Philadelphia 76ers: What’s happened to Robert Covington?

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

A 3-and-D star during the regular season, what’s happened to Philadelphia 76ers forward Robert Covington’s game in the postseason?

Of all of the factors that played into the Philadelphia 76ers Game 1 loss to the Boston Celtics, and believe me, there were a lot, one question that has stuck with myself, and scores of other Philly fans has to be the disastrous play of Robert Covington.

After finishing out the 2017-2018 NBA season as the fourth highest ranked defensive player in the NBA by ESPN Real Plus-Minus, as well as the best overall defensive small forward in the league, RoCo has struggled mightily over his first six games of playoff basketball and has made it difficult for Brett Brown’s squad to remain defensively dominant on national television.

In the 76ers’ round one matchup against the Miami Heat, in a series that the team ultimately won in five games, Covington was tasked with covering future Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade one-on-one in iso situations and was consistently exploited on drives to the basket.

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While far from the the most athletic player in the entire league, Covington’s wide 6-foot-9, 215 pound frame and commitment to doing the dirty work has allowed the fifth year forward to develop into one of the league’s best defender, with the much coveted ability to cover positions 1-4, but when facing off against a dynamic, three level scorer like Wade, he was routinely tricked into over-committing on the drive and was either knocked off balance for an easy layup, or would have to watch helplessly as Father Prime would top on a dime for a pull up jumper.

Covington was so ineffective against Wade’s bag of tricks that in Game 3, Coach Brown actually relieved RoCo of his duties on the defensive end of the court, and inserted the smaller, more athletic Justin Anderson into the game to neutralize Wade whenever he entered the game.

But after averaging a Real Plus-Minus of+5 against Miami, Covington appears to have taken another step back against the Celtics when his team has needed him most.

Facing off against an incredibly undermanned Celtics squad, who in addition to not having Kyrie Irving and Gordan Hayward also had to play without series one star Jaylen Brown, Brad Stevens proved why he’s one of the best coaches in the entire NBA by masterfully orchestrating an unlikely upset on his home court.

With former-third string point guard Terry Rozier leading his team with 29 points on 18 shots, the Celtics outscored the more or less full strength Sixers in all four quarters and finished out the game with four players scoring at least 20 points, as opposed to just two for the 76ers.

And unfortunately for Philly fans, the game was never really close.

Brown’s squad routinely overcommitted in coverage, which allowed Boston’s sharpshooters to have a field day from beyond the arc, hitting 17 of their 35 three-point attempts in route to 51 points. How many threes did the Sixers make? Oh yeah, five.


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When a team like the 76ers, who tend to get a bit three happy at times, averaging 30 shots from beyond the arc a game over the regular season, completes less than 20 percent of their three-point shots when facing off against one of the best defensive teams in the nation on their home court, it’s hard to come out of the game with a W even if everything else falls perfectly into place.

And when everything else isn’t falling into place, it can get ugly real quick.

Though it is possible to win when the three ball isn’t falling, as the 76ers did defeat the Heat twice while shooting 25 percent or less in the team’s first series of the playoffs, it’s only possible when a team can actually stop their opponent on the defensive end of the court.

Which bring us back to Covington.

With the Celtics routinely terrorizing their opponents with a steady string of pick-and-rolls, Covington frequently lost his man in coverage, and allowed Boston’s best offensive players, Jayson Tatum and Al Horford to take advantage of incredibly favorable matchups against the likes of Marco Belinelli and J.J. Redick one-on-one in the paint, with Cov watching helplessly away from the play.

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While it’s become somewhat of a luxary to get any offense from RoCo, as he’s only averaging 8.3 points while shooting 32 percent from three point range, as opposed to 12.6 points and almost 37 percent from three point range in the regular season, he’s still been able to hold his own against opposing team’s best offensive forward, but if he continues to play sloppy defense and allow the likes of Tatum and Horford to score at will from both in the paint and outside the arc, it may be time to consider changing up the team’s defensive assignments, or even subbing out Robert Covington for Justin Anderson more frequently moving forward.