In the final 17.3 seconds of regulation tonight at the Verizon Center, there was nearly an entire quarter of activity. Half a dozen timeouts, about 20 free throw attempts, John Wall attacking the rim, Lou Williams piling up points, and mass strategic substitutions.
If you watched the game, you probably thought the 76ers were going to win, but -- knowing this team -- were slightly worried something interesting would happen in the final seconds. Well, you were right.
The Sixers needed one defensive stop to win this game. Not just the final one with 3.1 seconds remaining, but any of the half dozen previous would have sealed the deal as well. If they'd gotten even one, Williams wouldn't be shooting free throws to boost the lead from one point to three points, but instead he'd be shooting to boost it from three to five. But, the crucial, highlight-reel stop came with 3.1 seconds remaining and the Wizards inbounding on the sideline down 106-103.
A possession earlier, the Sixers had taken a foul on Wall, sending him to the line for two free throws instead of giving Washington the opportunity to make a three pointer. You can argue about the validity of giving away two points rather than making the Wizards earn a basket, but that's not the specific point on this last possession. In talking to Collins afterwards, it seems the Sixers intended to give another foul, but because Cartier Martin caught facing the basket, already squared to shoot, it was too risky to try to foul.
So how'd he get in such good position? This play is somewhat reminiscent of the play with the Boston Celtics two years ago, when Ray Allen made the three pointer in the left corner to win the game. Obviously, the main difference between that year and this year is that in 2008-09 the Sixers were a playoff team, trying to beat the big-time Celtics, while tonight they were battling the Wizards for the right to not remain winless. Regardless, these plays are similar because both were breakdowns in execution. If you remember against the Celtics, Thaddeus Young helped off of Allen for reasons unknown. Tonight, Collins said he told his team to trail all screens and chase any player off the line. Collins was willing to give up a two going to the basket, for obvious reasons, but also because the Wizards were out of timeouts and there was such little time left.
I've only seen the replay a few times, but it seems swingman Andre Iguodala gets caught for a second on the screen set to free Martin. Iguodala trails Martin -- as he's supposed to -- but he's too far behind to keep Martin from catching at the three-point line, and Iguodala is just not in a good position to take a good foul on Martin. There's no lack of effort from Iguodala (in watching the replays), it just seems like the kind of play that continually haunts the Sixers.
And so they remain winless.
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