I know what you’re thinking, “The Sixers have the 2nd ranked defense in the league! What are you talking about?!” Yeah, you’re right, but it is evident that they still have a lot to improve.
In a game that looked well on its way to a blowout against the short-handed Brooklyn Nets, the Sixers allowed a 21-2 run to let the Nets get within three points with just 1:16 left in the fourth quarter.
The Sixers are as good as it gets in the NBA defensively, but there is one flaw: transition defense. The Sixers transition defense ranks 29th in the NBA, only behind the lowly Houston Rockets. They averaged giving up 15.3 fast-break points a game and gave Brooklyn 18 points on Wednesday night. Part of that second-to-last ranking has to do with turnovers, where the Sixers rank 25th in the league (14.9 turnovers a game).
Sixers Head Coach Doc Rivers has been disappointed with his team’s transition defense all year and was shown to be upset multiple times with their fast-break defense last night.
“I thought our transition D, that was the only bad part of the game,” Rivers said. “I don’t overdo the end of games when the hustle guys come in, and the other guys let up. What I didn’t like through the game, even though we had a lead, I thought transition D-wise, we were not very good, and that’s an area of concern.”
With the Sixers potentially on a crash course with the Nets in the Eastern Conference Finals, their defense needs to improve to beat the Nets at full strength. In last night’s game, the Sixers allowed numerous easy buckets for the Nets after scoring offensively.
With a full arsenal of Kyrie Irving, James Harden, and Kevin Durant, the Sixers must eliminate those easy scores for an explosive offense that can run anyone out of the gym on any given night. Even though the game slows down in the playoffs, any easy transition hoops for a team like Brooklyn will make it even more challenging to beat them in a best-of-seven series.
The Sixers did a great job defending the three last night, holding the Nets to 4-21 (19%). However, that is very unlikely to happen again in the playoffs against a healthy Nets team, with point guard James Harden creating more open looks for shooters like Landry Shamet and Joe Harris.
The Sixers have the defensive players to contain the Nets three superstars as well as any other team in the league. Still, the lazy defensive breakdowns from last night cannot happen routinely if the Sixers want any chance of making it to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2001.