The 76ers held a lead with less than five minutes remaining. Guess what happened next? If you said the team repeatedly made mistakes until they coughed up the lead for good, congrats, here's a non-bitcoin internet dollar.
The Nuggets overcame a five point deficit with under four minutes remaining to win 108-105, a score only within three points as Robert Covington banked in a 40-footer at game's end. It, like many other close games, ends in a complete disaster for the Sixers.
When the Sixers play in a contested late game, aka crunch time, there is an unmistakable air of panic that overwhelms the team. Launching rushed shots at the moment the defense allows a glimmer of daylight in lieu of working for good shots. Panicked, hot-potato passing. Mental lapses. Chasing the basketball instead of sticking to the defensive scheme. Missed rotations. Every single bad thing you could think of, and more.
Today's highlights: two dropped passes by Nerlens Noel; Robert Covington stepping out of bounds when pressured; a JaKarr Sampson jumper; every score for the Nuggets but one being a layup with a relatively open lane, a free throw, or open three pointer; a baffling crunch time lineup featuring Isaiah Canaan at the point despite the insistence that his time would come off-ball going forward; and just a general lack of execution.
The Nuggets took advantage of everything above and executed with their veteran closing lineup, featuring Jameer Nelson, Danilo Gallinari, and Kenneth Faried. They forced switches on a switch-happy defense (more on this later) and got to spots on the floor that were productive, outscoring the Sixers by eight and getting a much-needed win. But the Sixers lost this one more than the Nuggets won, that's for sure.
1. It's become popular to complain about Brett Brown's role in the team's recurring late-game nightmares. I'm not the biggest fan of his individual tactical moves - as mentioned above, he went to Canaan as a point guard late in a game, which is astonishing given Canaan's record - but Brown generally knows what he's doing elsewhere and has the least competent point guard group in the NBA.
Far and away the primary measure Brown should be evaluated by is his collective staff's ability to evaluate and develop talent. Part of that is helping them improve on-court execution, sure, but it pales in comparison to everything else player development encompasses. The Sixers, in my mind, would have a terribly difficult time finding someone willing to replace Brett Brown, nor should they have any interest in doing so if they're happy about his player development skills.
2. Going back to Canaan again, he shot 5-8 on threes and again had an efficient scoring night. Offensively, Canaan as an off-guard is okay, but his height is such a limiting factor I don't know if he's reasonably a rotation player on a better team. He battles hard, but he doesn't stand a chance on switches against bigger guys that he'll routinely deal with. Kenneth Faried ate him alive on those switches on the offensive glass.
3. Emmanuel Mudiay was a nice reminder that rookies with all the talent in the world can struggle adjusting to the NBA at age 19. He shot 4-12 from the floor and had seven turnovers. So when you freak out about Okafor's inefficiencies, remember that it's not just Okafor, and teenagers usually take time to adjust to the league.
4. J.J. Hickson played seven minutes, all in the first half, and took nine free throws, all in the first quarter. The Sixers, especially with Tony Wroten on the court, struggled to contain Jameer Nelson pick-and-rolls. I have to remind myself that this is 2015 and should not be happening.
5. The game might have been a Sixers blowout had the Nuggets not hit contested threes on three consecutive possessions in the fourth quarter. The Sixers had a nine point lead heading into that sequence which kept the Nuggets in the game, close enough to make it a contestable game so the Sixers would roll over and play dead. Both teams shot surprisingly well on threes considering today's game started at 1:00 PM local.
6. The Sixers finish their season series with the Spurs at home on Monday night.