Sixers' Jahlil Okafor: 'I did do what I was supposed to, and that's retreat.'
76ers center Jahlil Okafor on Friday addressed the video that has gone viral of his defensive shortcomings against the Miami Heat. While he took responsibility for what occurred, the second-year player said he was fatigued and did what he was instructed to do.
NBA TV, ESPN and a couple of local television stations aired the clip of Okafor basically standing still, exerting little to no effort late in the first quarter of Wednesday's loss to the Heat at AmericanAirlines Arena. He's also been criticized on talk radio for it.
"It doesn't get to me," Okafor said of the negative reactions to his perceived lack of effort. "As a team, we were poor defensively. Obviously, I know about the clip that everybody is talking about. The persona of me not caring defensively is false."
He didn't provide much resistance, however, as Heat point guard Goran Dragic attempted a jump shot right in front of him with 3 minutes, 16 seconds left in the quarter. Then he was outrebounded by Heat swingman Rodney McGruder one second later. McGruder circled around Okafor before passing to center Hassan Whiteside, who scored right in front of the Sixers big man with 3:09 remaining.
Okafor said he talked to assistant coach Lloyd Pierce, who's in charge of the defense, about the clip.
"He said the same thing I did [about] the defensive concepts," Okafor said, "and I was to retreat, retreat, retreat. And I understand visually it looks bad, because I was fatigued. I played the entire first quarter, and I was tired.
"I'm not making excuses for me. It's what the facts were. I did do what I was supposed to do, and that's retreat."
Okafor played the first 9:15 of the game before Richaun Holmes subbed in for him. Okafor said that was the longest stretch he's been on the court for the start of a game. He is still getting back in shape. His playing time was inconsistent before Nerlens Noel was traded to the Dallas Mavericks on Feb. 23.
"That game in particular in the first quarter, there was a lot of running up and down," he said of the Heat matchup. "So I did feel tired in the first quarter."
But in the sequence in question, he was adamant that his job was to retreat to the basket.
"We had an amazing roller in Hassan Whiteside," Okafor said. "My job was to not allow either one of them [Dragic or Whiteside] to get behind me, and of course, McGruder runs and gets the offensive. I'm accounted for that, too. That's my fault as well, supposedly. That's what everybody is trying to make it out to be.
"But the coaches are happy with the way I'm improving. Every day, I'm going to continue to work."
Follow and contact 76ers beat writer Keith Pompey on Twitter and on Instagram at PompeyOnSixers.