01/29/11 11:15 am EST
Jan. 28, 2011, around 9pm, these were the salient facts about the Sixers: they had won three straight games, 17 of 29, and were holding the seven spot in the East. They were young, willing to play defense, and seemed very much like they were at the beginning of something. Furthermore, the something they seemed to be at the beginning of seemed much better than the something they had just ended.
More immediately, they were up 21 points on the Memphis Grizzlies, at home, and in the process of winning in the sort of convincing / inevitable way that good teams beat bad teams when they’re at home.
A few minutes earlier, when they went up 66-46, Eric Snow said “I see why people are changing their tune about the Philadelphia 76ers,” and Mark Zumoff, not to be outdone, started running off stats about how the Sixers were reborn under Doug Collins and said the word “defense” many times.
In that moment, I felt something in my guts. A turning point had occurred. Maybe not in that moment, but in that moment I realized it. The Sixers had crossed the Rubicon. We were…good?
Minutes later I learned in disturbing fashion that the answer to my question is — not yet.
With 3:22 left in the third period, Thad Young hit a jumper to give the Sixers a 70-49 lead.
Memphis got a couple buckets, at least one from Thabeet, then Sweet Lou answered back witha three with 1:25 remaining in the third to push the Sixer lead to 73-53. At this point, Mark Zumoff said something very weird.
“And the Sixers are shooting a lusty 9-for-13 from three!” he bellowed.
I’m not implying causation here, but in the interval between when he said this weird thing and the game ended, the Sixers were outscored 46-21.
After the run had concluded and the dust cleared and the Sixers were left with a 99-94 loss to the Grizz, the salient facts had changed. No longer were they a team that was 17-12 in their last 29 and poised to do even better in their next 30 minus 1 –they became a 20-26 team with no killer instinct, no offensive identity, and a best player who’s over 30.
Why did this happen?
Three pointers for one. While they shot a ridiculous 13-20 from three for the day (have the Sixers ever had a better day from three than this?), the last few years I’ve noticed a weird complacency take hold whenever they’re having luck from downtown. Not only do they stop challenging offensively, they stop moving on defense. You know how rich people worry that their kids will be wastrels because things are too easy for them. I’m convinced the Sixers become wastrels when things become too easy. Case in point.
For seconds, we were absolutely careless with the ball in the final period. I haven’t looked at the stat sheet for this one (I don’t have the strength, but I remember we were at 11 for the quarter, at one point) but suffice it to say we were absolutely lackadaisical with the rock.
For thirds, our defenders stopped defending. This is partly a function of all the scoring opportunities Memphis got from the turnovers, and partly a function of late-game free-throw stat padding, but mostly just flat out crumby defense. We allowed more points in the fourth quarter than we did in any two of the other three combined (OK, I looked at the stats). They didn’t take any short cuts either. They hit one three all night. They scored their points the old fashioned way –they earned them (and they went 24/26 from the line).
It was an absolutely disastrous, gut wrenching, WTF, FTS, SMC, FTJ, loss. I turned on the radio afterwards and caller after caller buzzed in to say how aggravated and aggrieved and flat out hurt they were that just when they reinvested in the team, the Sixers had burned them. It was touched nerve anger.
But they were calling and talking about the Sixers. The forgotten team had affected them.
It was a painful loss. But within that pain is maybe, promise: the Sixers, the dreadful Sixers, have made us care again.
Seriously though, 11 turnovers in one quarter?
- We said in our “Fo’ with the Foes” preview that controlling Randolph and Gasol would be the key to the Sixers getting a W last night. The Sixers did a decent job of that until the fourth quarter. In addition to turning the ball over continuously, the Sixers also could not get stops at the other end. Gasol had 6 points in the 4th while Randolph hit for 9 points and was a beast on the FT line (6-6 in the Q).
- The Sixers bigs didn’t fair well at the offensive end either as they were responsible for 8 of the 11 TOs in the 4th. Hawes had 3 and Brand had 3 as well. Thad and Battie rounded out the nightmare 4th for the Sixers big men with one TO apiece.
- A lineup of Greivis Vasquez, Tony Allen, Xavier Henry, Darrell Arthur and Hasheem Thabeet worked the Sixers in the late 3rd into the early 4th and was responsible for the bulk of the Grizz comeback. The Grizz starters returned in the mid-4th with the 21 point lead slashed to 10 and the momentum clearly rolling the Grizzlies way.
- NBA.com has the clips of the disaster — watch them if you dare.