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Have Sixers gone soft?

Monday’s loss to Boston showed how a less aggressive approach to offense might have rubbed off on defense.

Sixers timeout against the Raptors. (Steven M. Falk/Staff Photographer)
Sixers timeout against the Raptors. (Steven M. Falk/Staff Photographer)Read more

BOSTON - They are the three words coaches loathe saying and should be the ones that make players cringe. Following Monday's 108-89 loss to the surging Boston Celtics, Sixers coach Brett Brown was emphatic in describing his team's play.

"We didn't compete," he said after his team fell behind by 20 points in the first quarter and never was able to mount any sort of comeback against a team that has won 10 of its last 13 games.

The coach's words were stinging, almost as much so as the tone in which he said them. Losing has become the norm in Brown's two seasons, but so has hard play and a competitive spirit that defines whoever he is given to throw out on the court. Monday, neither hard play nor competitive spirit was evident.

Despite Brown warning of how well Boston had been getting out on the break of late, the Sixers were slow getting back on defense. When Boston set picks, you would have thought the Sixers were being blocked by All-Pro offensive linemen, for their inability to get off the picks.

Perhaps the softness that was displayed Monday was an aberration. Or maybe it's the style of play that has been adopted at the offensive end since the trade deadline that is leading to suspect defensive play.

The days of taking the basketball hard to the hoop, which was so ordinary when the guards were Michael Carter-Williams and Tony Wroten, have given way to the three-point bombing from the likes of Isaiah Canaan and company. The offensive toughness from pre-All-Star break has given way to the finesse of long-range bombing. Maybe it carries over to the other end of the court.

The Sixers shot 8-for-24 from the three-point line against Boston. That was a low number of attempts compared to how they'd been launching threes in the previous six games. During that time, the team launched 214 treys for an average of 35.7 a contest. That is a huge number for any team, especially one that hasn't been very good from beyond the arc during Brown's tenure.

"That is some big numbers that we have put up," Brown said. "It's always we go back to, are they contested? Is it a bad shot? Does somebody else have a better shot? We talk so much about people's form. 'Is it a good three? No, it was contested. Maybe it was, but he's got a better one. Yes, it's a good shot, but your form's poor.'

"We take the third-most [threes] after the All-Star break. Our team has changed dramatically. We led the NBA and we're among the top three now on attacking the rim. After the trades and movement, we've inherited a bunch of three-point shooters . . . We want the best of both those worlds - attacking the rim and shooting threes. A lot of those threes have been produced because we attack the rim and then pass. I like that formula. Somewhere out there, we have to get Nerlens [Noel] the ball and take less contested threes. Other than that, we're OK with it."

When that formula is being attempted, it does make for a good mix. On Monday, however, there were very few hard penetrations to the basket, which may have been a big contributor to the soft play at the other end of the floor.

"The locker room has changed a lot over the All-Star break, but there's a small, core group of young guys that carry the message that our goal is to move them forward and end the season competing and improving," Brown said.

For one of the few times all season, that message wasn't received on Monday.