyn the night before. Unlike Thursday night’s game, the Sixers never took their foot off the gas.
The Sixers rode an incredible 17-point first quarter performance from rookie big man Jahlil Okafor to take a 12-point lead after 12 minutes of play. Okafor scored on a dazzling array of jump shots, post moves, and face-up drives to score at will, putting on a clinic that showcases his immense offensive potential.
But rather than allow the opposition to chip away at that lead, as they have so many times throughout the season, the Sixers never let up. With a diversified attack featuring 11 points off the bench from Robert Covington, 9 from Isaiah Canaan, 7 from Ish Smith and 6 from Richaun Holmes, the Sixers poured in 39 points against the Blazers in the second quarter to push the lead to 25 at halftime.
The Blazers never got the game to within 20 points in the second half.
The Sixers shot a season high 55.3 percent, hit 43.5 percent of their 23 three-point attempts, finished with 27 assists to only 13 turnovers, and scored 114 points, which tied their season high.. They featured five players in double figures, led by 25 points on 12-16 shooting from Jahlil Okafor, 17 points from Richaun Holmes, 16 each from Ish Smith and Robert Covington, and 14 from Isaiah Canaan, who started his first game in two weeks.
Yet for all that offensive success, it was the defense that head coach Brett Brown was most impressed with.
“We came out and our perimeter [defenders] were aggressive,” Brown said after the game. “We backed off Nerlens [Noel] and Jahlil [Okafor] and had them play more rim protection type of strategy. I think it enabled our perimeter people to just jump into [Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum].”
Lillard and McCollum, who came in averaging a combined 48.1 points per game over the last four games, combined to score just 27 points on 27.8 percent shooting from the field and just 16.7 percent from three point range.
Robert Covington shooting his way out of his slump
Robert Covington had been going through a prolonged slump, hitting double figures in scoring just once in the thirteen games between December 18th and January 10th. He averaged just 5.8 points in 19.2 minutes per game during that span, shooting 31.7 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from three-point range.
Covington seems to be breaking out of that slump.
Covington finished with 16 points on 5-12 shooting from the field, which included 4-10 from three point range. That was his second good game in a row, as he finished with 25 points on 8-16 shooting, including 6-10 from three, in Thursday’s loss to the Chicago Bulls.
The threat of Covington’s shooting opens things up for the entire team offensively.
“Any time Robert [Covington’s] hitting shots like he is, it’s tough for people to defend because they have to guard Jahlil [Okafor] and over-help,” backup point guard T.J. McConnell said after the game. “If we’re playing with pace, Robert’s hitting his shots, and Jahlil’s playing like that, we’re a good basketball team.”
“When he went into that mini-slump you’re reminded that it’s 82 games,” Brett Brown said after the game about Covington’s recent play. “I think that his cocky side and the swagger side, and some technique stuff that we’ve been talking about with his footwork, it just all came together.
“We just have to let him keep going. You continue to help remind him what he does best, and that’s to shoot it,” Brown continued.
Richaun Holmes’ playing time
Richaun Holmes’ playing time of late has been inconsistent, as the rookie did not appear in either of the past two games for the Sixers, with head coach Brett Brown instead electing to go to veteran power forward Carl Landry off the bench.
Brown gave Holmes some playing time — “Because you don’t want anybody to rot,” as Brown said after the game — and Holmes responded with 17 points and 6 rebounds in 27 minutes of play. Holmes was once again his normal self, aggressively attacking the rim off of pick-and-rolls, a style of play that saw Holmes head to the free throw line 7 times in the game because of.
Brown will have to continue to juggle playing time, finding the right balance of playing Okafor and Noel alone as the only big men on the court, while getting time for Carl Landry and Richaun Holmes, who have both been impressive in limited time. But as Holmes has continued to show, getting him consistent playing time should be a priority.
Noel and Okafor together
Ever since the addition of Ish Smith to the lineup, Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor playing together has been easier to envision.
The Sixers have only been outscored by one point — 215-216 in 109 minutes — over the last 9 games with both Noel and Okafor on the court. Okafor himself has shot 61.7 percent over that time, having success on the offensive end that the two big man lineup struggled with earlier in the season.
That played out again tonight. While 3 of Noel’s 4 blocks, and all 4 of his steals, came while Okafor was on the bench, Okafor scored 12 points on 6-6 shooting in the 14 minutes the two big men played together, and the Sixers outscored the Blazers 31-17 during that time.
“I think that Nerlens [Noel] and Jahlil [Okafor] tonight co-existed perhaps the best they have,” Brown said after the game.
The Sixers were shorthanded on the perimeter against the Blazers, as neither Jerami Grant (calf strain) or Nik Stauskas (shoulder contusion) were available to play.
Before the game head coach Brett Brown said that he expects both to be available for Monday’s afternoon game against the New York Knicks.
Isaiah Canaan and JaKarr Sampson started in their place.