Monday night’s good start by the Philadelphia 76ers against the Denver Nuggets was squandered due to a lack of consistent defense.
By Chris Murray
For the Philadelphia Sunday SUN
During his pregame press conference before Monday’s game against the Denver Nuggets at the Wells Fargo Center, 76ers head coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers downplayed the significance of his team falling behind early in games.
“If it’s a problem in mid-April, then it’s a problem, but I’m not worried about that now,” Rivers said.
But if the way that the Sixers lost to the Denver Nuggets is any indication, Rivers might want to start worrying now.
The Sixers got off to a good start against the Denver Nuggets at the Wells Fargo Center and led by as many as 19 points in the first half. But by late in the fourth quarter, Denver’s hot shooting and the Sixers’ inability to play consistent transition defense and generate better ball movement on offense down the stretch enabled the Nuggets to come away with a 114-110 victory in a matchup of NBA title contenders.
“(Denver) moved the ball; they beat us down the court. Their transition game just crushed us tonight,” Rivers said. “That’s been one of our weaknesses. That’s what’s disappointing. …”
For the game, the Nuggets hit nearly 54%of their shots and outscored the Sixers 29-11 on fast break points. In the fourth quarter, Denver outscored Philadelphia 33-22.
“We got to get our asses back on defense,” said Sixers point guard James Harden. “When the shot goes up, whether it’s through dribble penetration or whatever the case may be, two or three guys or whoever is not offensive rebounding has got to get back, and that’s really hurt us these past two. (Sunday) night it almost and (Monday) it hurt. That’s a point of emphasis, and we’ve got to keep building on that.”
With all the attention on the big matchup between Joel Embiid (34 points) and Denver’s Nikola Jokic (22 points), it was the hot-shooting rookie guard Bones Hyland that made the difference for a Nuggets that ended a two-game losing streak with their win over the 76ers. The Middletown, Delaware native scored 12 of his career-high 21 points in the fourth quarter on four three-pointers.
“We were not physical enough on defense,” Embiid said. “We made a couple of mistakes, including my leaving him wide open with two seconds on the (24-second) clock. … Overall, (Hyland) was playing freely. We wasn’t physical enough on the ball screens and had made us pay for it.”
On offense, everything went well for the Sixers in the beginning of the game. They led by as many as 19 points in the first half. But they simply couldn’t keep it going. With 1:56 left in the second quarter, the Sixers had a 12-point lead, but the Nuggets scored seven unanswered points to end the first half and cut the Sixers’ lead to five points.
Rivers said the Sixers’ inability to run the offense as smoothly as they did in the first half enabled the Nuggets to eventually get back in the game and ultimately win it. He said the Sixers were very impatient and rushed their shots after the first 12 minutes of the game.
“Offensively, though I thought we missed a lot of shots, we’ve got to get the ball moving again,” Rivers said. “I thought we were so prepared, and you can see it in the beginning of the game for all the traps and all the movements. We got everything, but as the game went on, it just dissipated. We were a one-action team, and that’s something we can’t be offensively.”
Perhaps the most glaring stat was that Harden, who scored 24 points, only took two shots in the fourth quarter. Rivers said the Sixers did a poor job of getting the ball to Harden.
“We had some many opportunities to swing it back to (Harden) with floor wide open, and before he could get it back, someone drove it and shot it,” Rivers said. “We’ll figure it out.”
With 15 games left in the regular season, the Sixers have a lot of things on both ends of the floor to fix. They must improve the transition defense that has hurt them in two of their last three games and find a way to get everyone involved in the offense, including players like Tobias Harris, who scored just 10 points for the game.
“It’s definitely difficult, but it’s go-time,” said Harden. “We’re definitely going in the right direction. I think it’s a couple of small things that we can correct. If we weren’t good enough, then it would be a problem. But we’re more than capable and good enough to fix the problems we have. We’ve got 15 games to do it.”
The Sixers are hoping they can right the ship when they take on the Toronto Raptors at the Wells Fargo Center on Sunday at 8:30 p.m.