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So Close, Yet So Far: Sixers Fall Short to Heat, 96-91

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If only games were 3 and a half quarters instead of 4.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

For 3 and a half quarters, it looked like last night would be the night. The winless 76ers were up by double digits at multiple points against Heat, playing a more focused, more inspired brand of basketball. They took the punch of the dreaded 3rd quarter and still came out with a lead heading into the 4th, the first time this year!

Unfortunately, the team found another way to lose, absolutely stalling in middle of the 4th. Over the last almost 6 minutes, the Sixer offense absolutely disappeared, scoring a grand total of nada (save for 2 garbage time points). Credit to Miami for ramping up their defense and future Hall of Famers Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh for making a ton of tough shots to fuel their comeback. However, it felt as though the Sixers ultimately threw away a game that they had control of for the most part.

Coach Brett Brown referred to the loss as "cruel" and who can disagree? After enduring this winless stretch, coming off some really uninspiring performances, the team put together 3.5 quarters of their best overall performance of the season... and it just wasn't enough.

Speaking of Coach Brown, he did the team no favors. As a caveat, I'll say that Brett has done a great job keeping together the team for the last 2+ years, where most coaches would have snapped. He's been put in a difficult spot trying to coach up a bunch of misfits into a cohesive unit. So I nor should anyone question his hiring in regards to this stage of the rebuild.

With all that said, boy, that was some poor game management. I've been pounding the desk for almost 2 weeks now about the Grant-Noel-Okafor line ups. For as much as pace has been preached and space has been desired, that line up offers neither. Noel and Okafor are still trying to find their way and already clog up the paint working with and off each other. Adding in Jerami Grant, who lacks any perimeter shooting ability and whose primary offensive arsenal is assaulting the rim, only makes it worse.

To an extent, it's forgivable since the normal starting SF, Covington, hasn't been 100%. However, in a game like this and especially in the latter parts of the game, you can't afford to run out that line up and disrupt the little flow the team has.

The more alarming and less forgivable offense was instituting the 'Hack-a-Hassan' strategy in the middle of the 4th. While Hassan Whiteside is a poor FT shooter, why Brown chose to resort to gifting the Heat foul shots up 10 in the middle of the 4th is beyond me. Not only did it disrupt any good momentum and allowed the Heat back into the game, but it showed Brown had no confidence in his defense (which had done a great job up to that point) down the stretch.

I chalk up the coaching mistakes to relative inexperience (how many close games has BB coached with this type of group?) with a mix of desperation for a win. Like the rest of the roster, lets hope he learns from this experience.

Odds & Ends

  • Jahlil Okafor had a good night. Yes, he was inefficient, got blocked a ton, and still had lapses in defense. But, I can't really be too mad because I also saw him finally helping on the weak side, making good switches, fighting for boards, and connecting on some difficult shots outside the paint.  Final line: 16 pts (8-20), 11 Boards, 3 Blocks
  • Had the game ended differently, this recap may have centered around Nerlens Noel. A pair of bad wrists and knee tendinitis, while clearly affecting him, didn't stop Noel from making an impact tonight. Defensively, what more can I say? His presence alone dictates the defense. Offensively? Check it:
  • Welcome back Robert Covington. If Noel is the engine that makes the defense go, Covington is the equivalent offensively. We knew the shooting would return, but his ability to now attack the basket and play some good defense is what will help develop him into a 2-way player. Get healthy Bob!
  • I'll continue to say this about Canaan: the dude can shoot. Despite all the flaws, Canaan made some pretty ridiculous shots to arguably keep the Sixers alive through the 3rd and early 4th. He's still super infuriating doing anything else so that's about as much credit I'll give him.
  • Next up the Sixers face off against the should-have-been/Hypothetical Sixers a.k.a. the Minnesota Timberwolves.