First-year 76ers coach Doc Rivers has been saying the same thing since training camp about the importance of defense. He said that there will be nights when the Sixers are not on their offensive game and that the defense would have to keep them competitive.
While there have been exceptions, such as Thursday’s 106-94 loss at Miami, when the Heat shot 66.7% in the first quarter, the Sixers defense has been how Rivers envisioned it would be.
And with the playoffs starting next week, one of the reasons the Sixers should be considered a major threat in the Eastern Conference is their ability to defend.
They have the second-best defensive rating in the NBA, allowing 107.0 points per 100 possessions. Only the Los Angeles Lakers (106.8) are better.
Taking it a step further, in their previous 10 games, the Sixers by far had the NBA’s best defensive rating (103.8). The New Orleans Pelicans were a distant second (107.1).
Ben Simmons has long been touted as a potential candidate for defensive player of the year. Despite averaging just 20 minutes per game, Matisse Thybulle has made a case to earn a spot on one of the NBA all-defensive teams. He leads the NBA with 3.8 steals per 100 possessions.
Rivers has often talked about how Joel Embiid’s defense has been overshadowed by his offense. Danny Green, 34, while maybe not the player he was, is still a versatile defender. One reason George Hill was acquired at the March 25 trade deadline was his reputation as a defender.
Green, who has won championships with San Antonio, Toronto and last year with the Lakers, says that defense is the key in the postseason.
“There are going to be nights when you are off offensively. You’ve got to find a way to grind it out and win those games,” Green said after Thursday’s loss in Miami. “We’re a pretty good defensive team. That’s what helps us lead to our offense, big transition for us, a lot of easy baskets.”
To Green’s point, the Sixers are third in the NBA in fast-break points, averaging 15 per game.
One of the areas in which the Sixers have been deficient defensively is in transition. The Sixers are allowing the second-most fast-break points in the NBA, 14.4 per game. Only Houston (14.9) is worse.
Of course, in the playoffs, the games often slow down to a halfcourt setting. So the Sixers might not be able to count on having as many transition opportunities.
If that is the case, it will help the Sixers on defense and hurt them on offense.
One other area the Sixers will have to improve on in the playoffs is the turnover department. While they have gotten better as the season has gone on, they still are averaging the 10th-most turnovers, 14.6.
They have also allowed the eighth-most points off turnovers, 17.3 per game.