First, the facts. The Sixers lost to the NBA-leading Oklahoma City Thunder at home 92-88 tonight. OKC hauled in 19 offensive rebounds, pummeling the Sixers on the board 56-39. They were paced by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook who combined for 45 points, while the Sixers boasted six double-figure scorers as part of their depth-happy no superstar sum-of-its-parts routine. The Thunder took 34 foul shots compared to the Sixers 12. The Sixers are now 2-10 in games decided by seven points or less.
Those are the undisputed facts.
What is not technically a fact but is becoming increasingly evident is that Doug Collins is not a good in-game coach. Whether it's that he doesn't have the personnel, his personnel won't listen to him, or he simply does not know how to coach them to their strengths... it's probably some combination of the lot. But right now, the Sixers can't beat anybody that they're not making their bitch by the 2nd quarter. It's not a case of missing shots. It's not even about the execution. The choices made by Collins and his players are the wrong choices. Hitting shots would obviously alleviate a lot of these issues, but a truly good team doesn't bank on a hot streak, they can win without one.
So where does that leave this team?
Andre Iguodala is a phenomenal basketball player. While the Sixers were up semi-comfortably through most of the 4th, I had planned my recap to be all about Dre. His absolute game-changingness on the defensive end, how damn consistent he's been from outside all year, and his ability to score and distribute so effortlessly so well in the open court. Among wings, only LeBron James is as good as Iguodala at finding his teammates on the fast break. There's no reason why Dre shouldn't touch the ball every single possession down the court.
But in the last four minutes, Iguodala disappeared. Doug's plays went to Louis Williams and Elton Brand. As Scott Brooks' defense tightened up, the Sixers half-court offense became flustered and lost. Lou went 0-4 with a huge turnover, and Brand was 0-2 himself. Iguodala went shotless for seven minutes until he hit a last resort corner three to cut the deficit to one. Prior to that make, the Sixers missed 13 consecutive shots.
Doug's obsession with gift-wrapping the game to Louis Williams in crunch time is harming this team. And it actually has very little to do with how the BOSS performs in that time, which for statistical purposes, isn't bad. It's always about the philosophy. And Doug's philosophy at the end of the game is that Lou can only score in iso situations. Once the rest of the team buys into that, it's nearly impossible to ignite a non-BOSS offense in the half-court. The defense hunkers down and the offense stalls. Lou is what he is. It's not his fault that Doug hands him the keys at the end of the game. It's on Collins to make better decisions.
Tom Moore gave us a quote from Doug Collins that I find particularly interesting: "I couldn't get us a basket. I tried my ass off." I don't know if it's that I disagree with this as much as I think Collins believes it. He diagrammed a play off a timeout that should have resulted in a Thaddeus Young layup or trip to the line but the whistle stayed unblown (ha). Aside from that, Collins either didn't attempt to run a play or everything broke down to the point that any semblance of a designed play was unrecognizable. If he can't get them to run a simple play to get an open look at the basket, then he's not equipped to be an in-game coach.
Why did Thad and Brand make up the frontcourt for most of the game? Neither player is particularly good at boxing out and, matching up against Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka, and Nick Collison, they're going up against some formidable size inside. Collins played against the matchups, leaving Lavoy Allen (who played terrible) and Nikola Vucevic (who was in foul trouble but didn't get enough time to assert himself) on the bench most of the game. Rebounds went the other way the whole night, and Collins did nothing to protect against it. Evan Turner is the best rebounding wing in the NBA, yet he played just 16 minutes compared to Jodie Meeks (30) and Lou (26). Brand was terrible all game, Lou was missing everything, and Jrue and Andre had been getting to the rim all night. Where is the adjustment?
I'm not going to say the Sixers are a bad team because they're not. I'm not going to say this was a game they should have won going in, because it wasn't. The fact is, the Sixers have squandered too many of these opportunities over the past month. The Sixers are not a poorly coached team because Collins gets so much out of them for most of the game. He is so good at having them play to their strengths on defense and in the open court. But when the clock is winding down, Doug goes completely away from that philosophy, essentially rubbing off their luster that he typically does such a good job of maintaining. Late game situations are when teams need to go with their strengths, Collins goes against it.
Until Collins and the Sixers assert their dominance at the ends of games, they'll be deferring to superstars they don't have against teams that know how to finish. The players play, but if Collins doesn't put the right ones out there, they can't absorb the majority of the fault themselves. There's little hope for this team if things don't turn quickly.