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A Demonstrative Loss

The Sixers aren't the first team to lose a game to the Minnesota Timberwolves (Denver, Utah twice, New Jersey twice, Sacramento, Washington and Indian have also lost to them). They aren't even the first team to blow a fourth-quarter lead to the T-Wolves (New Jersey held 16 on them in the fourth in the first game of the season, only to lose), so in a vacuum, this game could be called an aberration. Unfortunately, we this game doesn't exist in a vacuum, and the manner in which the Sixers lost is indicative of the type of team they've become. A bad one.

Here's your rotation chart, a few thoughts on it below.

You'll notice the team's best and worst rotations came from the same group, the starters. Anecdotally, the reason was the T-Wolves suddenly realizing the Sixers were using Lou Williams and Allen Iverson to guard Jonny Flynn during the half, but let's take a closer look. The monster image below is the play-by-play for both stretches of the game (click to view large image in a pop-up).

The opening stretch of the first quarter was an up-and-down stretch with the Sixers getting into transition off their defense and hitting a couple of threes to buoy their scoring numbers. Overall, the defense was the key. They forced turnovers, blocked shots, controlled the defensive glass and Minnesota settled for 8 long two-point jumpers.

Two things jump out at me immediately about the third quarter. First, the T-Wolves were really moving the ball and working the clock. Not a lot of one-on-one ball being played, they absolutely were not settling for long twos (only 2 attempted). Most of the jumpers were set shots created off penetration. They were unbelievably efficient and their scoring mostly came from Flynn in the lane and Gomes on kick-outs. The second observation is that Allen Iverson was absolutely killing the Sixers over this stretch. AI3 was 1/5 from the floor with 3 turnovers and he wasn't exactly helping matters on the defensive end.

This was obviously completely lost on his coach. When he finally got around to subbing players in and out, it was Thad who went to the bench in favor of Elton Brand with 4:32 left in the quarter. Then Jordan went with Green for Lou Williams. He didn't remove Iverson from the game until there were only 51 seconds left. That's 51 seconds left in the game, not in the third quarter. Yes, you read that correctly. Allen Iverson played 23:09 consecutively in the second half of this game on his arthritic left knee, and he did so after completely hamstringing the team in the crucial 7:28 to being the third quarter when Minnesota made a game of what should've been a laugher. Excellent rotations, coach.

Jordan isn't alone in the blame for this loss, nor was this the only questionable move he made, though. Willie Green, who I'm sure Jordan said "really got after it," posted the quintessential Willie Green line: 32 minutes, 5/9 from the floor (he started 5/5, then went 0/4 in the fourth/overtime), 0 rebounds, 0 assists, 0 steals, 0 blocks, 0 turnovers, 3 fouls. To be fair to Willie, he was shooting it well early, and he did a better job on Flynn than Lou/Iverson, but only marginally. These lines have also been extremely infrequent this season, but still, when your team is flailing defensively like the Sixers did the entire second half, it's tough to justify Willie for 17 straight minutes and not a single second for Jrue.

Speaking of Jrue, 11 minutes in the first half for the kid, +7 for the team while he was in there, zero playing time in a second half and overtime that saw the T-Wolves score 68 points. But I didn't like what I saw from him on two possessions, and I really don't like what I think is the reason behind it. On one play, Willie dribbled the ball up court, it was a 1-on-4 transition opportunity (Willie was the one). Green dribbled into a 20-foot jumper and hit it. The next time down the floor, Jrue dribbled the ball up court, it was a 2-on-3 transition opportunity, and Jrue dribbled into a 17-foot jumper and hit it. Neither was a good shot by any stretch of the imagination, and I really think that shot was out of character for Jrue. Jordan's reward system is messing with this kid's head. No matter how well he defends, he's not going to play big minutes unless he's taking and hitting jumpers. Willie Green literally steals his minutes based on nothing but shooting, so he's doing exactly what his coach rewards, taking jumpers. He took an ill-advised three a little bit later, missing it. Again, the shot was not a good shot, in fact, it was a shot Willie would usually take. The only other shot he got in his 11-minute run was a baseline jumper against the shot clock, so it didn't really have anything to do with his shot selection.

I mentioned above that the blame could be spread well beyond Jordan for this one, so let's get to it. Iguodala's missed free throw was a killer, and he really missed the second as well but got bailed out by Al Jefferson pulling a Dalembert. His two turnovers in overtime, in succession, certainly didn't help either. The first was a flop by Brewer that drew a questionable whistled, the second was a blatant double-dribble. I didn't love the play with 4 seconds left in regulation, not sure if that's completely on Iguodala but I would've liked to have seen something better than a fade-away 17-footer from the wing. His line for the game was strong, but for the turnovers, but he certainly needs to do a better job down the stretch.

Elton Brand missed a pair of free throws right before Iguodala went to the line. He shot only 4/8 from the stripe tonight and he's actually been struggling from there recently. He's only shooting 63.3% (31/49) on freebies over his past ten games. Beyond the missed free throws, only 7 attempts in 27 minutes against a defensive front line like Minnesota's is simply unforgivable. I'll leave it up to you to decide if he deserves the blame for that, his teammates do or his coach.

If you can put the whole first half/second half night/day difference out of your mind for a second and look at the game as a whole, it's pretty easy to determine why the Sixers lost, statistically. They turned one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the league into one of the best with their horrible on-the-ball defense and ridiculous rotations. Nothing new. The fact that they lost to the Timberwolves minus arguably their best player in Kevin Love is unexplainable. They had such an unbelievable talent advantage in this game...oh well. The good news is the Timberwolves won, if you're into the whole John Wall thing.

Player of The Game: Kapono. He didn't get into the game, but I did notice he's grown a beard since the last time we saw him, and that's more productive than anything anyone else associated with the team accomplished today.
Team Record: 13-27
Up Next: vs. Portland, on Wednesday night.

I'll have a couple posts later today, so check back throughout.

I didn't get a chance to read the game thread before writing this, heading over there now. Thanks for keeping it going in my absence, guys.
by Brian on Jan 19 2010
Tags: Another Loss | Basketball | Sixers | Timberwolves |