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Willie and Iverson, For Defense?

I cannot possibly overstate exactly how good Jrue Holiday was tonight on the defensive side of the ball. It's impossible. The kid was simply flawless, and Cleveland continually tested him. Again and again and again they isolated either Delonte West or Mo Williams on Holiday, and he turned them away every single time. It was like a perimeter defense clinic on the court tonight. Then Eddie Jordan made a typical Eddie Jordan substitution and the game was essentially over.

Before I get into Jordan's screw up, let me just give you the Cliff's Notes version of Jrue's defensive night. He guarded either Mo Williams or Delonte West the entire night. Those two guys combined for three field goals, and here's how they happened:
  1. Iverson is guarding West, he gets lost on the baseline either helping someone or going for a steal, the ball is kicked to West about two feet behind the free throw line. Jrue leaves Mo Williams to contest the shot, but West gets it off and hits it. Not his man at the time.
  2. Jrue is on Mo Williams off the ball, Mo goes to set a screen for LeBron at the top of the circle in three-point range. Iguodala sidesteps the screen, Mo Williams immediately resets the screen and LeBron reverses course. Jrue jumps out to switch onto LeBron, pressuring him 30-feet from the hoop. Iguodala seamlessly switches on to Mo. LeBron dumps to Mo on the wing, Williams hits a jumper with Iguodala all over him, foot on the line, it's a two-pointer.
  3. The very next time they run the exact same play again. This time, for some reason Iguodala doesn't go with Mo Williams when Jrue bounces out to pressure LeBron on the switch. Instead he stands about three feet inside the three-point line, like he's providing a second layer of defense should LeBron decide to drive on Jrue. Mo Williams quietly leaks to three-point range on the wing again. A screen comes from a big at Iguodala's back, but it doesn't even matter. He's completely left Williams alone. LeBron hits him, he drains the three.

Now I don't know if I want Jrue switching those screens. Having him on LeBron is a tough matchup, but typically when you have two good perimeter defenders on two perimeter players and they set decent screens, you switch. But whether or not he should be switching isn't the point. The first time he switched and it was defended perfectly, Mo Williams just hit a really tough shot with a bigger man right in his face. When they ran the play a second time, Iguodala should've absolutely known what Jrue was going to do, and he should've known where he needed to be. He got caught in no-man's land and it cost the Sixers. In no way were either of those hoops the rookie's fault.

To recap, Jrue Holiday played 37 minutes tonight and his man didn't hit one field goal. Not one. How did his coach reward this effort? He pulled him from a 5-point game with 2:31 remaining. Jordan decided he felt more comfortable with a back court of Allen Iverson and Willie Green to bring the game home.

If you're of the mind that the Sixers needed to make shots, and Jordan went with an offensive lineup, I don't believe that's how you come back late, but I'll roll with your logic for a second. The Sixers had the ball with 2:31 remaining, Jordan had just called a time out, here's what transpired over the next several possessions:
  • Jordan draws up an inbounds play during the timeout. The Sixers can't get the ball in. Turnover
  • LeBron and Mo Williams run that exact same play again, only this time it's Wilie Green who switches on to LeBron. Iguodala sticks with Mo Williams. LeBron blows right by Willie, straight to the front of the rim and misses a lefty layup. Elton Brand grabs the defensive rebound and fires ahead to Iguodala who is fouled on the floor.
  • The Cavs are in the penalty, meaning the clock is stopped for Iguodala to take the free throws, and Eddie Jordan has an opportunity to make a defense for offense substitution. He does not. He's happy with the matchup the Sixers just had on the defensive end. Iguodala hits both free throws. The score is now 101-98. A three-point game with 2:04 remaining and Eddie Jordan is happy with Iverson and Green in the back court.
  • This time Mo Williams has the ball and they run the exact same play again, only reversed. LeBron doesn't even set a screen on Green, he just decides to switch it for no reason, apparently he wants to cover LeBron. LBJ drives to the hole again, unmolested and blows another layup. Varejao grabs the offensive rebound. The Sixers have an opportunity to set their defense as Varejao pulls the ball out, Willie chooses LeBron. Twice, Iguodala and Green have a chance to switch back, both times they elect to keep Willie on LBJ. LeBron giggles, then hits a jumper right in Willie's eye. 103-98, Cavs with 1:16 remaining.
  • The Sixers bring the ball in, Willie trails the play up the floor. Iguodala passes to him at the top of the key, he takes a contest three and bricks it. LeBron grabs the rebound.
  • On the other end of the floor, the Cavs run the exact same play again. Willie again switches without any contact being made. You can see Iguodala shaking his head at Green for the switch. LeBron giggles again, backs Willie off him and takes a three, but comes up short.
  • Iguodala misses a three on the other end. Shaq grabs the rebound and he's immediately fouled, but the team isn't in the penalty yet. LeBron takes the ball out of bounds, Willie doesn't even try to deny the ball to Mo Williams, a 90% FT shooter, he lets him catch it in the back court, then fouls him. Williams hits both FTs on the other end. Giving the Cavs a seven-point lead with 28 seconds remaining.
  • The Sixers use a timeout to advance the ball. This time Jordan draws up a play to get Iguodala a decent look at a three and he hits it to cut the lead to four with 25 seconds to go, 105-101.
  • Now, when there's no defense left to be played, only intentional fouls, Jordan decides he should get Jrue back in the game. The game was essentially over there. After Anthony Parker hits 1 of 2 from the line, Jordan takes another TO and draws up a play to spring, you guessed it, Willie Green for a quick two. Willie bricks the layup, two more foul shots, game over.

If you look at the stat sheet, you'd say Willie did a hell of a job on LeBron in that final 2:31, but that's simply not the case. LeBron got right to the rim twice, hit an 18-footer right in his face and came up short on an uncontested three. Our coach essentially made a substitution that allowed the best player in the game to go one-on-one against Willie Green continually with the game on the line. On the other end, he had had Willie Green take two of our final four shots, again with the game on the line. If anyone can explain this to me without using the words "Worst coach in the league," I'd love to hear it.

Ultimately, the Sixers probably lose this game no matter who's on the floor for the final 2:31, but that doesn't excuse asinine substitutions and non-substitutions. Green and Iverson is the absolute worst defensive back court we can put on the floor, hands down. Jordan had multiple opportunities to get Holiday in there, even if it was only to defend, and he failed to. Unforgivable.

The ending marred what was a decent effort by the Sixers tonight. They put a ton of points on the board against a solid defensive team. Of course their defense was horrible, which I find unfathomable considering 20% of their lineup was basically shut out for the 37 minutes Jrue was on the floor, but still, Cleveland's offensive efficiency rating was 124.3. And if you thought the small lineup would help with the horrible three-point defense this team has been playing, like our beloved coach said it would, well you were wrong. In the past two games, the opponents have hit 18 of 33 three point attempts, that's 54.55%.

Just a few more notes in bullet form:

  • Speights played 22 minutes in his return, two-weeks early, from an MCL sprain. He came out gunning and had a couple really nice plays with Jrue
  • Iguodala was clutching his ribs most of the night, had an amazing alley-oop from Iverson, and finished with 26 points on 8/15 from the field and 7/7 from the line. He didn't play a second at SG.
  • Brand played 33 minutes at the five off the bench, mostly because Sammy Dalembert had his worst game of the season and found himself in Jordan's doghouse early in the third quarter. Brand hit his first three shots then spent the rest of his night being completely ignored in the offense. His other two makes came on putbacks after working the offensive glass. He was also the only Sixers with a positive +/- at +1.
  • Iverson had a rough shooting night, finishing 4/12 for 16 points, but he was 8/8 from the line and chipped in 6 boards and 5 assists.
  • Thad was very, very aggressive again and notched double-digit boards for the third consecutive game, a huge landmark for him. He wasn't efficient with his shots, however. He finished with 16 points on 15 shots, only got to the line twice and like Iverson, didn't score a single point in the fourth quarter.
  • Speaking of fourth-quarter scoring, it went like this: Speights scored the first four (on two beautiful setups by Jrue Holiday.) Brand scored the next five (on two offensive rebounds.) Wilie scored two. Iguodala scored the last 10.
That's all I have for tonight. The "you can't win if you can't defend" mantra doesn't really fit. I guess tonight it should be, "you can't win if only one guy is defending."

Player of the Game: Jrue Holiday. 9 points, 9 assists, 2 steals, 1 turnover, plus all that defense. By the way, Jrue is the youngest player in the league, and Ty Lawson couldn't guard my daughter, just FYI.
Team Record: 6-19
Up Next: @ Beantown, Friday night.