It’s time to stop with all the moral victories and youth excuses when it comes to the 76ers.
Several phone conversations and Facebook comments Saturday morning were predictable. The night before, the Sixers suffered a 119-117 triple-overtime loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder at Wells Fargo Center.
While exciting, it was another game where the Sixers jacked up 46 three-pointers, missing 33 of them and committed an alarming amount of turnovers (21). Yet, some friends called to talk about the atmosphere that the sold-out crowd of 20,612 provided. Others said they were proud of the Sixers (14-14) for hanging with a squad featuring three all-stars in the reigning league MVP Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony and Paul George.
Some of the people, who were actually disappointed with loss, blamed the referees — not the Sixers — for the outcome. That’s because of a controversial placement on an inbounds call with 1.2 seconds left in the second overtime. The Sixers were forced to inbound the ball in the backcourt instead of in the frontcourt as league rules state.
“That’s not the excuse,” Joel Embiid said. “We shouldn’t have any excuse for losing that game.”
The Sixers had ample opportunity to do much more than post a competitive showing against an underachieving squad.
None of this is new for the Sixers. The only difference is that this time the game was a triple-overtime thriller.
They’ve actually had thrilling defeats against the last three NBA champions in the Golden State Warriors (2014-15 and 2016-17 champions) and the Cleveland Cavaliers (2015-16).
Think back to two seasons ago, on Jan. 30, 2016, when the Warriors needed a 24-foot corner three-pointer from Harrison Barnes with 0.2 seconds left to beat the Sixers. While that shot was the dagger, the Sixers were doomed by making just 11 of 21 foul shots that night.
Then last season, the Cavaliers escaped with a 102-101 victory on Nov. 5. That game was decided by a controversial no call on the game’s final play.
With his team down one, Gerald Henderson drove the lane and appeared to be fouled by J.R. Smith while attempting a layup. Henderson was knocked to the ground after colliding with LeBron James. The ball ended up in Iman Shumpert’s hands in the corner before time expired. The Sixers were also doomed by six turnovers in the final 3 minutes and 9 seconds.
Fast forward to Friday night’s two-point triple overtime loss, the Sixers had the 21 turnovers and shot 28.3 percent on three-pointers.
So they are still defeating themselves.
But just like the Golden State and Cleveland losses, folks blame the Sixers’ shortcomings on youth even though this is an older and more talented team than in the previous two seasons.
Yes, Ben Simmons is a 21-year-old rookie, who sat out last season with a broken foot. Joel Embiid, 23, has only played 54 career games since being selected third overall in the 2014 draft.
However, the other three starters have playing experience.
Shooting guard JJ Redick, 33, is a 12th-year veteran. Small forward Robert Covington, 27, is a five-year veteran. Power forward Dario Saric, 23, is a second-year NBA veteran, but played professionally for six seasons overseas before joining the Sixers on July 15, 2016.
The Sixers also have valuable experience in Jerryd Bayless, 29, and 30-year-olds Amir Johnson and Trevor Booker.
So blaming everything on youth sounds good, but it’s not entirely accurate. That’s especially true when you consider that the Boston Celtics start two youngsters in second-year guard Jaylen Brown (21), and rookie swingman Jayson Tatum (19), who are playing at a high level. The Celtic took an Eastern Conference-leading 24-7 record into Saturday’s game at the Memphis Grizzlies.
The problem is that the Sixers haven’t stopped making the same mistakes from seasons past. We all know that they play hard, and have a knack for producing exciting efforts. But it’s time to start being recognized as a team that wins thrillers instead of a collector of moral victories. And it’s even hard to call Friday’s defeat as a moral victory when they came in with a better record than Oklahoma City.
It’s also time to get past the mental mistakes and lack of execution in key moments.
It’s time to start producing instead of just showing promise.