For the second game in a row, the Philadelphia 76ers threw away another late game lead, dropping their record to 0-15. On Monday night, Philadelphia found themselves up 91-86 against the Minnesota Timberwolves with just 2:39 left on the clock. They didn't score again until Robert Covington hit a meaningless layup with six seconds left, and ended up losing by a final of 100-95.
This team has a myriad of problems, with inept personnel at the forefront of their struggles, but poor game management from head coach Brett Brown really exacerbated their deficiencies against the Timberwolves.
For most of the fourth quarter, Brown opted to match a small Minnesota lineup with one of the Sixers bigger lineups, pitting Jerami Grant against Andrew Wiggins, who was playing as a small ball power forward. Grant is typically a good defender, but Andrew Wiggins ate his lunch for the better part six crucial minutes in the final frame. The second year player from Syracuse allowed Wiggins to take him off the dribble on multiple possessions, which either resulted in a relatively easy layup, or two foul shots at the line.
Guarding Andrew Wiggins is quickly becoming one of the more daunting tasks in the NBA, making it hard to blame Grant for not being able to stop him, but easy to wonder why the Sixers didn't try to adjust whatsoever. There was seemingly no directive from Brown to play off Wiggins, which would have attempted to force him to beat you with his jump shot. Instead, Grant's tight defense typically ended up in Wiggins getting high percentage shots around the basket. Philadelphia also didn't even bother switching Grant off Wiggins until there was under a minute left. One could argue Grant was their best defensive option, but it's hard to watch the same thing happen repeatedly without attempting to correct the problem.
On the other side of the ball, questionable decision making by Brown was even more apparent. Jahlil Okafor, who ended the game with 25 points on 15 shots, could not even get the ball in his hands during two crucial late possessions.
With the game tied at 91 and just over 1:30 on the clock, the Sixers ran an ISO for Grant against Wiggins, who then proceeded to throw up a wild layup that didn't even hit the rim.
Now down two on their next possession, Philadelphia ran a frantic looking pick and roll with T.J. McConnell and Okafor, which led to a missed McConnell layup.
This play was wildly awful, for multiple reasons. It was run by a point guard who rarely ever considers shooting when he's driving to the basket, and a big man who doesn't even set hard picks. This was destined for failure from the get go.
But maybe most absurdly, none of these plays ever involved Okafor getting the ball in the post, despite a matchup against Karl-Anthony Towns which he had dominated all night. There are few reasonable excuses for not putting your most talented offensive player in a position to score late in the game, and the only guy you can question is the one drawing up the plays.
Philadelphia may be inexperienced and not all that talented, but they're going to continue to find themselves in tight, late game situations, and will call upon their head coach to lead them through it. Right now, some of Brett Brown's in-game decision making is really hindering this team's ability to pull out close victories.
Brown has done a pretty exceptional job guiding this team over the past three years, and keeping the young guys together despite its struggles. But his ability to adjust and strategize is starting to come into question, and the finger pointing will get worse if they continues to lose when Kendall Marshall and Tony Wroten return to action in a few weeks.
Sixers fans should still have their full support behind Brown, but for the first time as a head coach, we're starting to see some flaws. Lucky for him, he has 67 more games to prove himself.