Down two games to one in their best-of-seven series against the Boston Celtics, the Philadelphia 76ers are a team searching for answers. They're getting nothing of substance out of their starting power forward, they have no answer for Kevin Garnett and they've failed to shoot 44 percent in any game this postseason.
For a team that just caught a beat down on its home floor, Philadelphia is in the enviable position of knowing that they're still in this series, despite the fact that they haven't come close to playing their best basketball.
Ever so briefly, in the first quarter of Game 3, we saw the blueprint of what the 76ers need to do if they want to advance to the next round. Based on what we've seen so far, here are 10 adjustments that the team needs to make if it wants to continue its playoff success.
Doug Collins refers the the area between the paint and the three-point arc as "the yard." Against Boston, the 76ers have repeatedly dared the Celtics to shoot from "the yard" by taking away both the interior and the three-point line.
So far, Kevin Garnett has been the big dog in the yard against the 76ers, consistently knocking down 16-to-23 footers as Philadelphia's big men refuse to chase him out to the perimeter. If the Sixers don't do a better job of closing out on Boston's shooters, they'll have trouble winning this series.
Lou Williams led the Philadelphia 76ers in scoring this year. He also led the team in "maddening plays" and "ill-advised shot attempts," although those don't show up in your typical box score.
In the playoffs, the Sixers can't afford to "waste" possessions with Williams dominating the ball and putting up shots that don't come in the normal flow of the offense. Should he be benched? No. But it is irresponsible to have him out there for long stretches if he's not making smart basketball decisions.
It's one thing if the 6'1" guard wants to attack the basket and draw contact (which he does better than anyone else on the team). It's another matter entirely when he chucks a contested 19-footer with 14 seconds left on the shot clock.
A neck injury has slowed Elton Brand against the Celtics, and while he isn't able to effectively guard Kevin Garnett, that doesn't preclude the 76ers from finding him opportunities on offense. Garnett and Brandon Bass are too long for Brand to shoot over in the paint. But, the 6'8" forward is more than capable of knocking down a 15-footer, given space.
Thaddeus Young wasn't an offensive factor for the first two games of the current series, but after his strong outing in Game 3 (22 points), Philadelphia has to figure out way to get the ball in his hands more often. He appears to be fully recovered from a shin injury he suffered in Game 1, and when rolling, is a matchup nightmare for most NBA teams.
Spencer Hawes is completely out-classed when trying to guard the Boston big men, and unless he's attacking the back boards, he's more of a liability than an asset.
Is reserve rookie center Nik Vucevic a better option? We'll never know as long as he stays glued to the bench. Vucevic had a fine freshman campaign, but hasn't played any meaningful minutes in the entire postseason. Doug Collins owes it to the team to find some quality playing time for the young 7-footer.
Considering that they are facing the fourth-oldest team in the NBA, the 76ers should make it a point to get out and run for 48 minutes. Instead, they've chosen to let the Celtics dictate the tempo of the games, and as a result, are facing a 2-1 series deficit.
At times, Philadelphia's half-court offense leaves much to be desired. They are a far more impressive team when out on the break, however, creating scoring opportunities in transition is the only way that they'll be able to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Against the Sixers, the Celtics have tallied 70 assists on 109 made field goal attempts (64.2 percent). Simply put, this means that Philadelphia is allowing Boston to execute its offense more often than not, leading to relatively easy baskets.
One of the tenets of Doug Collins' philosophy is to disrupt the passing lanes, ideally causing deflections that lead to run-outs. Instead, Boston is executing the pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop to perfection while the 76ers are left scrambling for answers. With a renewed defensive intensity, Andre Iguodala and Co. can once again take control of this series.
The Sixers are not a good jump shooting team, yet they've settled for a ton of mid-range shots against the Celtics. When that happens, they struggle to put points on the board, making it easy for Boston to keep pace.
Several 76ers are adept at taking it to the rack. Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner all convert on their field-goal attempts at the rim at a rate higher than the league average. Why they haven't forced the issue on offense is a mystery. And, until they do, it'll be an uphill battle for the rest of their postseason lives.
Both Ray Allen and Paul Pierce are dealing with injuries that limit them defensively. As such, when Philadelphia has the ball, they need to force Allen and Pierce to run off screens and make them work while guarding Turner, Iguodala and/or the other Sixers' backcourt players.
There is absolutely no excuse as to why all Philadelphia's wing players—especially Turner—aren't having superb offensive performances. Basketball is a game of mismatches, and Doug Collins isn't taking full advantage of the ones that favor his team.
During the regular season, no team averaged fewer rebounds per game than the Boston Celtics. In the Eastern Conference semifinals, however, they've out-rebounded the 76ers in two of the three games so far.
Through Wednesday, the team that has won the rebounding battle in each contest has won the game. Obviously, there are more factors that contributed to each win, but if Philadelphia can make it a point to control the boards (especially on offense), then at the very least, they'll be in a position to win at the end of the game.
It wasn't an issue in Game 3, but it is bound to happen again in this series.
In Games 1 and 2, Philadelphia had a double-digit lead late. In both cases, not only did they blow the lead in the fourth quarter, but they were one possession away from losing the game outright. They dodged a bullet in the second game at TD Garden, but they still need to learn how to put teams away if they have a big lead late. They can look at the tape of Game 3 for some pointers: the Celtics did a mighty fine job of that on Wednesday night.