I guess the gut reaction, after leaving the locker room following tonight's 104-93 loss to the Toronto Raptors, was that the 76ers, this season, are having trouble getting out of their own way.
They've been playing well, winners of 5 games in a row, and even tonight they looked bad for a stretch, trailed by as many as 23 points near the end of the third quarter, and eventually came back to tie the game with 2:06 remaining. All in all, you can leave the arena thinking the Sixers salvaged what looked like a blowout loss.
But the point of contention came at the start of the third quarter when power forward Elton Brand started the quarter on the bench, his team trailing only 50-41. Sixers coach Eddie Jordan went with a second half lineup of Jrue Holiday, Willie Green, Royal Ivey, Andre Iguodala, and Samuel Dalembert. Brand didn't check back into the game until 1:48 left in the third quarter. Ivey hadn't played in the first half. In the first half, Brand had 8 points on 4 for 7 shooting.
Within 5 minutes of starting the third quarter, the Sixers trailed by 21 points. Before Jordan went back to Brand, he substituted in Thaddeus Young and Marreese Speights. At one point early in the third, Brand was sitting next to Lou Williams and Jordan motioned for Lou to go in the game. Brand, thinking the call was for him, was halfway out of his seat. He sat for about 6 more minutes of game time.
After the game, Jordan owned up to the failed small-ball strategy. He said, "I went with a smaller lineup, so it backfired. It happens."
Brand seemed, well, beyond frustrated. First, he was asked if the strategy was to run on the Raptors. He said: "I guess. I don’t call the shots. I just go out there and play the best I can. I didn’t think it was my fault, but I’m easy to get pulled it seems."
Then, Brand said: “We weren’t down enough to switch what we’ve been doing in a five-game win streak, you know what I mean?” Brand said. “So, that’s what we did and we paid for it. We were down too much to fight back, even though we almost did it."
"I wasn’t even the first guy off the bench."
Finally, Brand said, "Maybe they’re getting prepared for something else, I don’t know, maybe I won’t be here."
This season, it just seems, nothing can go smoothly. Not even the end of a season-best winning streak. Center Samuel Dalembert played about 3 minutes in the second half.