It was just a matter of time until the Sixers’ pick-your-poison style of defense paid off. After suffering big losses to the Warriors and Wizards this weak beneath a hail of three-pointers, the Sixers finally met a team that missed.
Or maybe it was matter of execution.
The Sixers overcame a slow first quarter to whip the Cleveland Cavaliers, 94-79, on Friday night to halt a two-game losing streak (see Instant Replay). They won in part because the Cavs shot poorly, connecting at a 33-percent clip from the field with just nine three-pointers.
Given that the Warriors and Wizards combined for 33 three-pointers in back-to-back games, Friday’s win was a step in the right direction.
“The defensive is something we talked about a lot,” head coach Brett Brown said. “You see the numbers against us in the previous two games with the threes and all those types of things and we didn’t roll over.”
The Sixers were down by 14 points after the opening quarter, but took a two-point lead into halftime. By the end of the third quarter, the Sixers led going into the final quarter of a game for the first time this season.
According to Brown, the Sixers did a lot more than watch the Cavs miss shots and corral the rebounds. Actually, the coach says, the Sixers’ woes in defending the perimeter weren’t because of a failure to contest shots while the focus remained on protecting the paint. Instead, it all gets back to energy and running.
Because the Sixers were slow on transition defense, they got burned on three-pointers, Brown says. Against the Cavaliers, the Sixers were able to push the pace offensively and defensively.
The result was the Cavs’ poor shooting.
Cleveland went 9 for 26 from three-point range. They also settled for a lot of long two-pointers, hitting just 7 of 29 shots in the area outside of the paint and inside the thee-point line.
“What we saw as a coaching staff was a team that was beyond bad in transition defense,” Brown said. “It started there and everything grew from there. I feel like the thing I get from it was watching a tape and seeing the carryover and seeing it and working out in the game.”
Credit sixth man Tony Wroten for providing the spark. With the Sixers posting just 14 points in the opening quarter, Wroten pushed the pace on both ends of the floor during the second quarter and was on the floor with point guard Michael Carter-Williams in crunch time during the fourth quarter, too.
Perhaps it was the combination of Wroten with Carter-Williams that gave the Sixers the defensive boost? At the very least, Wroten’s offense surged while on the floor with the rookie point guard. The result was a career-high 18 points on 7-for-14 shooting with a pair of three-pointers, four rebounds and four assists.
Carter-Williams had nine rebounds (four offensive) with seven assists and 11 points.
That’s not a bad backcourt combo.
“Tony responded to backing up Michael Carter-Williams,” Brown said.
The next step for Wroten is consistency. Though he is a bundle of energy every time he hits the floor, Wroten sometimes has problems harnessing that exuberance. With double-digit scoring in five of six games, Wroten is fairly dependable off the bench in helping with some scoring.
But the ratio of assists to turnovers (11 to 9) isn’t ideal. Of course, those numbers might be the result of an energetic player trying to make things happen.
“It’s taking a risk,” Wroten said. “It’s something I’ll need to work on, but at the end of the day I’m going to try and make plays.”
Brown agrees, adding that in order for Wroten to raise his game, he’s going to have to find a middle ground between high energy and poise.
“He plays with reckless abandon. He’s an attack-first guard,” Brown said. “His challenge is can he take that fantastic mentality and polish it up to where there is a level of intellect and poise and say, ‘OK, now you’re an NBA point guard.’ There’s a collision there if you’re not careful. That’s the challenge of coaching Tony Wroten. He plays with his heart on his sleeve and he gets emotional. He can throw the greatest pass you’ve ever seen in your life, or he could hit someone in their shoe. That’s the challenge of coaching Tony.”
The Sixers and Cavs get at it again on Saturday night in Cleveland for the second game of a back-to-back. After that, Brown’s old team, the San Antonio Spurs, come to Philly for a game on Monday night.