Of this season's losses -- and there are so many -- this afternoon's against the Minnesota Timberwolves is by far the worst. It is, dare we say, this season's defining game. The 76ers are up by 20 points, 51-31, with a few minutes left before hafltime. Sure, at the time, it felt like the Sixers should have been up 30 (that's how bad the Timberwolves were playing), but the game felt out of hand as it was -- no way the Sixers don't win. That first half, the Sixers were playing as they'd been playing lately: strong defense, sensible rotations, a general sense of improvement.
As quickly as Johnny Flynn can get from baseline to baseline -- and that's fast -- all that good feeling, all that forward momentum, was gone.
At the start of the third quarter, the Timberwolves hit a couple of buckets, made it a 13-point game, and you started thinking this could be bad -- really bad. Then that run came in the middle of the third where the lead just drained: 15 points to 4 points. During this specific run, Sixers coach Eddie Jordan sat on the bench and did not call a timeout. It felt almost as if he was daring his team to figure it out for itself. Finally, on the bucket that made it 68-64, Jordan called a timeout.
If you watched the game, you're probably confused about three things (maybe more?), but we'll address three things. If you're looking for the answer to these three things, well ...
1.) Why did Allen Iverson play consecutively for 23 minutes, 8 seconds and then sit the final 51 seconds of regulation and all 5 minutes of overtime? Technically, this is two questions: Why did Iverson play all these minutes? Why, after playing all these minutes, did Iverson not play in overtime?
Here's Jordan answer to the question why Iverson played all those minutes: "I thought he was going and they came with a surge in the third quarter and he still looked sort of refreshed out there and I wanted to run the table with him and then I just thought we needed some bigger bodies for defense when we got back at the end."
I'm not going to tell you what that means, only that Iverson played the entire third quarter, was a defensive liability the entire time, finished 2 for 6 from the field with 3 turnovers and 0 assists. Iverson played 11:08 of the fourth, was a defensive liability the entire time, finished 1 for 3 from the floor with 3 points and 4 assists. For the game, Iverson scored 11 points and had 9 assists and 5 turnovers. After the game, Jordan mentioned a lack of killer instinct on his team and seemed to say Allen has that killer instinct, so by deduction, perhaps he was keeping Iverson in the game because he feels he'll end another team's run.
Here's Jordan's answer to why, after playing Iverson all those minutes, he didn't put him back in the game. The question, specifically, was "Once you took him out, with his knee, could he not go back into the game in OT?" Jordan said: "There had to be a situation there where I thought if we got some sort of cushion I could have brought him back in for some free throws, to sort of handle the offense for us and settle things down and get a play, but we needed to defend and I wanted some bigger bodies in there and I wanted Andre [Iguodala] at two."
Afterwards, Iverson said his knee was fine and not playing the game's final six minutes was Jordan's decision. Iverson said: "Coaches go off their gut feeling and you have to live with it. He live with things I do on the basketball court that’s not always the right thing for the team and allow me to make mistakes. My whole thing is to let him coach and make the decisions he make and support him."
2.) Why didn't Jrue Holiday play at all in the second half or in overtime? Especially considering Flynn finished with 29 points, scored 11 in the third quarter, and 5 in overtime. Holiday's the team's best on-ball defender.
In the second half, Jordan went with Willie Green on Flynn. Green made his first 5 shots and then missed his next 4, including an important three pointer that hit the side of the backboard. Holiday played 10:48 in the first half, had 3 assists and scored 2 points. After the game Holiday said there was no communication as to why he didn't play in the second half. He said he played his normal minutes in the first half and then there's nothing you can do, you just go out and play hard when you play and cheer for your teammates.
When asked if there was any thought process in taking Holiday out of the second-half rotation, Jordan said: "I thought Willie was good defensively and he had made some shots for us and I wanted Andre at guard so we could be a little bit bigger. Look, I wanted to run the table with Allen, he felt good, he felt great, and I thought he could get it going for us."
3.) Why didn't starting point guard Lou Williams play at all in the fourth quarter? Williams scored 11 points in the first quarter. He finished the game 6 for 11 with 15 points, 0 assists, 0 turnovers. Jordan went almost entirely with Green and Iverson. This is only confusing because Williams has often been the go-to guy at the end of games. And he has an attacking mentality, which the Sixers seemed to be missing in the second half.
After the game, Lou looked pretty frustrated. He said (when asked about any reason given for not playing in the fourth quarter): "No. Nah. I guess he felt Willie had it going and like I’ve always said, we’re a team, it’s not a competition in the locker room, you support him and wait your turn ... It’s frustrating, but what are you going to do?"
So, an OT loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, who boost their Western Conference worst record to 9-33. Walking back from the arena floor to the media room, we ran into Sixers General Manager Ed Stefanski, who was leaning against the wall across from the visiting locker room.
It's 40 games into this season.