Tucker has wake-up call for Sixers following dismal defeat


Three games into his Sixers tenure, P.J. Tucker apparently felt a wake-up call was appropriate at around 8:30 p.m. Saturday night. 

With a loss at Wells Fargo Center to the Spurs, the Sixers slid to 0-3.

“I’ve been through these and we’re not ready yet, honestly,” head coach Doc Rivers said. “We’re just not. We’re not ready to win yet. You can feel that, and so we’ve got a lot of work to do. It’s almost like we played these first two games hard, competed, and then felt like, ‘OK, now we can win some games.’ You’ve still got to go out and earn the game. 

“Tuck was yelling that after the game, and he was right. No one’s just going to give you a win. You have to go get it — and you have to do it a lot. Every night. You can’t pick and choose when you’re going to show up. And right now that’s what we’re doing.”

As usual, there are many explanations for a team beginning a season in deeply disappointing fashion. 

“Defensively, we were slow — we were behind,” Rivers said. “Offensively, we just cannot get pace. We started out in the third quarter and I thought we got a little bit of pace. We got the ball in (Tyrese Maxey’s) hands more and he got up the floor. I thought James (Harden) even pushed it up more in the second half, but our pace is bad. And we’re always up against the clock offensively, which we shouldn’t be with what we have. And then defensively, right now — and I said it (after) the Boston game — even when we make a run, we can’t get a stop. … We have a lot of work to do.”

Rivers’ characterization of the Sixers’ pace was not excessively negative. 

The team sits last in the NBA in that category. Thus far, 85.8 percent of the Sixers’ plays have come in the half court, per Cleaning the Glass, a figure that also ranks 30th. They’ve played in transition just 11 percent of the time, which is worst in the Eastern Conference. 

More aggressive, turnover-forcing, transition-sparking defense sounded like a reasonable ambition before the regular season, but the Sixers have yet to successfully adopt that style. 

“Today, lack of defensive effort,” Tobias Harris said. "We do have to give them credit, they made tough shots. But on our part, that’s not the standard of defense that we hold ourselves to. The second quarter, 35 points for them. Third quarter, 31. Our standard is 25 or less. That’s not how we know we can defend.” 

De’Anthony Melton also harped on effort and communication at the Sixers’ Saturday morning shootaround, but neither was abundant in the evening. For Tucker, a 37-year-old who’s played 41 playoff games over the last two seasons, it’s clear to see why this type of basketball would be intolerable.

The Sixers’ four main offseason pickups — Tucker, Melton, Danuel House Jr. and Montrezl Harrell — totaled five points on 2-for-7 shooting in 70 minutes against San Antonio. 

“Honestly, not too much,” Harris said of challenges related to integrating new players. “The offense is what it is. We don’t have (much) extremely complex stuff out there, even with new guys. Defensively, as well. We have guys who can play defense. It’s on us to figure out how we can keep the ball in front us and scramble for each other when we have times that we do get caught off guard and off balance. 

“To say, ‘New guys, this and that,’ yeah, it takes time to build chemistry, but on the offensive end and defensive end, it’s pretty basic stuff.”

A solid encapsulation of the Sixers’ night came during a 19-second stretch in the third quarter. 

Maxey tried to throw a sideline out-of-bounds pass to Tucker on the right wing, but Keldon Johnson stepped in for a deflection that disrupted what should’ve been a routine play. The ball caromed off both Tucker and Maxey before leaking out of bounds. The Spurs then came down the court and ran a pick-and-roll with Josh Primo and Gorgui Dieng. Maxey fell a half-step behind the play and Harrell picked up Primo as he circled under the rim. The problem was Maxey also kept chasing the 19-year-old guard, who wrapped a pass around to the unguarded Dieng for a very easy dunk. Harrell stared at Maxey in disbelief. 

Regardless of personnel, those sorts of sequences don’t happen often for teams that earn NBA wins. The 2022-23 Sixers still haven’t.

Meanwhile, their next opponent just did; the Pacers beat the Pistons on Saturday behind a 24-point, 10-assist performance by Tyrese Haliburton and a 27-point game from rookie Bennedict Mathurin. 

The two remaining winless teams in the Eastern Conference entering Monday night's action will be the Magic and Sixers.

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