Twelve poor minutes of basketball did the Sixers in tonight. It's a familiar theme. They play their brand of basketball for three quarters, then in the fourth, better teams force them into the half court and it all falls apart.
Tonight, the culprit was a two-man game played to perfection by Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry. Terry caught fire in the third, then passed the torch to Dirk in the fourth. It was predictable in that the Sixers had no defensive answer to the simple plays Dallas ran over and over again, and they had even less of an answer for the defensive adjustment Rick Carlisle made on the other end of the floor.
Jason Kidd matched up with Andre Iguodala, his assignment was to make Iguodala work as hard as possible to catch the ball. He played over-aggressive defense to deny Iguodala, and as soon as Iggy's fingers touched the leather, a double came immediately. This was the case for basically the entire fourth quarter, and although Iguodala did an excellent job under tough circumstances (2/4 from the floor with 3 assists in the fourth), the rest of the team wasn't able to spring him free or really make them pay for the doubles.
Elton Brand was brought in to command double teams and free perimeter shooters for open threes. Brand wasn't playing tonight, but Iguodala was drawing the doubles. The problem remains the same for this team, though. There's no penalty when teams decide to double mercilessly. Worst-case scenario, Iggy is going to find someone under the hoop for a dunk or a layup. There's no one on the floor to knock down a three and force the opposition to reconsider doubling the hot hand, in this case Iggy.
The Sixers actually shot very well from deep tonight, for them. Five made threes is usually about three games' worth. They did a better job of defending the three in the first half, but that was erased by shoddy perimeter D after the break. Dallas shot 8/22 from deep, 16 of those shots were open looks, mostly off simply swinging the ball from strong side to weak side and slow rotations by the Sixers.
Theo Ratliff was the first big off the bench, again. He's earning these minutes with very solid play. Noticeably absent from the Sixers rotation was Marreese Speights. I believe this has to do with his poor defense and rebounding work over the past handful of games, but there's no way to confirm. I get cutting a rookie's minutes when there's a mental lapse in his game. Sometimes that's the only way to get through to a young player, but I'm not sure completely erasing his minutes is the best way to go about it.
You may recall a similar situation around this time last season when Mo Cheeks buried Rodney Carney on the end of the bench. Mo sat Carney down and explained to him that he has to do more than just shoot threes. The message hit home and Carney returned to the rotation later in the season and played solid minutes for the team down the stretch. I believe this is what's happening with Speights right now, I can only hope that he's a faster learner than Carney was.
There's one thing I don't quite understand. In the fateful fourth quarter, the problem was obvious. When Dallas decided to take Iggy away, there was nowhere else to go with the ball. Lou and Willie had horrible shooting nights (combined 10/27), Miller had probably his worst game of the season (8 turnovers and 5 personal fouls). Thad was being aggressive, but he wasn't what I'd call efficient (4/10 from the floor). Iggy needed help out there. What he really needed was someone who could stretch the floor, yet we did not see Donyell Marshall nor Kareem Rush. Not even for a minute or two. I think this would've been a perfect opportunity to play Marshall at the four in a small lineup. Unclog the lane a little bit, maybe let Donyell pop a couple of threes and get the offense clicking.
Nothing else worked, why not give Donyell a shot in a situation like that?
Player of The Game: Iggy (22 points, 4 boards, 5 assists, 2 steals and 0 turnovers)
Team Record: 13-19
Up Next: San Antonio, tomorrow night.