76ers Cough Up Another Late Lead, Fall 122-115 to Pacers in OT
Another day, another game, another loss. Another avoidable late-game collapse.
The Philadelphia 76ers traveled to Indiana without star rookies Joel Embiid (rest) and Ben Simmons (fractured foot) to take on the Indiana Pacers (4-4, 4-0 at home) last night, falling 122-115 in overtime for their seventh-straight loss to open the season.
The game followed an all-too-familiar script for the 76ers and their fans, with late game execution costing them yet another chance at a win. The 76ers held a 106-100 lead after Dario Saric hit a 20-foot pull-up jump shot with 1:35 remaining in regulation.
The Pacers scored the next 7 points, all by point guard Jeff Teague, giving them a 107-106 lead with 30 seconds remaining. Gerald Henderson (17 points, 8-14 shooting on the night) then jumped into a game-tying three-point shot off of a broken play with 6 seconds left, seemingly lining the Sixers up for their first win of the season despite what had the makings of yet another late game collapse.
But if there’s one thing Sixers fans have learned over the last few years it’s to never count out a 76ers opponent in a close game.
The Pacers were able to use a (probably illegal) baseline screen from CJ Miles to free Paul George from Robert Covington, forcing rookie Dario Saric to switch out to George. George hit the game-tying step back jumper with 3.9 seconds left, and a Jahlil Okafor step-back jump shot as time expired did not fall, sending the game to overtime.
The 76ers would score just 6 points in overtime, shooting 1-10 from the field with 2 turnovers in the extra frame.
The ending spoiled what had otherwise been a good game for the 76ers, at least offensively. Robert Covington (23 points, 8-16 shooting, 5-9 from three) led a diversified perimeter attack for the Sixers, with Hollis Thompson (19 points, 7-12 shooting), Gerald Henderson (17 points, 8-14 shooting), Jahlil Okafor (15 points, 7-11 shooting), and Dario Saric (14 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists) joining him in double figures.
It was the second strong game in a row for Covington, who has connected on 8 of his 13 three-point attempts over the last two games after starting the season off shooting 5-30 from deep.
The strong play of Covington and Henderson, along with Dario Saric’s all-around contributions, forced Brown into some tough decisions with regards to his lineup, as Thompson, despite scoring 10 points in the 4th quarter to keep the 76ers in the game, didn’t play in the overtime period until being subbed in with 37 seconds remaining and the Sixers down 119-113.
Despite a drop in playing time Thompson is averaging 8.9 points per game in just over 20 minutes per night, shooting 43.5 percent from three-point range on the season.
Sergio Rodriguez, who entered the game 6th in the NBA at 7.7 assists per game, struggled mightily for the 76ers, shooting 1-14 from the field and finishing with just 5 assists in 31 minutes of play. The Sixers were -12 with Rodriguez on the court, and his defensive struggles and ineffective perimeter offense were key contributors to the late-game collapse.
Defense was optional for both teams for most of the night, especially on the perimeter, where the two teams combined to connect on 41.8 percent of their 55 three-point attempts.
For as much attention as the Sixers late-game offense will receive — and they struggled, scoring just 9 points on 2-13 shooting in the final 1 minute, 30 seconds of regulation plus the 5-minute overtime period — it’s the pick and roll game that cost the Sixers last night, and on the season as a whole.
The Pacers, a relatively middling pick and roll team so far on the young season, attacked Sergio Rodriguez and Jahlil Okafor in the pick and roll relentlessly, finishing the night with 42 points off of pick and roll derived plays.
The Sixers, by contrast, scored just 23 points in pick and rolls.
It’s been a theme throughout the year, as the 76ers are last in the league in both the number of points generated off of pick and rolls and also the per-possession efficiency, generating a pitiful 0.58 points per possession off of pick and rolls, per NBA.com play type data. They are nearly as likely to turn the ball over (23.1 percent of the possessions) as they are to score (26.9 percent).
On the other end of the court the Sixers yield 1.20 points per possession to opponent pick and rolls, which is tied for the third-worst pick and roll defense in the league.
For all the wizardry of Sergio Rodriguez as a passer off the pick and roll, he doesn’t have the athleticism or the deadly jumper off the dribble to be a high-volume scorer off of pick and rolls. In fact, in pick and rolls involving Rodriguez that end in a shot, drawn foul, or turnover, Rodriguez is twice as likely to be a passer in such plays than a scorer.
And Rodriguez may be the best option head coach Brett Brown has. Fellow point guard T.J. McConnell is even more hesitant to shoot, Robert Covington has never really developed a pull-up game, and Gerald Henderson’s pull-up midrange game isn’t likely to yield efficient results if asked to do so at a high volume.
With the game on the line teams tend to simplify their offense, putting dynamic ball handlers into pick and roll situations and asking them to create. This was evident last night, as Teague, Ellis, and George took turns attacking the Sixers in basic pick and roll sets. The Sixers don’t really have the personnel to do that, and it makes executing down the stretch needlessly difficult. The 76ers, by virtue of not having this offensive staple to fall back, are going to struggle to consistently close games out successfully.
That doesn’t mean head coach Brett Brown hasn’t struggled in late game situations, especially with some of his substitution patterns and time out decisions as he tries to make this flawed lineup work. But the combination of big men who struggle mightily to defend the pick and roll, especially without Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel on the court, combined with having no perimeter scorers who can reliably score off the most basic, fundamental, and relied upon play in the modern NBA really place Brown behind the eight ball.
The 76ers will have a rematch against the Pacers at home on Friday night, where they expect to have Joel Embiid back in the lineup. Embiid is leading the team in scoring at 17.6 points per game, finishing nearly 40 percent of the offensive plays for the Sixers while he’s been on the court so far.