Communication key to 76ers defensive improvement

After a loss in Toronto last Wednesday, Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid publicly challenged his teammates to strengthen defensively as their transition struggles contributed to a fourth loss in five games.

“It’s all about effort,” Embiid said. “You have to be honest about it. It doesn’t matter what the technical staff says. No matter the game plan. If we don’t go there and execute, we’re not going anywhere.

The Sixers got back on track after a productive road movie session between games against the Raptors, but even a three-game winning streak didn’t solve all of Philadelphia’s defensive problems.

Defensive effort has always been a concern among players and coaches since the start of the season, but so has communication. In the eyes of third-year guard Tyrese Maxey, communication will be key to advancing the 76ers defense.

“The main thing is to get back to our defensive principles,” Maxey said before Friday night’s game against the New York Knicks. “Packing the paint, making sure the guys don’t score so much in the paint, helping each other. I think that’s the most important thing. Then the communication part, knowing where guys want the ball, knowing how guys need help in defense, knowing how guys like to score in different places. I think that’s one of the most important things right now that we’re trying to push forward.

Throughout training camp, some of Philadelphia’s new veterans emphasized the importance of being loud on defense and helping their teammates communicate so everyone can be on the same page. As the Sixers progress there, Friday’s game was not a complete success when it came to defensive communication.

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“It’s still a work in progress,” said veteran Sixers center Montrezl Harrell. “It’s tough because you have guys who aren’t really used to talking when they’re on the pitch, they’re quiet, and it’s going to take a while to come. You just have to keep building for that. Just keep going. trying to, you know, cover for each other and make sure we’re playing basketball the right way.

On Friday, the Knicks shot 46% from the field against the Sixers. As New York struggled from the ground up, the Knicks still scored as many points as the Sixers on turnovers, despite turning the ball over seven more times.

“You know, the whole game, I think it was pretty good,” Maxey said after the game regarding communication. “I think it was like the last three or four minutes where, you know, we dropped a few buckets, and we messed up a few comms and just a few system errors as well.”

The Sixers and Knicks fell to the wire on Friday. At the critical moment, the Knicks beat the Sixers 32-21, cutting Philadelphia’s 12-point lead and taking over. Eventually, New York managed to squeeze out of Philadelphia with a narrow 106-104 victory.

The Sixers’ offense certainly could have been better in the fourth quarter of Friday’s game, but their defense is definitely one area that remains ongoing ten games into the season.

“It’s one of those things that we have to keep making progress on,” Harrell concluded. “We have guys here who joke with each other and enjoy being with each other off the pitch, so we just have to keep it that way on the pitch.”

Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for All76ers, a Sports Illustrated channel. You can follow him for live updates on Twitter: @JGrasso_.

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