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They blew another lead but not the game, hanging on for a 117-111 win in the regular season finale against the Toronto Raptors.
The takeaway could be that they almost coughed it up, or you could go with the glass half full approach as they found a way to weather a Raptor run and make enough plays down the stretch for a good win against a really good team.
It was a 102-101 ballgame with 3:03 to play and Ben Simmons, who had missed his last two shots and turned the ball over three times in a row, drove right to the rim for a contested bucket. After a stop on the defensive end, Simmons came right back down the floor, put a defender on ice skates, then dished it out to Dario Saric for his only three pointer of the game, a triple that extended the Sixer lead to six points.
That was it, right? Aggressive Simmons showed up to close out the game.
The next trip down, he tried to find Saric in the low post and turned the ball over, leading to a Sixer foul and pair of foul shots for DeMar DeRozan.
With a four-point lead, Simmons was intentionally fouled and sent to the line, where he nailed both free throws. Later, he stole the ball, but missed the ensuing dunk. That was really Philadelphia in a nutshell, where they did a lot of great things, then followed up with errors. But they did more of the former and less of the latter in buckling down to beat one of the NBA’s better teams for the first time this season.
1) Blowing leads
Brett Brown was asked about the blown lead after the game, and specifically whether these scenarios were having a mental effect on the team, in the vein of, ‘here we go again!‘
“I think there could be a little of that. I think there could be. It’s the common things we talk about. I think you’re gonna hear me talk about turnovers. You’re gonna usually hear me talk about fouls. That’s not the case today (only 28 fouls for Philly, 31 for Toronto). You can talk about youth. I mean, look at some of the things we did at the end of the game, when all we had to do was like dribble it out, and instead we’re playing volleyball, and we can just dribble it out, spread it out, and win the game. At the end, going too early with middle pick and rolls with Joel and T.J., we should be going a little later (in the shot clock). Ben coming in, and his heart’s in the right place trying to find Dario. Joel, we know they’re going to double team him. That’s the stuff that keeps me up, really late at night. But we found a way to win. To our team’s credit, we went on a 7-0 run when game was in the balance. But I think that attitude, that feeling, that ‘uh oh, here it comes again,’ there’s probably a little bit of that in there. It’s stuff where we just have to get older and keep pushing forward. It’s not a mystery to me of why it happens. And it’s not simple, like, now you know why you’re sick, here’s the medicine. It’s not that. It’s growing a bunch of young guys and it’s part of the challenge. We’re 20-20. We’ve played Toronto and they’re done. One more game with Boston and they’re done. Houston done, Golden State’s done. In a twisted way I like where we’re at, but it is something I hear you on.”
I mean, if I told you that the Sixers would be 20-20 at this point with one of the NBA’s toughest schedules, you’d take that, wouldn’t you? The blown leads are what they are. You can’t blow a lead if you don’t build a lead, and I think the pragmatist starts with that when evaluating the Sixers.
You just don’t take a 20 point lead and then go on to win by 20. The only teams that do that in the NBA are the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets, and it really does not happen that often. The Warriors put up 127 in Toronto last weekend and hung on to win by two points.
Ben Simmons, a guy who was dogged by foul trouble on some poor calls yesterday, kicked it up a notch when it really mattered. T.J. McConnell passed on an open three and was whistled for traveling, but poured in some crucial second-half points and a few key hustle plays. Joel Embiid committed too many turnovers but made some clutch free throws and rebounds.
So even though these guys are making errors along the way, you see that these three specifically have the capability to make plays down the stretch, and I’m looking at what they did yesterday and seeing a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel, not focusing on how the team almost blew it again, because they didn’t.
2) Turnover tracking
A lot of talk about turnovers yesterday, which I figured would be a topic, so I wrote down every single one as the game progressed to identify when they happen and how they happen.
Here’s what I came up with:
- Covington travel
- JJ Redick bad pass
- Embiid offensive foul (push off while jockeying for low post position)
- Booker dispossessed in transition after a steal
- Embiid traveling
- Dario bad pass
- Simmons trying to throw ball off a defender, comes off him instead
- Simmons offensive foul (charge, probably a bad call)
- McConnell loses ball in traffic
- Robert Covington loses ball in traffic
- (with 19 point lead now)
- Embiid bad pass
- Embiid loses handle, ball stolen
- Embiid bad pass out of timeout
- Saric offensive foul
- (lead down to 12, then extended back to 21)
- shot clock violation
- Embiid offensive foul
- Simmons bad pass
- Simmons inbound bad pass
- Simmons offensive foul (not a great call)
- McConnell traveling
- Simmons bad pass
- Embiid loses handle
I’ve got 22 logged. ESPN.com only has 21, so they must have corrected something after the game. I’m not sure which one they went back and changed. Let’s just work off what I wrote down for the sake of the exercise.
As far as intervals, you see they committed 9 in the first half and 13 in the second half, so there was obviously a little more slop as they were blowing the lead. But even after the 14th turnover, that sequence where Embiid coughed it up three times in a row, their lead remained at double digits. At that point in the game, they had committed 64% of their turnovers and still had a 12 point lead.
From there, they had a shot clock violation, a couple of offensive fouls, and a trio of Simmons plays that really killed them down the stretch. Admittedly, two of the whistles on Simmons were really tough calls, so you could honestly say that his TO number could be slashed by at least one whole digit.
Here’s the basic breakdown of how they coughed it up:
- Three traveling
- five offensive foul
- eight bad pass
- three lost handles
- one shot clock
- one dispossession
You see it’s still passing and ball handling that kills them the most, which matches the numbers over at NBAMiner.com, where Ben Simmons is the fourth-worst in the NBA with passing turnovers:
Embiid is third-worst in lost ball turnovers.
The offensive fouls and traveling calls are what they are. It happens. Some of those whistles were questionable. And on the Booker turnover, he steals the ball, tries to move up court, gets the ball poked loose, and is credited with a turnover during what I would describe as a fluid play.
But more than anything, they built a 12 point lead while turning the ball over 14 times, so they’ve proven that they can push the margins even while making sloppy mistakes. It’s the cluster of Ben and Joel chunk turnovers that kill momentum and rhythm more than anything.
I’ve said before how this team is not going to change who they are, and that you’re just going to have to live with the turnover numbers based on the way they play the game (up-tempo and rhythmic). Brown elaborated on that Monday:
“I’m assuming some people saw the Golden State/Toronto game the other night. It’s the same, you know, Toronto was down 20-whatever points and found a way to come back. Turnovers are something that coaches are not proud of. I’m a little past the fact that, at times if you wanna lead the NBA in passes, and if you wanna play fast, and you wanna give a 4-man the ball and call him a point guard for 40 games, and you want to roll out Joel even though he doesn’t practice that much, then you’re going to have some turnovers. That doesn’t justify that they’re okay, but it does validate or better explain at times why we have them. Our mission is to continue to reduce them, but not let it be something where we’re scared. I don’t want these guys playing scared. I want them playing smart. We kind of stamped off a style of play. We won’t walk the ball up the floor. That’s not who we are. That’s not how I want to play. It comes with some pains.”
That’s not how I want to play.
If you want to criticism him, which is fair, the angle isn’t necessarily cleaning up turnovers, it’s about whether Brown is trying to carve out an identity for this team that makes sense.
Overlooked in the blown lead and turnover storylines is the fact that the Sixers did a really nice job on Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan yesterday.
Lowry finished 3-16 and 1-5 from three point range for 13 points.
DeRozan was 8-18, 0-4 from three, and finished with 24.
The Raptors really shot like shit for the first three quarters, starting 0-10 from three-point range before finally hitting midway through the third period. Delon Wright was the one who actually keyed the comeback, shooting 5-5 from behind the arc in the second half.
DeRozan was obviously frustrated by the job Robert Covington and others did on him. He was unhappy with a no-call that caused him to push the nearest Sixer out of annoyance, and that happened to be McConnell, who didn’t back down from the confrontation. The officials copped out of the sequence with a lame double technical:
— Nick Piccone (@nickpiccone) January 15, 2018
A short time later he fired up an air ball from deep before throwing a step-back three pointer off the side of the back board. The Sixers held him to his third-lowest scoring output in the last nine games.
As for Lowry, his frustrating return from injury ended with a double ejection alongside Simmons. He was welcomed back to Philly with cheers, then booed off the floor in the fourth quarter.
4) T.J. McConnell
A career-high 18 points, plus 8 assists, 6 rebounds, 3 steals and a block.
Yet when he spoke to the media after the game, he expressed disappointment with his decision to pass up on an open three-pointer in the second half. That’s T.J. for ya.
He showed up big-time when the Sixers needed something yesterday. And for a bench that has underwhelmed this season, he’s been the most likely to contribute when the rest of the second unit just doesn’t have anything else to provide.
If he can continue to get to his spots on the floor, hit those pull-up jumpers, mash along the baseline, and create for his teammates, he’ll make the evolution from local fan-favorite to a bona-fide and consistent NBA contributor.