Bizarre, unlucky, unfortunate, predicatable ... There are plenty of labels for tonight's 93-88 loss to the Atlanta Hawks. This is what it's like to follow the 76ers. The team can be up 18 points in the first half, 17 points in the third quarter, and 13 points with 8 minutes, 45 seconds left, and at no time do you feel like a victory is guaranteed.
And at no point is a victory guaranteed. In the final 8:45 of tonight's game, the Sixers produced an exotic mix of missed shots (including one badly missed dunk by Lou Williams) and turnovers to finished the game 1 for 13 from the field and watch the Hawks take their first lead of the game on a three-point play by Al Horford with :31.1 seconds remaining.
You can check out a quick video of Doug Collins from after the game, which should be embedded in this post. You can see the frustration dripping from him.
"I’m sort of proud of myself a little bit because those kinds of mistakes, probably, I would have blown my brains out a few years ago," Collins said after the game. "And I just know I can’t do that. I can’t do that. That would do no good to these guys at all."
The truth of this team is -- as Collins said after the game -- there's just no one who can make a basket when a basket needs to be made, when the opponent is in lockdown mode, when the game is in crunch time. There are plenty of guys who can fill it up when things are going back and forth and each team is loose. But down the stretch, there really isn't anyone. Again, tonight, Sixers swingman Andre Iguodala missed a trio of jumpers, two of them fadeaway, in the game's final few minutes, but the reality of the situation is that he was the only one stepping to the plate looking to create a shot and playing without fear.
"They just pack it in, there’s really no place for him to go," Collins explained. "We’d like for him to be able to get that ball to the basket. We ran two or three situations and they sort of just walled him in, there was really no place for him to go. So in fairness to him ..."
Collins spent the final half of the fourth quarter urging his guys to "play to win," but the problem might not be mental as much as it is a question of scoring ability in those final possessions.
"We always play to win, but I think the point he’s trying to get across is that we start getting hesitant, under 3 or 4 minutes, instead of making aggressive plays like we do up until that point," said Sixers guard Lou Williams, whose missed dunk with just under 5 minutes left in the game that would have bumped the Sixers' lead to 11 points.
"I think we get tight," Collins said. "I think there’s that feeling, ‘I don’t want to make a mistake.’"
Right now, rookie Jrue Holiday has made a number of mistakes down the stretch of games, and you can sense some fear from him. Jodie Meeks failed to catch the inbounds pass tonight, but he looked prepared to take the shot. Iguodala is willing to shoot, but he's just not capable of getting good shots at game's end. Brand will take the shot, but when the defense is in lockdown, he's being forced into difficult, fadeaway 12 footers. And Lou is trying to create, but just not finding openings and no one is going for his pump fake anymore.
Said Collins of his team's youth: "That’s when it rears its head, is in pressure situations like that, especially on the road."
The final 8:45 of the game was bad, but the first 39 minutes were good. The Sixers have not played better basketball than they did through the first three quarters of this game. That fact will get buried under the collapse of the fourth quarter, and it should, but for 39 minutes the Sixers executed extremely well and played winning defense. And if Collins can keep his team from backsliding after another loss, keep them mentally checked in despite the record, we could see some decent basketball over the next four home games. It's not much, but it's something.
"I know we’re a better team today than we were 30 days ago," Collins said tonight. "I know that. And so that’s the one thing I’m hanging my hat on."
And a final thought from here in Philips Arena. It's a sad night for the Sixers, Sixers' family and friends, and Philly in general, with the news of the passing of long-time beat writer Phil Jasner. Truly one of a kind and he will be missed. RIP.
Each week, Kate will check in from the road and answer fan questions about the Sixers. Click here to ask Kate a question or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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