That was the worst Sixers loss of the season.
I’m pretty sure that sentence was included in two of my other recaps, but here we are again as the Sixers blew a large lead in the 2nd half for what feels like the 300th time. After leading by 18 with 4:15 left in the 3rd - which was cut in half in 2 and a half minutes - it almost looked like they’d hold on. Fool’s gold. The Sixers even had a 10 point lead with 9 minutes left in the game. Seven minutes later they were down ten. FOOL’S GOLD. It was ugly as all hell.
Statistically, it wasn’t all bad. Joel Embiid notched 29 and 9, Dario Saric showed up yet again with 25/9/5, Ben Simmons put up 17 points, 8 assists, and 4 rebounds, while JJ Redick added 19. Both Embiid (6-for-12) and Saric (a scorching 5-of-6) set or tied individual highs for threes made. AND the Sixers spent most of the game not turning the ball over, ending up with only - I know - 13 (though 7 of those were in the 4th). They shot 50% from long range, and 48.3% from the floor. They out-assisted the Blazers by 13. So what happened?
A couple of things. Firstly, Robert Covington must’ve fallen into a hole somewhere as he played only 24 minutes, the only starter under 32, while Jerryd Bayless played 19. I honestly don’t know what happened. Jusuf Nurkic played - as he did the last game against the Sixers - like some kind of All-Star player, though he’s not. He out-muscled Embiid at pretty much every turn, and somehow survived for what felt like 4 hours with 5 fouls (more on that in a second). Nurkic scored 21 points and had 12 rebounds. With CJ McCollum and Shabazz Napier (filling in for an ailing Damian Lillard), Portland’s de facto big three for the night scored all but 36 of the team’s points.
And then there were the free throws. In the game’s preview, I wrote this:
Tonight’s referee Mike Callahan (who is from here), just officiated Sixers/Raptors and also called the first Sixers/Blazers meetup this year. The Sixers were out FTA’d in both games not because of Callahan, but because sweet Lord they foul so much.
Tonight, the Blazers shot 47 free throws. The Sixers attempted 14. In the teams’ last meeting, the Blazers shot 24 to the Sixers’ 17. The team is averaging 17.5 FTA per game, while their opponents are averaging 20.2 (the 28th rank in the league). You can look back at this game (and a handful of others) and be tempted to blame officiating. But the team as a whole has to be more disciplined on easy calls - they completely telegraph fouls too much - and that’ll make the borderline calls harder to whistle.
The Sixers next play on New Year’s Eve, and we totally get if you can’t watch. But the plus side is, you won’t be judged for drinking more and more as the game creeps further into the third quarter.