The 76ers trailed by 19 points at halftime, with the Warriors putting up 73 without even playing great. Klay Thompson treated Nik Stauskas like Klay Thompson has historically treated Nik Stauskas. Andrew Bogut made Nerlens Noel look bad. The Warriors treated the Sixers like the Warriors would normally be expected to treat the Sixers, and a true blowout was on the horizon.
20 minutes later, after trailing by a game-high 24 points, the Sixers tied the game on an Ish Smith layup, forcing the Warriors into converting a possession or otherwise playing overtime against the still-worst NBA team into overtime. How did that even happen?
It started with a Warriors team not especially interested in showing up for the second half, for one. Golden State committed 23 turnovers for the game and started the third quarter with a slew of sloppy passes. The Warriors are generally happy to take the trade-off - more passing results in more movement, more open shots, and a greater pace, with the turnovers a necessary byproduct. But the passing was more "fancy" than necessary in the second half; an aura of showboating almost took over.
Steve Kerr pulled his starters early, and the reserves didn't have much of a change in attitude. And against the second unit was where the Sixers made up ground. Brett Brown went to a never-before featured lineup with Ish Smith, T.J. McConnell, and Isaiah Canaan to resounding success. The three shared the court for about seven minutes of court time and cut an 18-point deficit to 10, setting the stage for the final comeback.
The Sixers stayed small for the fourth quarter, primarily using Nerlens Noel as the center and spreading the court with Robert Covington, Hollis Thompson, and Canaan around the Smith-Noel pick-and-roll combination. Keeping Noel on the court with the wings allowed the team to play aggressively against Curry-centric pick and rolls and have enough athleticism to recover to shooters. The Sixers only gave up 35 second half points as the Warriors failed to take advantage of the smaller lineups.
Other than Curry, no Warriors player hit a fourth quarter three until Barnes nailed the dagger.
The Sixers closed an eight-point deficit in the last two minutes by Sixers-ing the game up. There's no better way to explain the events of the final two minutes. Robert Covington created two turnovers, including on off a switch onto Stephen Curry that was reversed after a video review. Bogut and Draymond Green missed open layups. Canaan and Smith converged to break up a patented Golden State screen play: the Thompson catch off the screen and pass-back right to Curry, resulting in Smith's game-tying dunk. The Sixers mucked up the game, like Golden State would generally prefer, and nearly pulled it off.
1. Ish Smith is shooting under 40% as a Sixer, which isn't surprising given his history and the load he shoulders. It still feels as if about 15-20% of his attempts are unnecessary, and cutting those would help his field goal percentage as much as anything. He shot 7-19 tonight, which is about average for him. And part of that is because he took 3-4 just awful jumpers throughout the game.
Anyway, it's hard to get too angry after today's game. But a different shot in each of those spots could have made a difference.
2. The Sixers were down 19 at halftime, while Canaan hit four first half shots from distance. He played very well today: 18 points on 12 possessions used and solid defense on Klay Thompson despite the size and skill deficit.
3. Mo Speights hasn't changed one bit, has he?
4. Richaun Holmes didn't play. Sigh.
5. Oh yeah, Jahlil Okafor did play. Okafor looks so slow in games like these, where both teams intentionally try to run as much and as quickly as possible. He can't maintain the effort level for every facet of the game when so much of his time is spent playing in space, whether due to conditioning or athleticism. The defensive effort was there, but he finished with just one rebound in 21 minutes. The Sixers got out-rebounded by 17 points.
But he's so skilled it still doesn't matter as a scorer, where he finished a cool 6-7 from the floor.
6. Golden State attempted just two free throws in the game, making only one. The one free throw made ties the lowest ever for an NBA game. The Sixers attempted 21, but managed to turn trips to the line into semi-inefficient exercise, making only 11.