76ers: another heart-breaking loss

Elton Brand scored 17 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in the loss to the Pistons. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

Each one is painful in its own right, but tonight's 112-109 loss to the Detroit Pistons -- a game that never should have been lost -- seems even more painful for Sixers' fans because it's been about a month since the last gut-wrenching loss of this kind. It had just been so long since it went down like this. Those two Washington Wizards losses were in November and the really bad one to the Atlanta Hawks was on Dec. 3.

The quick-hit recap of how it was lost: the Sixers let Detroit hang around all game, Lou Williams missed two free throws with 6.2 seconds left that would have iced the game, Detroit's Austin Daye made a game-tying three pointer with 3.5 seconds left in regulation, and then the Pistons scored the first eight points of overtime. The good from tonight's game: the Sixers are so improved that they actually are in a position to "let Detroit hang around," whereas earlier in the year simply beating Detroit would have been a triumph. Evan Turner played very well, although continuing to rely on his mid-range jump shot doesn't look like the permanent solution. Getting inside 15 feet seems like a much higher percentage for him. The bad: your go-to guy (which Williams sometimes is) missing two free throws is really tough to swallow and the Sixers looked overmatched on the glass. Looking at the minutes, the glaring statistic is Spencer Hawes only playing 17:46, although he didn't look all that effective in the paint, during his minutes, either.

The overarching good: after the game, the Sixers locker room was a very different place than it has been after previous losses of this kind. After those earlier-season losses, the feel was kind of like "Oh, no, here we go again." But tonight, that wasn't the case. Doug Collins was already showing a few of the guys some tape of that final defensive possession at the end of regulation -- trying to glean some knowledge and experience from the moment instead of letting everyone think too much about what had just happened. Guys weren't hanging their heads, but they weren't too upbeat, either -- which would be equally worrisome. It felt like a locker room for a team that knows what it is, knows what it can be, and isn't going to get sidetracked by a couple of missed free throws.

That's a lot of optimism right there, isn't it? 

After the two missed free throws, Lou wasn't the same for the rest of his minutes. He said he put it behind him, but even while walking onto the court after Daye's shot, he pounded a fist into the scorer's table. He just didn't look as confident in his subsequent shots (he took three more field goals and one more free throw after the misses). But here's how Collins played the situation: he kept Lou in the game and then, when finally substituting for him with 21.5 left, he talked to him.

"I told him those free throws did not lost the game," Collins said. "I got his back in everything he does. He's one of my best players. I want him to understand that as long as he plays for me those plays do not lose the game for us. They still had to hit a three to get the game into overtime."


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