Playoffs Notebook | 4.26.18
The 76ers, of course, will be tracking Thursday night’s playoff action with the keenest of keen interest.
There’s only one contest on the card, but it also happens to be the tilt of greatest relevance to the Sixers: Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series between the three-seed Boston Celtics and six-seed Milwaukee Bucks.
The Sixers, which finished the regular season third in the standings and eliminated the Miami Heat Tuesday in a 104-91 win, await the winner.
Heading into Thursday, Boston holds a 3-2 lead. If the Celts happen to prevail in Milwaukee, the Sixers and Celtics will square off Saturday at 8:00 PM EST at TD Garden in Game 1 of the East Semifinals.
When asked after Tuesday’s victory over Miami about the Sixers’ impending second-round match-up, Brett Brown seemed to sense that the days ahead would offer plenty of opportunities to discuss and dissect in detail whichever squad the Sixers draw.
Still, the fifth-year head coach had some initial thoughts.
“We got a fistfight coming again,” said Brown. “We’ve had a tremendous battle with Boston this whole season, and we’ve had some kind of erratic games with Milwaukee.”
The Sixers dropped three of their four regular season pairings with the Cs. The games were decided by an average margin of 5.8 points.
Against the Bucks, the Sixers split this year’s four-game set. The home team won each time, with the Sixers’ 130-95 romp in the regular season finale marking the most recent meeting.
Whether the Sixers end up facing Boston or Milwaukee, Brown, to no surprise, won’t be resting on the laurels of past achievements or performances.
“As I’ve said a lot the last few days, this group has more to give, this group has more to grow,” Brown told reporters Tuesday. “The longer we can buy time and continue playing, the longer Joel Embiid will get used to his mask and start playing basketball again...it all adds up into I think we’re going to get better. I really think we’re going to get better.”
Second Half Turnaround
Through the initial stages of the 2017-2018 season, finishing out games proved to be a hurdle for the 76ers.
Losses to Houston, Sacramento, and Golden State (twice) were among the early examples.
But of all the takeaways from the Sixers’ first-round series against the Miami Heat, one of the most significant was just how much the winning team has grown in this area.
Upon close of business in the NBA Tuesday night, the argument could be made that the Sixers, which eliminated Miami in five games with a 104-91 victory at The Center, are currently the best second-half team in the Playoffs.
Here’s some evidence.
Heading into Wednesday, the Sixers’ net rating in the second halves of their post-season games stood at a combined 28.2, the top mark in the league. The same could be said for the 124.7 second-half offensive rating the Sixers have generated in the Playoffs.
Another telling indicator of the Sixers’ effectiveness in second halves this post-season is that so far, they’ve gotten to the foul line, and made their shots. The Sixers, again, as of Wednesday, ranked first among all playoff clubs with averages of 13.4 and 16.8 free throws made and attempted per game, respectively.
In fourth quarters in particular, the Sixers have enjoyed similar success.
Final Sixers stats for series
28.2 netrtg * (124.7 ortg * / 96.6 drtg)
+15.6 pts *
13.4 ftm * / 16.8 fta *
42.5 opp fg%
31.2 netrtg * (124.7 / 93.5 *)
+8.2 pts *
7.6 ftm * / 9.6 fta *
42.2 opp fg%
* league best
— Brian Seltzer (@brianseltzer) April 25, 2018
“I think we’ve stayed onto something, and we haven’t pivoted out of it,” said Brett Brown, when asked during Tuesday’s post-game press conference about the Sixers’ progress as a second-half team.
Offense, defense, substitutions, crunch time plays, these points of emphasis haven’t changed much since the fall, according to Brown. The head coach has simply tasked his team with mastering them.
“That’s always the thing that makes coaches most proud of, the fact that your team gets better, and this team is really getting better,” Brown said, “and the pieces within the team are getting better, and so it all adds up.”
Improved execution, as the Sixers have learned, breeds stronger results, which, in turn, creates increased confidence.
“We still work with tremendous respect and gratitude of where we’re at,” said Brown, “but there’s an inner belief that is emerging.”
McConnell Steps Into Increased Role
Over the course of the last week, when discussing his rotation and substitution patterns for the 76ers’ Eastern Conference Quarterfinals clash with the Miami Heat, Brett Brown consistently harped in one overarching concept: that everything was fluid.
In Games 4 and 5, that dynamic bore itself out in the Sixers’ backcourt, as it was T.J. McConnell who was summoned by Brown to spell Ben Simmons at the point.
Brown first used McConnell at the outset of the second quarter, then turned to him again for an eight and a half minute stretch that bridged the third and fourth periods, soon after Simmons was called for a fourth personal foul.
In nearly 13 minutes of action, McConnell more than held his own. He tallied four points, three rebounds, three assists, and one steal, without turning the ball over.
Most important of all, McConnell made sure that the double-digit advantage Simmons helped the Sixers build remained in tact.
“I kind of just had to keep us afloat,” said McConnell. “I think that’s a role of a back up. When your starting point guard goes down or gets in foul trouble, you’ve got to ignite us with energy and keep the lead, or keep us steady. That’s pretty much what my mindset was - keep us organized, get stops on defense, and push it and go. Credit to us for doing that.”
McConnell is one of three players, along with Robert Covington and Richaun Holmes, who were on the Sixers’ active roster two seasons ago, when the team went 10-72.
“A hard-fought 10-72,” a smiling McConnell reminded reporters Tuesday.
He said that the franchise’s rapid ascent is “hard to put into words.”
“You’ve got to give credit to everyone who’s involved in the front office, and the players who have played here, and the players we have now. It’s been a long journey. You can’t leave the fans out of it. They stuck by our side throughout everything, and they’ve been hungry for a good playoff team since A.I. [Allen Iverson], probably, and that’s what we’re trying to give them.”
Check back later for additional entries to this edition of the Playoffs Notebook.