Checking Twitter after tonight's game, tanking was an extremely hot topic. The Sixers snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in truly heartbreaking (or exhilarating, depending on your viewpoint) fashion last night, losing to the Denver Nuggets 101-100 on three late Corey Brewer free throws. The narrow margin of defeat kickstarted arguments about the merits of winning versus losing games at this point in the season, and vice versa. I can understand points from both sides, but looming over all of the debate is one major point: The word "tanking" doesn't apply to this Sixers team. Their play clearly shows this to be the case.
The Sixers have been a bad basketball team since December, but with the exception one memorable late February night, their effort has always been above average. Even now that the team doesn't have a playoff spot to fight for, a position where more than a couple of NBA teams would pack it in, they still give a professional effort every night. Last night was a great example, as they almost won a game they had no business winning. They outplayed a rested (and admittedly shorthanded) Nuggets team that was 30-3 at the Pepsi Center, on the second night of a back-to-back no less. The players and coaches are going to try to win the rest of the season, which is what they have to do. Players on the floor should always play with maximum effort.
Now luckily for pro-tankers, even with the Sixers giving their all, it's not going to be a very good final record. Last night happened to be a great example of that, too. Let's just go with bullet points for the rest of the recap.
- How do you blow a five-point lead with 14 seconds left? First, you somehow give up a wide-open three in less than five seconds. Inbounding the ball in front of the scorers table, the Nuggets threw the ball into Danilo Gallinari at the top of the key. The inbounder, Andre Miller, ran behind him for a dribble handoff. Whether you switch the handoff or let Holiday (Miller's defender) go under the screen and pick up Miller, who would be receiving the handoff 30 feet from the hoop, either is fine. All Holiday and Dorell Wright had to do was be on the same page. They weren't. Wright switched onto Miller and Holiday went under the screen and stayed on the former Sixer point guard. When Gallo faked the handoff and dribbled left, he was unguarded for half a second. Even with the confusion, Holiday looked like he could have recovered to Gallo, but Thaddeus Young made a baffling rotation off of red-hot Corey Brewer, leaving him wide-open on the wing. He remained wide-open because Damien Wilkins didn't rotate up to Brewer from the corner. This should have been the obvious decision to make because by rotating to Brewer, Wilkins would have forced rookie Evan Fournier, who had taken one shot all night, to beat the Sixers. But he stood and watched Brewer make his 5th three-pointer on six attempts. Just an unbelievably bad defensive set from four different Sixers.
- Second, Evan Turner missed both free throws. There's not a lot to be said, except that it's not good.
- Third, Wilkins, who was absolutely tremendous all night, made an absolutely boneheaded mistake. The Nuggets ran the same exact play, except Wright and Holiday read the fake handoff to Miller and stayed with their men. Gallo then dribbled to the sideline again and gave the dribble handoff to Brewer. This definitely should have been a switch between Wright and Wilkins (who was guarding Brewer). But even after they didn't decide to switch, the open look Brewer got was 28 feet from the basket and it was taken off the dribble. Realistically, there's probably a 10-15 percent chance that shot goes in, which means that in no way, shape or form should you foul. But Wilkins, who was a step late trailing Brewer, tried for the block when a contest was all that was necessary. And he fouled him. The rest was history.
- Up to that point, the Sixers played a very good game. Wilkins, who was on fire (10-15 shooting, 24 points), was especially great. You couldn't have asked for a better effort from him.
- For the second time this year against Denver, Spencer Hawes was excellent. I'm probably one of his biggest critics, but he's strung ten days of very good basketball together. Is he finally getting over the presidential election?
- I thought Holiday did a great job of keeping his dribble alive tonight. He looked Rondo-ish (if that's a word) in the way he was dribbling around defenders and beating double teams by sheer will. He shot the ball well, too (The free-throws and threes never hurt).
- The Nuggets really looked to be missing Ty Lawson tonight. His speed fits in better with their offense than Andre Miller's savvy, even though those two elements are pretty good when combined.
- This was a ragged game, with over 40 combined turnovers. For whatever reason, the Nuggets couldn't seem to capitalize when they had numbers on the break, while the Sixers did. That was the story for most of the night.
There's not much else to say. The Sixers played well for 47 minutes and 46 seconds tonight, but Turner's free-throw shooting and everyone else's defensive lapses did the Sixers in.