What do Kobe, Durant, D-Rose, Dirk, D-Wade and Chris Paul all have in common? They’re all NBA ‘closers’ — players who make big plays towards the end of the game. These guys have the ability to put a team on their shoulders and carry that squad to victory through sheer will and killer instinct. Or, at least that’s how the narrative goes. Not every player in the League owns the skills and killer instinct to be a ‘closer’ — LeBron James apparently can not fill this role. But, most concerning for us is that despite Louis Williams’ best efforts, it seems the current Sixers roster lacks anyone with enough talent and killer instinct to ‘close’ a game.
It has become evident that the 76ers have some major issues in the fourth quarter, which are indicative in their poor record in close games — 28 in games decided by 5 points or less & 2-12 in games decided by 7 points or less. These issues bring some questions about the team’s future.
Lou Williams has been the de-facto “closer” for the team this season, as he is 5th in the NBA in field goals during the fourth quarter or overtime, while only shooting around 37%. He also is 2nd in the entire NBA in field goal attempts, trailing only Kobe, and 12 more than Kevin Durant, who is in third place but has 12 more made field goals than Williams. Lou actually has a very similar eFG (eFG is a measure to show FG% by taking into consideration that 3s are worth more than 2s) to Kobe, but in general, neither posts an especially strong eFG (.424 for Williams, .426 for Bryant) in comparison to the rest of the league, which averages .483 overall.
While we know that Lou takes a lot of shots at the end of games, how does he stack up with the rest of the team? Out of the 76ers players who have taken more than 25 shots in the 4th/OT, he ranks 7th out of 8. His sample size is much larger than anyone else’s, but that’s still bad. Surprisingly, Jodie Meeks has been terrific with a .636 eFG. Jrue and Thad have been pretty solid too, both with above average eFGs and a relatively high amount of FG attempts. If any players are most responsible for the Sixers’ offensive success in the 4th, it’s probably these two.
In fact, Thad shoots 51% in the 4th even with 126 overall FG attempts (Williams has taken 190). Iguodala seems reluctant to shoot towards the end of games, and has taken only 66 FGs in the fourth quarter of games. It’s hard to say why he has been reluctant, but it’s not a stretch to believe that the media criticism of his ‘closing skills” over the past few years has made him hesitant to shoot. Also, DC has instilled in Iguodala that he is the team’s primary defensive stopper and a main distributor, and scoring will come secondary. This is preferable, because he often finds himself covering the other team’s best scorer, but his overall FGAs in the fourth is relatively low for a guy who plays as many minutes as he does. However, as long as he continues to play good D, other guys can shoot the ball, but if he does get an open look, he shouldn’t hesitate, no matter what people may say after the game.
The Sixers lack of success at the end of games is not all Lou’s fault. It seems like a lot of plays are designed for him, and often the team seems to lack initiative and direction on offense without Lou attacking. Given that, it would still be prudent for Coach Collins to try and run a more balanced offense, especially getting Thad into the mix.
When evaluating their 4th quarter performance compared to the first three quarters, it’s alarming how much less efficient the defense becomes. In the first three quarters, the Sixers rank 4th, 1st, and 1st in oPPG. In the 4th, that number falls all the way to 17th. The Sixers’ average points in the 4th hardly changes from the 3rd, going from 18th to 19th overall (versus 24th and 8th in the first two quarters). It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the problem is. Their opponents will often have their best players in the floor in the 4th unless it’s a blowout, but this should be a uniform pattern throughout the League. It seems like their lapses might be a combination of nerves and lack of offensive flow, which creates more chances for the opponents to capitalize on the Sixers’ mistakes. Granted, this is something that can be improved upon, but it is a cause for concern.
The Sixers are among the best defensive teams in the NBA, if not the best, but have not shown that in the 4th quarter. If games ended after the 3rd, then the 7-6 would probably be a top 5 team (Their average score after 3 quarters is 70.8-63.2). They don’t, so something needs to be fixed.
The best solution is to try and play in the 4th the same way as the 1st through 3rd. Though that is easier said than done, it benefits them to try and play stylistically the same way the whole game. Lou Williams playing “hero-ball” clearly hurts their offensive efficiency, and it’s time to reconsider 4th quarter strategy. More simply, just don’t consider the fourth quarter to be special, and treat it just like another quarter. Obviously, there will be some situational differences (such as having to foul or having to shoot 3 pointers because of a big score differential), but in the scope of things, it’s only a small part of the Sixers flaws.
Given the Sixers history of bad luck and lack of execution in close games over the last two years, I don’t believe their late game fortunes will change with this roster. But by adopting a mentality in which the 4th quarter is treated as just another quarter of the game instead of a glorified one on one contest in which every play must end in a Louis Williams jump shot, Collins and Co. would increase their chances of grabbing a W in these close contests every once in a while.