Imagine being a child again, just for a minute. Remember the first time you played with a balloon. It was so shiny, and moved in different ways, up and down, side to side. That’s how I felt, how you felt and how the Sixers most energetic crowd of the season felt with a 101-96 lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder with 36 seconds remaining. It was exhilarating. It had upset written all over it. It was a chance to make some real noise in the NBA circles.
Well the air in that balloon was completely punctured in the final 30 seconds of the fourth and the entire overtime period, producing a 110-105 defeat for the Sixers (33-31). Like the Memphis collapse on January 28th, this one is going to take about a month to swallow.
Much of the contest was a high-paced point guard duel between UCLA alumni Russell Westbrook and Jrue Holiday. Westbrook got the best of Holiday, scoring 27, dishing out 12 assists and hitting the closing 20-footer in overtime to put OKC up for good. Holiday does deserve recognition for his 22 points, 8 assists, 4 boards and 0 turnovers but for most of the game Westbrook was taking him into the paint with ease. It really was a pleasurable battle to watch unfold. Holiday was hitting deep shots two including two three’s and getting to the rim as well. Obviously Westbrook is capable of carrying the Thunder any night they need him. Let’s also give credit to Holiday for forcing Westbrook into 7 TOs and making him take 23 shots to score 27 points. Still, Holiday disappeared in the fourth. More on that later.
Having a closer in baseball is crucial. Having a clutch field goal kicker in football is necessary. But having an automatic option to go to in the fourth quarter in the NBA is essential if you want to be playing deep into the playoffs. Tonight, again, was a perfect example of the Sixers failing to close out opportunities late in the game against a level / superior opponent (think Dallas, Memphis, Boston and Orlando) because they lack a “go to guy” who can convert under pressure (a.k.a. — a superstar).
Chants of “Lets Go Sixers!” were ringing loudly all throughout the Wells Fargo Center. Those cheers would soon turn into the universal both-hands-behind-your-head, the ultimate sign of a sports collapse.
Kevin Durant (34 points, 16 boards) would go on to hit an impossible running jumper to scratch the Philly lead to 101-98. Then surprisingly, after Lou Williams became scorching hot from the floor (13 fourth quarter points) Collins gave instructions for Iguodala to make a move toward the basket, where Durantula effectively stuffed the Sixers point forward. Then with 12 seconds remaining, ice in his veins, and Iguodala hovering right around his face, Durant canned a deep three tying the game at 101 leaving six ticks on the clock.
How do you not triple-team Durant in that situation? Force anyone else into a semi-open three. ANYONE!
Six seconds left and a tie ball game, let’s play the guessing game on who Doug Collins chose to take the final shot. I recently wondered if using Elton Brand late in games could be an effective strategy, but the big man’s gas tank was below empty as he struggled to even make it up and down the floor. So then Collins had to go with Lou Williams, right? A guy who had hit clutch shots in two January nail biters, a guy who had scored eight straight points in the fourth quarter, carrying what was otherwise a dormant Philly offense. Nope it wasn’t Lou.
Sticking with my childhood theme, I know! I know! It has to be Jrue Holiday. Even though Lou and Iguodala’s ball-hoggish ways whittled down Holiday to just two fourth quarter shots, he was shooting over 50 percent at that time and Collins certainly couldn’t have liked Durant’s length on ‘Dre, could he? He did. Iguodala’s “power dribble” drive to the bucket ended up being an offensive foul; a pass to a wide open Thaddeus Young could’ve ended the game with a Thunder(ous) bang.
Former MLB manager Davey Johnson once told me that “second guessing is one of the easiest jobs in the world.” And I’ve praised Doug Collins in much of my writing for this website. But it’s my journalistic right to continue my confrontation his inability to choose the correct option when it matters the most. The Sixers went into that “we can’t lose this game” mode, which more often than not leads to a late game cloud of bewilderment. Overtime proved to be even an even worse debacle, as the Sixers scored only four points. Lou Williams didn’t even enter the game in extra time. This humongous late game issue must be solved immediately.
Philly’s bench was also outplayed for once, even though it didn’t show directly in the box score. Nick Collison loudly put up a double-double with 13 points and 10 boards on 6-of-8 shooting. He took two key charges down the stretch and also grabbed an offensive board in overtime which really deflated the 7-6. James Harden scored 10 points in the second quarter helping keep up the torrent pace Westbrook started in the first.
Let’s talk more about or inability to get much going (besides Lou in the fourth). The normally reliable Thaddeus Young was a dreadful -16 in +/-, had just four points on 2-of-10 shooting, equaling his worst game in a losing effort this season. Young had entered the game averaging 18 in his last 10, a number Collins and the staff was counting on him at least sniffing tonight against the slower OKC big men. Young was often picked on defensively too, allowing Serge Ibaka and our old friend Nazr Mohammed to grab some easy buckets underneath.
This game had a playoff like feel to it, which is why you saw Evan Turner play just 14 minutes, attempt just three shots and score ZERO points. I’m not shocked, or even surprised. But it’s worth mentioning that the leagues number one ranked bench had lots to do with the loss Wednesday night.
Never once in my sports journalism career have I openly lambasted officiating like I’m about to do. I just feel like I can’t ignore what took place down the stretch in the Sixers 110-105 overtime loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
I’ll be the first one to openly admit to having a man crush on Kevin Durant (34 points, 16 rebounds) but the amount of calls that go his way is quite shocking. With 1:44 left in the fourth Durant was streaking down the sideline when he inadvertently fumbled the ball right into Lou Williams’ hand. The play could’ve resulted in an easy Sixer transition bucket and a surefire victory. But the ref blew his whistle for a reach in.
Our pals at Daily Thunder even tweeted out that Durant’s four point play at the end of the third quarter — which was a questionable bump call on Thad Young in the first place — actually should’ve been a three point play. Durant’s foot was clearly on the line. Add in this moving screenwhere Ibaka nudges Iguodala enough on the hip to free KD. Elton Brand set a similar screen in overtime that altered any remaining Sixer momentum.
A win over OKC would’ve meant 8-of-9 victories and a win over a team in the hunt for a title. Hopefully this loss will make this team hungrier to beat Boston Friday night at home. The Celtics have beaten Philly twice this season by a combined total of five points. Thaddeus Young needs a big night to make up for his absence tonight.
- Jodie Meeks had a heck of a start, hitting three triples in the first quarter. He finished with 17 points and seven rebounds, second on the team for the night. He even hit a few rare mid-range jumpers. Nice game.
- The Sixers hit 10 three pointers
- OKC shot an even 50% from the floor. The Thunder also outrebounded Philly 53-46.
- OKC had 52 points in the paint compared to the Sixers 36.
- The Sixers scored 34 first quarter points.
- That quick start was followed by a disasterous 2nd quarter which one could argue cost the 7-6 the game. The Sixers shot 5-16 in the 2nd quarter and committed 5 Tos. They only scored 21 points in that Q and flushed a 6 point lead down the drain leading into the half.
- Of course NBA.com has highlights of the Sixers disappointing L last night.