Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry, center, reaches for a loose ball with Philadelphia 76ers' Nicola Vucevic, left, and Lou Williams during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011 in Oakland, Calif. 76ers' Jrue Holiday, rear, trails the play. (AP Photo/George Nikitin)
Before each and every game there is a white board in the Sixers' locker room that shows the other team's starting lineup and key reserves, with some stats and percentages added. Next to that is a list of they keys to that game - what the Sixers must do, in the eyes of the coaches, to win that particular contest.
The No. 1 key posted on the board before Friday's game against the Golden State Warriors was to rebound the basketball. Granted, for a smallish and non-physical team like the Sixers, that is a high priority for most games. And in Wednesday's win against Memphis, they carried that plan out against one of the toughest front lines in the league and wound up with a nice road win.
Friday, they weren't so good on the boards, despite the white board warning. Golden State posted a 52-43 advantage on the glass, and it was crucial in the Warriors posting a 96-89 win. Golden State was very conscious of getting back on defense, as they would send as many as four guys back to the defensive end when a shot was taken. Problem for the Sixers was, on numerous occassions, that one rebounder out-huslted the Sixers to the ball and kept a possession alive, often resulting in points.In the decisive second quarter, when the Warriors outscored the Sixers 32-18, they won the rebounding battle by 15-9.
There appeared to be many missed defensive assignments by the Sixers also, as four or five times during the game coach Doug Collins looked befuddled on the sideline after easy Golden State baskets, each time drawing a "my bad" from one of his players. Once, when he removed Dorell Wright from the game, the two had a long discussion about what appeared to be a missed defensive assignment.
Another sequence that stuck in my mind was an offensive one late in the third quarter when the Sixers were trying to claw back from what had been a 20-point deficit. Collins called a play from the bench, only to have to spend the next four or five seconds telling a couple of players where they were supposed to be. As the shot clock wound down, the play broke down, ending the unsuccessful possession.
The team is 30 games into the season with a 14-16 record. Granted they've been hampered by injuries to various players and the heavy, dark cloud that is Andrew Bynum is hanging over their heads. But Collins is as meticulous a coach as there is. He is ready for any circumstance during a game. Give him a situation where there is four seconds on the clock and the ball is side out of bounds in the corner of the court, and he immediately can draw up five plays. Before games he will tell the media the keys to the game and is spot on each and every night. He did it again on Friday. The whiteboard laid out the plans that needed to be carried out. And the players failed it.
Why 30 games into the season are players still having to be told where to be on certain plays? How come, when the team battled back to within four points at 84-80, Thaddeus Young reached around David Lee's left hip looking to poke the ball away while Lee was posting him in the low post. All that did was give the left-handed Lee a wide open chance to spin to his left and get an easy basket, sparking an 8-0 run that basically carried the Warriors to the 96-89 win. How come during another crucial possession, Jrue Holiday chose to take an ill-advised, pull-up three-pointer in a one-on-three situation? When is Nick Young going to realize the difference between a good shot and a horrendous one?
All in all, to be around .500 with the injuries they've had to fight through - from Jrue Holiday to Jason Richardons to Nick Young and Kwame Brown - and with Bynum not having suited up a game, 14 wins through 30 games seems about right. But you just get the feeling it could be better. Numerous times throughout games, when mistakes are made, they are exactly what Collins pointed out to the media prior to the game. If we can pick them out so routinely, certainly the players should, also.
Without the players on the court that Collins envisioned having at the beginning of the season, this team cannot just go out and win games with their talent. Attention to detail, being delivered by a coach who thrives at it, is a must. Until that happens, games like the one in Golden State (meaning winnable) will wind up in the loss column a lot more times than they should.