Sixers sputter in second half, fall to Bucks
MILWAUKEE - The 76ers had to play 48 minutes of basketball before they were allowed to embark on their much-anticipated All-Star break.
They played 24 really good ones to begin the game, then 24 oh-so-average ones to end the game and their unofficial first half of the season with a 94-92 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, the team they are directly chasing for a playoff spot.
Milwaukee (26-25) improved to four games over the Sixers (22-29) for the eighth and final playoff spot and is now 3-0 against the Sixers this season with one more game remaining between the two. The Bucks' guard duo of Monta Ellis (27 points) and Brandon Jennings (21) sped through and around the Sixers all night. They did a very nice job of disrupting the Sixers offensively when they ran after Jrue Holiday, who had five of the Sixers' 15 turnovers, but also produced 16 points and 12 assists. Samuel Dalembert pitched in 17 points and 14 rebounds for Milwaukee.
"They trapped hard," an obviously frustrated Doug Collins said. "We've worked on that."
At times, the trap forced bad passes, because no one was cutting hard to the basket when Holiday was doubled. Other times, it allowed wide-open jumpers, but the Sixers couldn't consistently bury them. Summed up, what it led to was a second-half scoring slump for the Sixers that produced only 42 points on 15-for-42 (35.7 percent) shooting.
With the All-Star break awaiting them after the game, the hyped-up Sixers put forth one of their better first-half efforts in a while. It was like a kid being good the night before Christmas, even though Santa's naughty and nice lists already had been completed.
The Sixers played with a confident, somewhat loose style at the offensive end, particularly to begin the game, when they shot 56 percent from the floor in the first half in building a lead that got to as many as 13. And while the offense was productive, the defense was even better, limiting the Bucks to only 35.6 percent shooting in the opening 24 minutes when the Sixers pulled out to a 50-43 lead.
But the second half was much different, and, for the first time in 21 games, the Sixers were unable to hold a lead after three quarters. The Sixers were spurred in the first half by Nick Young, who made all but one of his five shots en route to 14 points. But for some reason, he got only one shot in the second half, late in the game, and didn't score again.
Evan Turner led the Sixers with 20 points, while Spencer Hawes had 19 and nine rebounds.
"Turnovers, even at the start that's what was hurting us," Hawes said. "They ended up with  points off turnovers, and it's hard to win when you're giving up easy points.
"And then they adjusted [to Young], and I think his foul trouble kind of got him out of rhythm. He's a guy when he's rolling, you have to keep him going. That's on all of us. We have to get him shots. We need him to score, we depend on him. That's on all of us when he's not getting attempts. He's got to worry about makes, but we have to help him get them up."
Young did pick up two fouls in the first 8 minutes of the game, but only one after. While sitting on the bench for a long period in the first half might have gotten him a little off his game, getting only one shot attempt in the second half is pretty inexplicable. As is the team's inability to take advantage when Holiday gets constantly double-teamed.
"It was disappointing, but we have to move on from it," Holiday said. "I think they turned it up in the second half [defensively]. I do think that we got some good shots where they were double-teaming, and we swung [the ball], and Spencer got open shots. Those are times that we just have to convert."
With all of the second-half deficiencies, the Sixers still had a chance to pull out a win, with a jump ball in their offensive end with 5 seconds left. Holiday won the tap over Luc Mbah a Moute and got the ball to Royal Ivey. Though the Sixers still had two timeouts remaining, Ivey tried to get the ball back to Holiday. It was tipped out to the midcourt sideline, where Jennings ran it down and lightly tapped the ball safely inbounds as the clock ran out and the much-awaited break began - on a sour note.
Milwaukee's Larry Sanders, who leads the NBA in blocked shots at 3.16 a game, missed his fourth straight game with a lower-back injury. Milwaukee still managed 10 blocks.
On Twitter: @BobCooney76