That one was ugly.
Come to think of it, most of them haven’t been pretty.
It was a tale of two halves for the Sixers on offense. In the first, even the bench unit was stellar on offense and put up 25 straight bench points to lead the hosts to a 57-46 lead at the break. For the first time in what feels like forever, the Sixers bench unit was actually fun to watch.
The second half? Not so fun.
The end of the third and beginning of the fourth saw the Sixers’ lead whittled away. Another double-digit lead blown. Another game sent into overtime. This time, against a struggling Raptors team on a then five-game losing streak. But head coach Doc Rivers isn’t concerned.
“Everyone blows leads in this league. That lead was blown by the fourth quarter beginning. Let’s celebrate that. We won the game. We should focus on the positive stuff,” Rivers said postgame.
Alright then, let’s try to do that. With the Raptors clawing their way back into the game late, it was time for the defense to step up, and they did. Specifically, P..J.. Tucker stepped up in overtime after aggressively covering Pascal Siakam throughout the game.
If you look strictly at the box score, it looks like it was a terrible night for Tucker. He had a rough game offensively, shooting just 1-for-6 from the floor. And Siakam had a great game against Tucker in regulation, leading the game with 38 points.
But Tucker kicked his defense into high gear when the Sixers needed it the most. During the fourth quarter, Tucker finally started drawing fouls from Siakam’s offensive push-offs, and the tide in that matchup started to turn headed into overtime.
In overtime, Tucker’s aggression helped restrict Siakam into going 0-for-3, including the potential game-tying three pointer as time expired in South Philadelphia.
“[Siakam] made a bunch of tough shots tonight,” Joel Embiid said. “Threes, a bunch of push-offs and step backs and he made a bunch of tough shots tonight, but, down the stretch, P.J. was aggressive and didn’t give him any space. He was magical.”
Tucker finished the game with a steal, a block, and six rebounds with four coming on the defensive end. With Tobias Harris’ late-game heroics on the offensive end of the floor working in tandem, the Sixers eked out another win.
But this is a familiar story with the Sixers this season. One part of their game almost totally collapses, and another sector steps up to just barely get the job done. It’s always ugly, but they’re still wins.
“It was not a great game of flow or anything like that, we kind of just hung in there and won the game,” Rivers said of the Raptors matchup. “Those are the ones you look back on and take those wins.”
The big man seemed to agree.
“We got the win. Even when it’s ugly, it still counts,” Embiid said. “We were up a lot the whole night then they made that run in the end of the third and beginning of the fourth, but we reacted. That’s what we’ve been working on, to stay calm and just keep playing. We know teams are going to make runs.”
This is by far not the first ugly win of the season. It’s not even the first ugly win of this five-game win streak.
Just last Friday, the Sixers had to battle back against the depleted, Steph Curry-less Golden State Warriors that came out hot against the hosts in South Philadelphia. On Dec. 9, the first game of the win streak, the Los Angeles Lakers forced overtime against the Sixers after outscoring them 37-27 in the fourth quarter. Both ended up as wins, but were made much harder than they needed to be.
These were all games where the Sixers were favored, sometimes heavily.
But does it matter? If the Sixers can keep putting up wins, does it matter how ugly the wins are? One might worry that those ugly aspects could start coming back to bite the Sixers, turning some of these close wins into losses before we know it.
Embiid, however, is not worried.
“We know where we want to end up so we can never be satisfied,” Embiid said of the recent string of tough fought victories. “I think we are getting better every single day. We are not perfect and every single night, it’s not going to be perfect. As long as we have the mentality of wanting to learn and wanting to get better I think that’s what matters.”
Let’s hope so.