Why a rare Nick Nurse miscalculation cost the 76ers the game vs Pelicans

Nov 29, 2023; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Philadelphia 76ers head coach Nick Nurse reacts to a foul
Nov 29, 2023; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Philadelphia 76ers head coach Nick Nurse reacts to a foul / Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

New head coach Nick Nurse has been one of the primary reasons behind the Philadelphia 76ers playing well to begin the season. Behind new tweaks to the offense that brought out the playmaking pizzazz of both Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey and optimized shot selection for everyone to his aggressive, bendy defensive schemes, the champion tactician has breathed new life to the franchise from the sidelines.

That being said, even the best coaches — yes, even Doc Rivers (hah) — are not insulated from making some miscalculations on the baskethball court. Be it an ineffective game plan, a vain play call out of a timeout, or an untimely substitution, the intense nature of an NBA game can get to anyone.

A rare miscalculation from Nick Nurse cost the 76ers the game vs the Pelicans

One of Nick Nurse’s faux pas this season came in Philadelphia’s latest loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on the road. With Joel Embiid being a late scratch because of an illness, the hosts feasted inside to thwart the 76ers, scoring 60 of their 124 points in the paint.

The reigning MVP’s absence was definitely huge given that Zion Williamson converted on 11 of his 12 shots and finished the night with 33 markers, while Jonas Valanciunas missed just a single field goal out of nine attempts to score 19. In addition, Philly was outrebounded 40-30, and New Orleans dominated with its physicality, netting 34 tries from the charity stripe to the former’s 18.

These figures are far from surprising in account of the fact that Nurse opted to start small by opening the game with Marcus Morris Sr. at center, probably hoping to double down on offense and take Valanciunas out of the paint on defense and counter their size advantage. However, the Pelicans quickly looked into establishing position inside, with Valanciunas and Ingram leading the charge for them with baskets in the paint early on before Williamson went on cruise control the rest of the way.

Even a quick substitution to put Mo Bamba in to add more size didn’t work, as New Orleans already built more than sufficient mojo to assert their dominance inside. Paul Reed, Embiid’s primary backup, ultimately played 26 minutes and manned the 5 for the most part, but was simply overpowered.

Overall, while Nick Nurse’s decision to play small and start Morris at center was hinged on the hope that his performnce against the lakers carries over to neutralize the Pelicans’ size, it certainly backfired. The 76ers were already undersized against them even if Embiid played. Doubling down on the lack of big bodies was a death knell.

It must be noted that Nurse also went with Morris against the towering Timberwolves a few games ago, an outing they also lost sans the reigning MVP.

Anyway, this is not a knock on Nick Nurse, but this game certainly showed how much the Philadelphia 76ers need Joel Embiid, especially against a highly physical and robust team like the New Orleans Pelicans.

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