MEMPHIS — The 76ers Achilles’ heel has been losing games they were expected to win.
That’s why Monday’s game here against an undermanned Memphis Grizzlies was so important. The Grizzlies had five players sidelined — most notably starting point guard Mike Conley, starting forward JaMychal Green and reserve wing Chandler Parsons — because of injury or illness.
The Sixers made things interesting, dominating at the start. However, the result was no different than in lackluster losses to the struggling Sacramento Kings, Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers.
This time, they blew a 15-point third-quarter lead en route to losing, 105-101, at FedExForum.
The Sixers (22-21) had their three-game winning streak snapped, and have lost eight games in which they led by 11 points or more.. They also extended their series losing streak to the Grizzlies to 10 games. Memphis (17-29) also extended its home winning streak to five games.
But this loss in particular really hurt.
“We got to be able to put these types of teams away,” Robert Covington said. “We just got to be better all around to be able to finish our games. And tonight was another game we let get away from us.”
— Keith Pompey (@PompeyOnSixers) January 23, 2018
Turnovers and going away from Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot contributed to this loss.
Luwawu-Cabarrot finished with a season-high 20 points while making a career-high six three-pointers in a career-high eight three-point attempts. He shot 6-of-9 from the field overall, and 5-of-7 in the first half. The shooting guard only attempted two shots after intermission. He made a three-pointer in the third quarter and missed one in the fourth.
“In the first half, I had some open shots,” he said. “The guys found me and I just make them. It was just the flow of the game. In the second half, I didn’t have open shots. It just didn’t happen.”
Meanwhile, the Sixers committed 24 turnovers, which led to 39 Grizzlies points.
As they always do, the Sixers made it interesting by blowing a large lead. Dario Saric’s free throws on a technical foul with 4 minutes, 27 seconds left in the third quarter gave them a commanding 15-point lead at 76-61.
However, Tyreke Evans knotted the score at 91 while hitting a three-pointer over Joel Embid with 7:17 left. Then the Chester native stole the ball from Embiid on the ensuing possession and was fouled at the other end. He converted a foul shot to give Memphis a 92-91 lead with 6:53 remaining.
After the score was tied at 95, the Sixers turned the ball over three consecutive times. In between, Marc Gasol hit a three-pointer and Evans followed up with a long two to give Memphis a 100-95 lead with 3:42 left.
A three-pointer by Covington closed the gap to two with 2:01 left. But that was as close as it got. With a chance to knot the score at 100, Embiid missed a pair of foul shots with 1:23 remaining.
The NBA All-Star Game starter later split a pair of foul shots with 15 seconds left to close the gap to 103-101. After the Sixers stole the ball, Covington air-balled a three-point attempt with 6.2 seconds left.
Embiid finished with 15 points and 14 rebounds. However, he made just 5-of-13 shots and went 5-of-9 from the foul line.
“You know it just wasn’t Joe’s game,” coach Brett Brown said. “For whatever reason, from the start to the end, it just wasn’t one of his games.”
But Luwawu-Cabarrot was by far the best Sixer. The funny thing is that he only got the start at shooting guard because JJ Redick (left leg injury) and Jerryd Bayless (left wrist soreness) were both sidelined.
Luwawu-Cabarrot more than took advantage of his second straight start and third of the season.
He made his first four threes, but shot an air ball on his fifth attempt. He responded by making his next two. His sixth one gave the Sixers a 65-54 lead with 7:30 remaining in the third quarter.
Brown would have preferred to see Luwawa-Cabarrot get more touches in the second half.
“You know, our stars weren’t stars tonight,” Brown said. “Our wings were below average, and I think Timmy did play well. I think we could have got him more involved, but I think in general the story should be the turnovers.
“You can’t win any NBA game that matters – and you certainty can’t even consider the playoffs – if this end up a part of who we are.”
All five Sixers starters – Ben Simmons (four), Luwawu-Cabarrot (three), Embiid (four), Saric (four) and Covington (three) – and sixth man T.J. McConnell (four) had at least three turnovers. Justin Anderson committed the team’s other turnover.
Ten of the Sixers’ giveaways came in the decisive fourth quarter.
But Luwawu-Cabarrot was a three-point marksman Monday night, and he wasn’t alone.The visitors made 14-of-31 three-pointers from that distance.
Saric made 3-of-4 three-pointers while finishing with 22 points. Covington had his second straight solid long-range shooting performance. The small forward made 4-of-11 three pointers en route to 18 points.
McConnell made 1-of-2 three-pointers and finished with seven points. Simmons finished with just six points to go with a team-high seven assists and three rebounds.
Gasol paced the Grizzlies with 19 points, while Evans added 18.
Grizzlies reserve guard Wayne Selden was ejected late in the third quarter after picking up his second technical foul.