Why the 76ers Should Play More 2-3 Zone

Jackson McCrae '23

On Sunday, January 31st, the 76ers were in a tough spot. They were down thirteen on the road against the team ranked fifth in the Eastern Conference, the Indiana Pacers. With Joel Embiid out for the game and Doc Rivers putting in a lineup of almost all backups, it looked like the Sixers were just playing out the last twelve minutes. However, with a lineup of Tyrese Maxey, Furkan Korkmaz, Matisse Thybulle, Danny Green, and Dwight Howard, Rivers decided to switch it up, going to a 2-3 zone. The effect was instantaneous, as the Sixers went on a run over the next few minutes. Rivers then made some slight coaching changes, putting in Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris for Maxey and Green, and the Sixers cruised the rest of the way, eventually winning 119-110.

A large part of what the 76ers were able to do that night was due to Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle at the top of the 2-3 zone, using their defensive instincts and length to disrupt everything. Thybulle has experience in a 2-3 zone, as that was the scheme he ran in college with the Washington Huskies. Thybulle had four steals and two blocks in the fourth quarter, after the Sixers switched to the zone. He is clearly very comfortable in that spot, and Matisse Thybulle being comfortable defensively makes opponents uncomfortable on offense.

Simmons and Thybulle combined for a ridiculous eight steals and four blocks throughout the game and gave the Pacers fits in the fourth quarter. As a team, the Pacers were held to five made field goals, shooting 5/17 (29%) from the field, and 1/7 (14%) from three. The Pacers highest scorer in the fourth quarter was Aaron Holiday with five points, while some of team’s best players, Domantas Sabonis, Malcolm Brogdon, and Myles Turner, were held to a combined total of three points.

It is obvious the 76ers are highly effective in the 2-3 zone, as they were able to shut down three All-Star caliber players and make a comeback in the fourth quarter. Adding Joel Embiid into that zone only makes the already strong defense stronger. The Sixers are going to need to find a balance between traditional man-to-man and a 2-3 zone if they want to take down the other powers in the East and make the NBA Finals.