For the second consecutive game, a stout Western Conference opponent found a way to exploit the hidden underbelly of the Sixers defense. The Spurs didn't expose the Sixer bigs on the glass, instead they put their cement feet on display for all to see by running pick-and-roll after pick-and-roll. Jrue didn't even resemble the PG who's been shutting down opponents with regularity as he tried to go under, over and around a series of picks from big men on nearly every possession and failed more often than not while his bigs proved to be more of hindrance than a help. (
Here's your rotation chart. One solid run in the second, very little of note the rest of the game:
Well, let's start by saying Jrue doesn't get off the hook because the bigs were so bad. He was part of the problem as well. He had a really tough assignment, and he didn't answer the call. He needs to be better prepared to deal with multiple picks, and he needs to realize that just because he plays the first one well (if he does, in fact, play the first one well) that doesn't mean the play is over.
The Spurs caught the Sixers off guard for most of the first half. Their plan was to attack the Sixers defense before it was completely set, before they could get their bearings, identify their help and rotation responsibilities. They'd get back on defense, turn around and the Spurs would already be attacking. It took the better part of the first 24 minutes for them to figure that out, but it still didn't solve the problem. The Spurs went early pretty much the entire game, later it allowed them to run one P&R and if it failed, the big would simply retreat to about the foul line and run it again. Tony Parker was pretty much flawless in his execution. The only success the Sixers had against the P&R was when Jrue went under the screen and gave Parker a wide-open long two. Parker missed every one of those, but he wisely didn't settle for too many.
This was, by far, the worst game of the year for Vucevic. He was downright exposed in pretty much every imaginable way. A complete disappointment. He's a rookie. Games like this are going to happen. The telling thing will be how he bounces back on Friday. Lavoy gave great effort, especially on the glass, but he also missed a bunch of assignments and got pushed around a little by Splitter.
Coming into the game, you had to give the edge to the Sixers bench. Lou and Thad both produced, but they were matched by Tiago Splitter and Gary Neal. The bench matchup wound up being pretty much a wash. The starters lost to Parker.
On the offensive end, the Sixers ran into a team that plays much like they do. Popovich's system is all about enticing opponents to take lower-percentage looks, and being just close enough to bother them a little bit. Whenever the Sixers fell into the trap, they went into offensive ruts. When they probed the defense and penetrated, they had success. Jrue had a great first half getting into the lane and setting his teammates up, for some reason it didn't happen in the second half. Iguodala got to the rim a bunch of times. Lou got in there, but couldn't get the whistles even when he seemed to draw contact. The Sixers only turned the ball over 10 times, which is a good game by anyone's standards, but they were -4 to the Spurs who only coughed it up six times.
The crazy thing about this game, and the testament to the Sixers fortitude, is that they spent the the first 39 minutes or so being thoroughly out-played by the Spurs and found themselves down by 12 points with 9:37 to go, then they came back and they had a legitimate shot of taking control of the game. After Lou set up Turner and Thad with jumpers, he missed one of his own. Lavoy grabbed the offensive board, the ball swung around the perimeter to Turner who drove baseline, found Jrue in the weak-side corner for an open three that he drained to cut the deficit to 5. All they needed was a stop on the other end. With Tony Parker on the bench, Gary Neal was running the point. The Spurs came down the floor and Matt Bonner came way out on the floor to set a screen for Neal (a moving screen, but that's beside the point). Jrue did his best to avoid the Bonner screen and Neal dribbled toward the sideline. Tiago Splitter immediately came up from the blocks to set a second screen, this time maybe two feet inside the three-point line. The best way to play Parker on the P&R was to go under. The same is not the case with Neal, who had already hit three bombs in the game. Jrue went under and kind of hesitated, waiting to see which side Neal would emerge on. Instead of meeting Jrue on the other side of the screen, Neal took one dribble, set his feet and drained a three to push the lead back to 8. That was the game. The Sixers cut into the lead a couple of times, but that was their chance. At a minimum, Jrue should've fought over the screen to take the three away from Neal. Ideally, they would've blitzed the screen and trapped Neal because he was so far out on the floor, the rest of the defense would've had enough time to rotate to Splitter if he rolled to the hoop. Everything broke down on that play and the Sixers last, best chance was squandered in the blink of an eye.
Player of The Game:
Elton Brand. EB had a ton of boards, played some solid D on Duncan, but more importantly, he came into this game with the attitude that the atrocity on the glass that happened in the Lakers game would not happen on his watch. He was the only big with a pulse tonight, too bad the younger guys didn't really pick up on his cue. Iguodala had a good all around game, scoring 17 on 12 shots, and he basically shut Richard Jefferson out until a certain female ref gave him a charity bailout foul call late in the game and he split a pair of freebies. I wish they would've run more offense through Thad, especially during droughts. He finished 8/11 for 16 points with 7 boards and 4 dimes. Jrue's assists-to-turnover ratio over the past six games is now 32:6. Lou did his best to bring the Sixers back with another fourth-quarter spurt, but he stalled when he didn't get a couple of calls, and even picked up a tech.
vs. LAC, Friday night.
Absurdity of the night:
Violet Palmer's "don't mess with me" call on Turner at the end of the first half. Possibly the most blatant abuse of power by a referee I've ever seen. She completely blew the call on the previous trip down the floor, then punished the Sixers for calling her on it. Professionalism personified. I don't blame the loss on the refs, the Sixers lost the game on their own, but it disgusts me to see refs act like that. It's one thing to be a bad ref (which she surely is), but using the whistle to make a point, that really bothers me.