Losing a Winnable Game – Observations from Trail Blazers 118, Sixers 114

Photo Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Some NBA losses you just shrug your shoulders and move on to the next one, but this wasn’t one of them.

In Portland on Thursday night, or should I say Friday morning, the Sixers ripped off an 8-1 run to play their way into the ballgame, then just failed to execute down the stretch in an ugly final minute. They committed an offensive foul, got whistled for a questionable defensive foul on the other end, and then failed to get off a shot with their final possession, falling victim to former Sixer Robert Covington, who ironically deflected the inbound pass.

I say “ironically” because people could never discuss RoCo in a reasonable way when he played here. Detractors thought he was an average three and D guy while his supporters would always talk about peripheral stats like deflections, so go figure he gets a hand on Ben Simmons’ inbound pass to win the game for the Blazers.

The most chatter this morning centers around this foul on Tobias Harris, and here it is for your viewing pleasure:

Damn. That is a tough call. I can see why they called it, likely because the ref didn’t think Harris was in position. That’s what Alaa Abdelnaby is saying when Harris is “leading with his hip” as Melo rounds the corner trying to collect the ball.

“The last play was a tough foul on Tobias,” said Doc Rivers. “They had to call it. I thought that Carmelo tripped, but lucky for him he tripped into Tobias, and that foul is always going to be called.”

For what it’s worth, here’s what the NBA rulebook says about these kinds of infractions:

“A player shall not hold, push, charge into, impede the progress of an opponent by extending a hand, arm, leg or knee or by bending the body into a position that is not normal.  Contact that results in the re-routing of an opponent is a foul which must be called immediately.”

Rivers was asked if he thought about challenging the call, and said no, definitely not with one timeout remaining. If he used the challenge there and lost, the Sixers would not have been able to stop the clock and advance the ball for a final look on the offensive end.

As such, Melo hit both free throws, making it a 116-114 game, and that brought us down to the game’s final sequence, with the Sixers inbounding on a multi-option play, resulting in this:

Rough way to end it.

You see Covington playing completely off the ball as a roamer, so when Joel Embiid goes to set that pin down for Harris, the Sixers are actually working a 2v3 there. That’s what allows Covington to circle back, read the pass, and deflect it.

“Portland did a great job of sagging off the passer,” Rivers explained. “Really it was supposed to to go to Joel or Tobias, or Seth (Curry) in the left corner. We had three options on it. I didn’t think it was a very well-run play. I could have run a better play. But listen, I didn’t want to turn the ball over either. That’s tough. Tough way to end the game.”

Nice job by Portland, and I’ll just whip up a quick diagram here:

Nothing fancy, just good defense. They use Covington to shadow Embiid, leave the passer unguarded, and then get that extra body in the paint when Joel tries that pin down screen to free up Harris.

Bench issues

Poor bench game for the Sixers, who were missing Shake Milton.

The group of Dwight Howard, Matisse Thybulle, Tyrese Maxey, and Furkan Korkmaz was 7-20 from the floor, 1-10 from three, contributed 19 points, and committed eight fouls.

“They just didn’t get organized,” said Rivers of his second unit. “Really disappointing. We put them in easy sets and they just didn’t run it, honestly. Maybe the pressure of Portland took us out of it a little bit, I don’t think so, but I have to go watch and see why. But I thought because of that it carried over to the other end. They got frustrated on the offensive end and I thought that carried over to the defensive end.”

Maxey’s production has dropped off significantly from the mid-January heater he was on. In four games in the month of February, he’s averaging five points and shooting 41%. In two of those games he’s only played single digit minutes. Surely the people who thought he was “untouchable” when the James Harden rumors were flying around feel a little silly now. Tyrese is a good player and will only get better, but he’s a rookie. We all need to understand that there will be hiccups along the way.

Other notes

  • Poor three-point shooting night. They were 6-27 from deep, which is a robust 22%.
  • 4-12 shooting night for Tobias, who has cooled off just slightly. He’s averaging 19.6 PPG in February but was playing at an All-Star level in January, pouring in 22 a night on 53% shooting. He finished that month with a 53/47/81 shooting line.
  • 23 points, 11 rebounds, 9 assists for Ben Simmons, who was 10-12 from the floor and had some really nice touch on that short hook last night.
  • Ho hum, Embiid with another 35 points and 11 trips to the foul line.
  • Seth Curry looks like he’s shrugged off the COVID diagnosis and quarantine, which is good news.

We made it to Friday. Have a fantastic weekend.

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