It was all going so smoothly until it wasn’t. The Sixers Friday possessed an 18-point lead. They even had a 16-point lead with four minutes to go in the ballgame. Their stars should have been put on ice. But of course they had to make us sweat with a predictable bevy of turnovers, folly, all while logging monster minutes in what should have been an open-and-shut case. They got it done in OT.
Failing to close out big leads has been a problem for this organization for years. Fans still have nightmares about the blown double-digit leads to the Atlanta Hawks in 2021. They once let a painfully winnable series slip through their fingers, squandering a 26-point lead at home. But we can’t blame Ben Simmons anymore.
The Sixers were able to close it out against LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Lakers on Friday in overtime. Mostly because Davis missed a crucial free throw at the end of the game. And in OT, the Sixers put the clamps back on.
“Well, I thought we would start this about 15 minutes ago,” Doc Rivers joked when he greeted reporters after the 133-122 OT win.
“Everything [went wrong],” Rivers continued. “Missed layups, turnovers — We’ll take the win ..., just the mistakes we made down the stretch, very similar to the Houston game in someways. We have to fix that.”
Rivers wants to see his players get open to help reduce needless turnovers. Here was the most crucial error, but there were many.
“All our guards we all have to come to the ball, we have to get open, we gotta play through their fouls down the stretch of the game. James [Harden] got stripped once, Shake [Milton] gets a hook. Think about all the things that had to happen… We get a hook foul, we miss at least one layup, we miss a couple free throws. Have at least five turnovers, four turnovers can’t happen. We’ll fix that,” Doc said.
But why do they still have to? Teams like Boston and Milwaukee don’t have these issues year in, year out, despite new personnel.
“Taking care of the ball, getting the ball to the right guy, at the right spot, at the right time. We have not done that the last two [games].”
The team’s stars have to be better with the ball. Harden and Embiid combined for 24 turnovers in the last two outings alone. It’s an almost comical total.
“Sloppy but a good win for us,” Tobias Harris said. “We just got to take care of the basketball, make the right play, it’s like this domino effect of turnovers towards the end. Obviously we don’t like it but it was a good win for us. Will take any win in the NBA.”
Harris was asked how they might fix this stuff.
“Make the easy play, we got to protect the basketball, our whole group, especially when teams up the pressure. We just really gotta make the easy play and the simple play as well. I thought in this game we had too many times where we weren’t able to get open. I think we were just kind of easing into getting open but you know those type of things we’ll see on film, make some adjustments.”
If one were forced to read into his comments, they might wonder if he wasn’t frustrated Harden didn’t make a better effort to get open on that fateful inbound turnover Harris had, linked above in the Tweet. Harris would never blame Harden, but we could read between the lines, perhaps.
“I had a couple turnovers,” Harden said. “They just amped up their pressure. They picked up the pressure a little bit and had us on our heels. We can’t allow that to happen, but I’m proud of the way we didn’t hang our heads, we went into overtime and we won the game.”
Harden picked it up down the stretch and helped close the Lakers out. But it was ugly.
Embiid was asked what was going through his head at the end.
“Just trying to figure out what the hell was going on. Honestly, I think we had a bunch of turnovers. We never should have never been in that position, but I’m glad we got another opportunity at it and we went to overtime and we closed it down.”
The Sixers improve to 13-12. They’re the sixth seed in the East. They’ll need to clean this stuff up if they want home court for even the first round of the playoffs. If they can’t, we’ll repurpose the old Jim Mora “playoffs?!” clip to say “Play-In?!”