Sixers Fade Late in Opening Loss to Pacers

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

A tremendous effort from Tony Wroten wasn’t enough for the Sixers to hang out for victory.

Indiana 103, Philadelphia 91 – Box Score

With the number of Indiana injuries heading into this contest, the Sixers were facing arguably the weakest opposing starting 5 they’ll go against all season. The Pacers were down to their third-string point guard in Donald Sloan, and in the early going, the Sixers harassed him and the other Indiana ball-handlers to force a plethora of turnovers and start easy run-outs for fast break points. An underrated aspect of the Sixers roster is that they don’t have a single player shorter than 6’6″. All that size, length, and athleticism can really wreck havoc on the opposition when these young guys are making the appropriate defensive rotations. Their defensive potential was on full display at the start of the game as the Sixers jumped out to a quick double-digit lead.

Alas, the upset bid was not to be, as the readily apparent flaws in the roster where on full display to aid the Pacers. First, the Sixers are really hurting for size, and struggled to defend Roy Hibbert all night as the Indiana big man recorded 22 points, 8 boards, and 7 blocks. Time after time, the Sixers were forced to foul Hibbert down low as a last resort, and he made them pay by hitting 10-13 free throws. For large stretches of the game, they had Malcolm Thomas on Hibbert, giving up 5 inches and 35 pounds. Thomas became so frustrated during one sequence that he shoved Hibbert (who then pretty egregiously flopped) and a scuffle broke out.

The other big concern was the lack of depth on the back half of the roster. Hopefully, this issue won’t be as big a deal when Luc Richard Mbah a Moute returns this weekend and Michael Carter-Williams does a few weeks down the road. However, last night when the Sixers brought in the likes of Thomas and JaKarr Sampson, things just fell apart. With Tony Wroten (whose outstanding performance I’ll get to shortly) and the starters out there, the Sixers were arguably the better team than the depleted Pacers (quite the feat, I know). It was huge double-digit runs by the Pacers at the tail end of the first and third quarters against Sixers reserves that ultimately decided the game. Once C.J. Miles and Chris Copeland eventually hit a few of those wide-open threes the Sixers are bound to give up, it was all over.

However, there were flashes of excitement and good play, so let’s get to the good, the bad, and the ugly:

The Good

  • Tony Wroten – Filling in for MCW at point guard, Wroten looked every bit the part last night, dropping a team-high 22 points. Most encouragingly though, he recorded 7 assists against just 1 turnover, as he played much more under control and avoided those sloppy plays of his as a result of running at 150% speed. Plus/minus isn’t a perfect stat by any means, but his team-best +8 perfectly encapsulated how well the team played with him running the show, versus how poorly they looked without him around to create offense. He’ll likely never be a good shooter (1-4 from three and 3-8 from the line), but this version of Wroten is a legitimate weapon in the NBA.
  • Alexey Shved – I just mentioned how plus/minus isn’t a perfect stat, and I think Shved’s -16 proves that point. He played quite well individually and having to play large swaths of time with the second-unit brought down that number for him. Shved looked great in the pick-and-roll, using his size to easily survey the defense and both scoring (18 points) and finding open teammates (5 assists with zero turnovers). We saw some of this in the preseason, but I also like his propensity for throwing alley-oops. They don’t always work, but hey, the team is going to be bad, might as well try and make things exciting. Check out his alley-oop feed to Malcolm Thomas in the first clip of the video below; good stuff.

The Bad

Nerlens Noel – The Sixers rookie looked outmatched offensively in his first real NBA contest, shooting just 2-11 and 2-6 from the line. A lot of the talk surrounding him was how obviously he needs to put on weight, as it’s nearly impossible for him to fight for good positioning down low. With his outside shot still a pipe dream at this point, if he can’t operate in the paint, he’s a huge offensive liability in the half court set. The Sixers went to him in a post-up situation down just 4 with 4 minutes left, but he got out-muscled, lost his balance, and was called for traveling. The Pacers would hit a three-pointer on the other end and the Sixers never came close again.

The Ugly

JaKarr Sampson – Boy, that was an ugly professional debut by Sampson. The undrafted free agent went 0-4 from the field, got called for a charge, and was burned on a couple occasions defensively. He was a -13 in just 8 minutes of first half action, and unsurprisingly, Brett Brown did not go back to him after halftime. I know it’s just one game, but Sampson is the early frontrunner to be the first out of town when Sam Hinkie’s first 10-day contract walks through the door.

All in all, the Sixers showed some promise, were never out of the game, and gave us a largely exciting 48 minutes of basketball. That’s about all we can ask for while we wile away to the next draft lottery. They’ll next face the Bucks in Milwaukee Halloween night.

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