Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Sixers lost. Again. Wednesday night’s defeat at Indiana went to overtime, where the Sixers — sans rookie star Joel Embiid, who was forced to stay home to rest — lost 122-115, the seventh scoreboard setback in as many games this season.
It would be simple if the Sixers were getting blown out each night, a clear sign the roster still doesn’t have enough talent. But of the seven losses, four have been decided by seven points or less, with the seven-point loss Wednesday night going to overtime, an indication that this year’s Sixers squad can compete.
They just can’t win.
“We feel like it’s a game that we could have won,” head coach Brett Brown said after the game. “We give Indiana credit, but we leave Indiana feeling that we made a step forward. We were a heckuva lot better tonight than we were against Utah and we look forward to seeing them on Friday to try to get another crack at trying to get a win.”
It’s really hard to get too upset when this version of the Sixers loses, even close games, because it’s not close to what the full roster was supposed to look like at this point in the season. Ben Simmons is months away from playing, Nerlens Noel got hurt in pre-season and has basically just disappeared from the team and Jerryd Bayless, who was brought in this off-season with Sergio Rodriguez to run the offense until Simmons was ready to take over as primary ball handler is, himself, still fighting to get back from injury.
Still, this makeshift team slapped together around Embiid has been more competitive than not so far this season, and taking Indiana to overtime on the road Wednesday should have fans excited for Friday, when the Sixers host the Pacers with Embiid in the lineup.
And yet, regardless of who has been on the floor, the same problem persists. The Sixers can’t finish off games.
The Sixers are shooting 37.3 percent from the floor in the fourth quarter this season. Despite rolling off ten straight points to take a six point lead against Indiana on Wednesday, Brown’s troops finished the fourth quarter shooting 10-for-28 from the floor (35.7 percent). They scored 25 points in the quarter, their most of any fourth quarter this season, but they allowed 25 as well, including a Paul George jumper with seconds to go in regulation, to force overtime.
In overtime, the Sixers scored just six points, surrendering 13. They made one of their seven shots in the extra session, scoring the rest of their points from the free throw line.
Just once in seven games this season have the Sixers outscored their opponent in the fourth quarter. Just twice have they shot better than 39 percent in the fourth quarter. (Scroll the chart below to see more.)
Sixers Fourth Quarter/Overtime Scoring
|Opponent||Score||Final +/-||4Q/OT Att||Made||Missed||FG%||4Q/OT Pts||4Q/OT Opp||4Q/OT +/-||2H/OT Pts||2H/OT Opp||2H +/-|
Just once in their seven games have the Sixers outscored the opposition in the second half, dropping 10 more than the Cavs after halftime in a game they lost by just a point. In the other six losses, the Sixers were outpaced in the second half by an average of 15.3 points per game. The close losses have been even tougher down the stretch.
In the season opener against OKC, the Sixers were outscored by 12 points in the fourth quarter. They lost by six.
In the two-point loss to Orlando, the Sixers were outscored by five points in the fourth quarter, and 16 points overall in the second half, after holding a 57-43 lead at halftime.
In Wednesday’s loss to Indiana, the Sixers were outscored by 13 points in the second half and overtime, losing by seven. But back in regulation, the Sixers still had a final chance to win.
“We ran a play to either get Gerald [Henderson] a lob at the rim or sort of into a direct isolation post type entry into Jahlil [Okafor],” Brown explained after the loss. “We had hoped we would get something more toward the rim than him fading, but that’s the shot that he took. I think for his growth and in the future you want him attacking and going at people, especially in that situation with three seconds.”
It seems like each game has come down to that one little play here or there. A flagrant foul on a wild deflection that cost the Sixers the game against Orlando. A turnover as the clock expired on what was probably a foul on Henderson to fall to the Cavs. Each close loss is a separate moment, but the totality of the season is striking. All those separate moments keep adding up to losses, and the Sixers are in these last-second situations because they aren’t able to close out teams when they have the lead.
The only anomaly to the second half and fourth quarter woes is the loss to LeBron James and Cleveland, but a closer look at that game highlights the biggest problem with the Sixers: The last three minutes of close games have been atrocious.
As Marshall Harris of CSN Philly tweeted, all eyes were on the Sixers finish against the Pacers and in the final three minutes of regulation, the Sixers made three of their seven shots, scoring eight points. But they allowed Indiana to score 11 points to force overtime.
In OT, the Sixers missed six of their seven attempts and had two costly turnovers to lose by seven. That’s a trend that needs to be corrected, and it’s something that has fans and pundits wondering if Brown is a seasoned enough in-game coach to secure these types of victories. (Scroll the chart below to see more.)
|Opponent||Score||Final +/-||4Q/OT Att||Made||Missed||FG%||F3Min Att||Made||Missed||F3Min Pts||F3Min Opp||F3Min +/-|
Perhaps coaching isn’t the problem at all. The Sixers are 6-for-25 from the floor in the final three minutes and overtime of their four close losses, with a combined 10 turnovers, half of which were charged to Embiid.
In the loss to Cleveland — again, the only game the Sixers outscored their opponent in the fourth quarter — they were 1-for-1 from the floor in the final three minutes, a fantastic percentage if you look beyond the fact they took one shot in the final three minutes of an NBA game.
The Sixers had five turnovers with the game on the line against Cleveland, unable to even get off a single shot in the final 2:35.
In overtime on Wednesday, Dario Saric hit the Sixers’ only made shot on the first possession after the tip to put the Sixers up by two. The team didn’t score again until Saric drained two free throws with 58 seconds to play, cutting the Pacers lead from six to four. Robert Covington added two free throws 30 seconds later, the last points the Sixers would score.
Brown was asked why he pulled Hollis Thompson after a nice scoring run in the fourth quarter and he talked about Henderson’s defense and the fact Thompson was tired. The play the Sixers ran at the end of regulation could have been designed better. Or Okafor could have done more with his opportunity. On the other end of the floor, after the Sixers took the lead on a Henderson three pointer, how can the defenders lose George so easily on a screen? Was that Covington’s fault for not fighting through, or Saric for being unable to get out and make a stop?
Or was it coaching? Or all of the above? These are the questions the Sixers are still trying to find the answers to. And until they win a close game — any game — the questions are still going to be asked.