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Monday, March 04, 2024

Harris, Maxey, and Oubre Lead the Way as Philadelphia Outlasts Dallas, 120-116

The Philadelphia 76ers sans 2023 regular season MVP Joel Embiid--who missed his 14th straight game due to a knee injury--defeated the Dallas Mavericks 120-116 on Sunday afternoon. Tobias Harris scored a team-high 28 points, Tyrese Maxey added 24 points, and Kelly Oubre Jr. contributed 21 points in 26 minutes off of the bench for the 76ers. Luka Doncic scored a game-high 38 points, grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds (tied with the 76ers' Nicolas Batum), and dished for a game-high 10 assists to join Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, and Russell Westbrook as the only players to have at least three consecutive 30 point triple doubles. Kyrie Irving scored 28 points, and Derrick Jones Jr. had 21 points in 26 minutes to match Oubre as the game's highest scoring bench player. The 76ers enjoyed significant advantages in points in the paint (52-42), turnovers (committing just nine compared to the Mavericks' 17), and bench scoring (41-26); it is worth remembering how much depth and defensive versatility the Mavericks gave up to acquire Irving.

Hubie Brown provided the color commentary for ABC, and this is the third 76ers game for which Brown has provided color commentary since February 23; his most recent telecast was when the Bucks defeated the 76ers 119-98 on Sunday February 25, and he also did the color commentary when the 76ers beat the Cavaliers 104-97 on Friday February 23.

Before this game began, Brown noted that Doncic is not only leading the NBA in scoring while ranking third in assists, but he also ranks 19th in rebounding (first among guards). Brown emphasized that Doncic plays with great "physical force," using his strength to score in the paint while also being prolific from three point range. The only thing that I would add to Brown's scouting report is that Doncic’s rebounding and ability to advance ball with either the dribble or the pass echo the way that his coach Jason Kidd played; Kidd was a one man fastbreak, and so is Doncic, even though his body type and playing style are both different than Kidd's. Regarding Maxey, Brown said that the key question is, "Can you lead and make the plays when you get trapped?" He added that this is particularly important in the last five minutes of close games.

The Mavericks jumped out to an 11-0 lead, and that would usually be significant because the NBA--contrary to popular belief--is not so much a fourth quarter league as a first quarter league: early leads often are the result of matchup advantages that can and will be exploited throughout the game. Here, though, the 76ers countered with a 32-11 run to end the first quarter with a 32-22 lead, and the 76ers did not trail the rest of the way. Maxey scored 17 first quarter points on 7-10 field goal shooting. Brown commented that Maxey is "answering the pressure" of being the team's number one option with Embiid out of action, and Brown mentioned that Maxey is very dangerous going right because of his explosive quickness.

Doncic and Irving started slowly with Doncic scoring three first quarter points on 1-6 field goal shooting (though he did have five assists) and Irving failing to score after shooting 0-1 from the field. Both heated up in the second quarter: Doncic scored 12 points on 5-6 field goal shooting, and Irving had seven points on 3-4 field goal shooting as the Mavericks outscored the 76ers 29-24 to trim the 76ers' lead to 56-51. The 76ers' Buddy Hield committed a backcourt foul--with the Mavericks in the bonus--with less than a second remaining in the first half, and P.J. Washington nailed both free throws. Brown said of Hield's gaffe, "That's a gift." The 76ers only committed one first half turnover, and they scored 30 points in the paint, while the Mavericks coughed up the ball 11 times and scored just 16 points in the paint. 

Brown does not just talk about star players. He praised Paul Reed's game overall, and he focused on how Reed makes himself "available" for the pass while staying active on the boards. Reed had 13 points and seven rebounds for the 76ers. Brown pointed out that Harris' post ups on the block versus smaller defenders drew double teams that led to open three point shots. Brown described this game as one characterized by three "streaks": the Mavericks' 11-0 run at the start, Maxey's subsequent 17 point first quarter explosion, and then Maxey scoring just two points in the second quarter and the third quarter combined. Maxey missed the last four minutes of the third quarter after slipping and banging his head on Derrick Jones Jr.'s right shin, but after being examined by medical staff Maxey was cleared to return for the fourth quarter. Maxey played all 12 minutes in the final stanza, scoring five points.

Brown also talked about the league-leading Boston Celtics, saying that the Celtics are "9-10 deep with established players. They can defend." Those words proved to be prophetic, as later in the afternoon the Celtics dismantled the Golden State Warriors, 140-88. TNT's Charles Barkley recently said that the L.A. Lakers and Golden State Warriors are not championship contenders; the Celtics seemed determined to prove Barkley correct about the Warriors while also getting a (small) measure of revenge for the Warriors clinching the 2022 championship on Boston's home court.

Down the stretch, Brown said, "This is about Dallas playing halfcourt defense." The Mavericks outscored the 76ers 40-30 in the fourth quarter, but that was not quite enough to complete the comeback attempt. Oubre provided a big lift in the fourth quarter, scoring 11 points. Doncic (18 points) and Irving (10 points) shined offensively in the final 12 minutes, but--as Brown correctly stated--the Mavericks needed to string together stops in order to prevail. 

Doncic's 30 point triple double happened anticlimactically, as Brown's play by play partner Dave Pasch mentioned that Doncic had been credited with his 10th assist without specifying exactly when that happened. Doncic is a great player on the way toward becoming an all-time great player, but some of the numbers being posted in today's NBA--not just by Doncic, but in general--should be viewed with a skeptical eye. For example, take a look at Doncic's 10th assist at the 1:34 mark of the fourth quarter, granted by a Dallas scorekeeper who must have known that time was running out for Doncic to notch his third straight 30 point triple double: Doncic passed to Irving, who caught the ball on the right wing outside of the three point line, sized up defender Kyle Lowry, took two hard dribbles, and then nailed a fadeaway jumper in the paint. What contribution did Doncic's pass make to "assist" Irving's field goal? Irving scored on a one on one move. Here is the NBA's rule book definition of an assist, as quoted in an article that I wrote on December 18, 2008:

An assist is a pass that directly leads to a basket. This can be a pass to the low post that leads to a direct score, a long pass for a layup, a fast break pass to a teammate for a layup, and/or a pass that results in an open perimeter shot for a teammate. In basketball, an assist is awarded only if, in the judgement of the statistician, the last player's pass contributed directly to a made basket. An assist can be awarded for a basket scored after the ball has been dribbled if the player's pass led to the field goal being made.

Doncic's pass to Irving did not contribute directly to the field goal being made. The NBA retroactively rescinded a phony LeBron James triple double in November 2014, but the league has been very inconsistent (and not transparent) about how/when/if it reviews scorekeeping errors; my subjective belief/observation is that the NBA rescinds egregiously incorrect triple doubles that receive a lot of media attention, but that the league does not have the inclination to systematically review scorekeeping errors. My research years ago indicated that assist totals in general--and Chris Paul's assist totals in particular--are inflated, but based on the NBA's indifference it is evident that the league would prefer to have gaudy numbers to promote and thus is disinclined to look too closely behind the curtain. This is unfortunate for players who accumulated their numbers during eras when assists were awarded with much less leniency.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:34 AM



At Monday, March 04, 2024 12:09:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, off topic question: Why are Heat unable to get over the hump despite being one of the best playoff teams of the last few years?

The heat are probably the most impactful team/franchise of the past 5 years to not have a ring. The last few seasons have had an incredibly variety of competition and talent and the Heat have proven to be one of the most well run behind the likes of Riley and Spoelstra and headed by Jimmy. This much is obvious and I’m not stating anything new, but despite being seen as perennial contenders in spite of their often underperforming regular seasons, what’s preventing them from taking home the title? I think that for as good as they’ve been, and as close as they’ve come, there has to be some structural or roster failures that are preventing a championship as this point. These shortcomings may be minor, but there’s not a lot of margin for error in the NBA.

The Main thing I’ve wanted to highlight is Miami’s seeming philosophy that the regular season doesn’t matter or that it’s better used for experimentation and finding lineups and rhythms at the expense of winning percentage. Every organization has a degree to which they want to prioritize regular season winnings against being prepared for the postseason, as they act very differently from each other as the game slows down and defense becomes stiffer. Since their playoff streak started in 2019-20, the Heat have been the 5th, 6th, 1st, 8th, and on pace to finish around the 6th to 8th seed heading into what is going to be a bitterly contested eastern conference.

An often brought up point when it comes to contention is Phil Jackson’s famous 40-20 rule. The Heat have only cleared this once and seem intent on defying it, and it certainly isn’t infallible(IE Houston in 95), but when looking at NBA playoff statistics when measured against Jackson’s principle, it becomes abundantly clear that the regular season DOES matter. Despite Miami’s incredible talent and having who many consider the best coach in the league, is it possible that Miami’s ability to turn it up in the playoffs is somewhat mitigated by the fact that their consistently low seeding forces them to have an uphill battle to come out of the East? Last year it often felt like they were out of gas by the time they were facing off against Denver.

There’s more points one could bring up like injury, if their roster is truly good enough, etc, and I very much do want to see these things mentioned if they’re relevant. But I’ve been wanting to discuss the Heat both as to their status of being a contender and the relation of regular season winning to postseason success. I’m not the smartest person out there and I don’t crunch numbers like some people do, but I think it’s a topic worth talking about.

At Monday, March 04, 2024 1:41:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I have discussed the Heat in various playoff previews and playoff recaps, so I would refer you to those articles for a detailed analysis of the Heat.

The short answer to your question is that the Heat are undersized, and they have an anemic offense that is too easy to shut down for elite playoff teams. As just one example, consider the 2023 NBA Finals: the Nuggets held the Heat to 96.4 ppg on .407 field goal shooting while outrebounding the Heat by nearly 10 rpg.

At Friday, March 08, 2024 10:40:00 AM, Blogger beep said...

not really related, but I'm curious what do you think of young, hungry teams of Minnesota and Oklahoma and their unexpected rise to top of Western Conf.? do you plan any article/analysis of them?

At Friday, March 08, 2024 11:03:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Both teams have been better than I expected, but I am still skeptical that either will make deep playoff runs (even before KAT suffered his knee injury). I am not sure how much I will write about them during the regular season (though I did the OKC team preview for Lindy's Pro Basketball magazine), but of course I will analyze them in my playoff preview.

Briefly, young teams that tanked to acquire most or all of their players don't tend to win anything significant. That is one reason that I am skeptical about OKC. Another is that OKC lacks size and thus gets pushed around on the boards.

As for Minnesota, Barkley often says that they are "dumb as rocks," and we still see that at times even during this excellent season. In the playoffs, you can't give away possessions, let alone games. Assuming that KAT can get healthy, though, I like Minnesota's chances more than OKC's chances because Minnesota has a bigger team with more playoff experience.


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