The 76ers have multiple problems, which is why they face a 3-0 deficit to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals. One of the problem areas that needs to be turned around if the Sixers don’t want to be eliminated is receiving better production from starters Robert Covington and Dario Saric.
The Celtics’ defense has provided very few easy looks for either player.
Covington is averaging just 8.7 points in the series. He had one good game, scoring 22 points on 8-for-15 shooting in the 108-103 loss in Game 2. During the other two, he is shooting a combined 0-for-14 from the field. In the series, he is shooting 4 for 16 (.250) from three-point range and has a minus-21 rating.
For the series, Covington is shooting 8 for 29 (.276) from the field.
Saric is averaging 12.3 points and 7.0 rebounds, but he has struggled shooting from deep range. He has hit 4-of-14 threes (.286) and 13 of 35 overall (.371). More alarming is his plus-minus total: he is minus-40 for the series.
The Sixers’ bid to stave off elimination begins at 6 p.m. on Monday at the Wells Fargo Center.
— Marc Narducci (@sjnard) May 6, 2018
“It is no secret when you study Boston’s defense, they really crawl into them and make them be dribblers,” coach Brett Brown said after Sunday’s practice, referring to the way the Celtics are defending Saric and Covington. “If they can create off the dribble, it seems like they will live with that.”
Creating off the dribble isn’t a strength of either player.
Brown has a solution, but making it work is another thing.
“I feel like it is stuff with movement and pace that can best free them up,” Brown said. “You would like to say, let’s set better screens, but they (Boston) switch everything and so the separation there at times is hard to find.”
It would make sense that both players would benefit in a transition game, but in the postseason, fast-break opportunities aren’t as plentiful. The Sixers are averaging 13 transition points in the three games.
In Saturday’s 101-98 loss, Saric had eight points by halftime, all in the second quarter. During the second half and overtime, he made just 1 of 4 shots.
Despite his shooting woes, Covington remains both defiant and confident, not even admitting that he has struggled to score.
“I am not struggling to score, it is just the shots are not falling,” Covington said after practice. “That isn’t struggling.”
“Shots are not falling,” Covington said. “It is not that I am struggling to score. It’s the same shots I shot all three games, it’s just some go in and some don’t.”
Most of them haven’t.
In addition, Covington has had to cover Celtics rookie sensation Jayson Tatum for a good part of the past two games.
Tatum has averaged 24.3 points this series and 22.5 points the past two games.
“You got to try to beat his moves,” Covington said of Tatum. “He is very shifty.”
Tatum seems to be capable of creating his shot at will.
“I have got to use my length against him better and beat him to the spot a little faster and anticipate better what he is doing,” Covington said.
Saric, who wasn’t available for comment Sunday, was a vastly improved three-point shooter in the regular season. The second-year forward shot 39.3 percent after hitting just 31.1 percent as a rookie.
What Saric and Covington have found is that Boston isn’t leaving them as open as they were in the Miami series.
Against Miami, Saric averaged 16.6 points and shot 37.5 percent from beyond the arc. Covington averaged 9.4 points against Miami, but just like Saric, shot 37.5 percent from three-point range.
So Boston’s defense has been tighter and the Sixers’ shots harder to come by and to make. Covington and Saric don’t have to be the main offensive producers, but they must show great improvement if the Sixers hope to extend this series to a Game 5 Wednesday in Boston.