In the first 12 minutes of a game, the 76ers are an elite team.
It has been a treat watching Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, JJ Redick, and Robert Covington get the jump on opponents right out of the gate.
But as the game wears on, the Sixers have a tendency to let things slip away. It’s not a huge problem when the Sixers are able to maintain leads through the majority of a regular season game.
On the nights when the Sixers don’t get the early jump on a team, the late-game collapses become more glaring, and as the postseason approaches, the full 48 minutes of an NBA game will carry more weight.
The Sixers were outscored by the Heat, 35-25, in the final quarter of a 108-99 loss in Miami on Thursday. That type of a fourth-quarter performance is not an anomaly for the Sixers.
The Sixers rank in the top-10 in the league in offensive rating, defensive rating, points, field goal percentage, three-point percentage, and free throw percentage in the first quarter.
The team’s fourth-quarter stats are just the opposite. The team is 29th in the league in offensive rating, 23rd in defensive rating, 27th in points, 26th in field goal percentage, 18th in three-point percentage, and 26th in free throw percentage in the final 12 minutes of a game.
While the Sixers have gradually been getting better in fourth-quarter situations, especially defensively (since Jan. 1 they have the 14th best defensive rating in the NBA), their offense in the final minutes continues to struggle, carrying the league’s worst offensive rating in 2018.
With a first-quarter scoring margin of +3.3 (second behind Houston) the Sixers have been able to continue play through the first three quarters and withstand their fourth-quarter let downs for the most part.
In the playoffs though, things are tighter, and the smallest details are what matter when games can often come down to the final minutes. The Sixers are just 8-18 when tied or trailing by five-points or less in the last five minutes of a game.
There are a ton of contributing factors to the Sixers drop-off late in games. Embiid has the fifth most fourth-quarter turnovers in the league, Simmons defensive rating drops from 97.3 in the first to 108.8 in the fourth, the Sixers foul at one of the highest rates in the NBA. The list could go on.
Brett Brown have often said that he wants his team to play better for longer, meaning through an entire game rather than just in the first three periods.
With just 18 games left the weight of a long season is starting to wear on the Sixers, fatigue is setting in, and there is less and less time for corrections to be made.
The Sixers are clearly talented enough and able to score and defend at a high level, as they show that in the opening minutes. The problem is that they aren’t maintaining their energy, effort, and intensity throughout the game.