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Bummer: Sixers Lose Coin-Toss Game to Nuggets in OT

Jan 18, 2012, 10:21 PM EDT

The Philadelphia 76ers played the Nuggets to a draw in regulation, but couldn't quite sweat out the overtime win in their most suspenseful game of the season.

Basketball might not be known as the sport of inches, but in this game,
it certainly felt like one. The Sixers and Nuggets have been considered
to be roughly mirror teams this season—both athletic, young, deep,
starless squads that share the ball and play good team defense—and they
showed why tonight, playing to a draw in regulation after a first half
that saw the Sixers run out to a double-digit lead in the second quarter,
then cough it up just as quickly, needing an 11-0 run in the fourth to
get things even again. It was a game of runs, and it felt like the team
that would win would just be the one who made the last shot.

In other words, this game very easily could’ve gone either way. It just didn’t go the Sixers’ way.

Which,
of course, isn’t to say that our guys go entirely without blame for the
L here. Andre Iguodala went to the line with four seconds left in
regulation with a chance to put the team ahead, and instead split to
tie. Lou Williams missed a wide open three from the corner that would’ve
given Philly a one-point lead in OT. And in what might be the enduring
play from this game, Jrue threw the ball away with five seconds left and
the Sixers down two.

Besides these memorable misses, there were
countless loose balls and rebounds around the net throughout the game
that the Sixers just couldn’t wrap their hands around. Most notably on a
Thaddeus Young miss around the basket with about a minute left in the
4th and Philly up 4, where he tried to go back up with it and got
blocked by the rim, leading to an Andre Miller and-one on the other end.
If the Sixers get one of those rebounds—or if Thaddeus kicks the ball out to
kill clock instead of trying to go back up without any space to do
so—maybe they win. But they didn’t, and they end up losing their first
overtime game (and first true test game, for whatever that’s worth) of
the season by a score of 108-104.

As bad as the loss is, there’s
still plenty to feel good about with this game. Evan Turner went into
old-school Ohio State mode for an extended stretch in the fourth
quarter, showing more confidence than we’ve ever seen from The
Extraterrestrial. He dazzled in his work around the basket, earning
three and-ones in the second half (converting two) and ended with a
season-high 20 points on 8-17 shooting on the night, with 11 rebounds to
boot. The most remarkable thing about The Villain’s 4th was how as he
started to heat up, the team started deferring to him in the half-court,
and he had showed no hesitation whatsoever at taking the load on his
shoulders. The jumper wasn’t going, but even his misses were
encouraging—good looks earned on good moves and good movement that just
didn’t go down. Once he can reliably stick the mid-range—and you have to
think that as long as he puts in the work, he will someday soon—this
guy can be a devastating offensive player.

Despite a couple
gaffes of his own, Thaddeus Young was also certainly the man tonight,
scoring a season-high 22 points off the bench, even showing a little
improved range in the half-court, hitting some open jumpers and even a
step-back. You would’ve liked to see him get to the line some—despite
their combined 36 shots from the field, Thad and Elton Brand (a nice
night himself from the floor, 16 on 8-14 FG) managed just two free-throw
attempts between them, and poetically, missed both—but it still gave
the Sixers a huge boost, with the Sixers nightshift (YEAH MZ) combining
for an incredible 54 points.

But what killed the Sixers tonight
was size. Well, size and Andre Miller, but we’ll get to him in a minute.
Without Spencer Hawes, who sat tonight with leg and back issues, the
team had to rely on rookie Nikola Vucevic for big minutes, and though he
played capably in an extended first-quarter stretch, he couldn’t stay
on the floor, picking up two fouls in the first and his next two shortly
upon returning in the second and third. Without him, the Sixers had to
go small, and Nuggets big Nene ate Elton Brand and Thaddeus Young alive,
going off for 20 and 14 when it felt like he could’ve ended with a lot
more. The particularly discouraging plays were when Elton was fronting
Nene, and Andre Miller would still dump it into him, putting it just
high enough that it was forever out of Elton’s reach. After that, there
was nothing anyone could do.

And yeah, about that Andre Miller.
We saw first-hand for two-plus seasons just what this guy is capable of,
and boy did we see the full arsenal tonight. Starting the game behind
Ty Lawson, he was by far the best player on the court, finishing with
28, 10 and 8, and hitting some absolutely huge shots in the fourth and
overtime to steal the game for the Nuggets. Some of it was a little
fluky, to say the least—Miller, the career 20% three-point shooter, hit
his first three shots from deep (tying a career-high he set with the
Cavs in 2000), including a pull-up over Andre Iguodala after getting a
call he didn’t like. It was the kind of performance players usually
reserve for Grudge Match vengeance games, enough so that it caused
Zumoff and Malik to audibly wonder whether or not the Sixers did
something to piss him off before he left for Portland as a free agent.

With
a performance like that from Andre, some bad breaks for the Sixers and
the lack of their do-everything starting center, the loss is again
excusable, even if we’d rather have a lucky win at this point than a
justifiable loss. But I do want to raise questions about two decisions
made by Coach Collins that may have swayed the balance of this game. Now
I don’t like second-guessing coaches, and Collins deserves all the
credit in the world for getting this team to this point, both in terms
of the game tonight and in the larger sense of his 96-game tenure as the
Sixers’ ship captain, but I do hope there’s some explanation for the
two of these, much of which will likely come from his post-game presser.

First off, going small in the second half—Vucevic’s fourth foul
knocked him out of the game early in the second, and he didn’t play
again the whole night—was a risky tactical ploy that all told, ended up
working out well for the Sixers, as the small, speedy Ballers unit was
able to get steals and push the ball in the fourth as they broke off
that 11-0 run to get back in the game. But what I don’t get is why on
the team’s second-to-last defensive possession in the fourth with
seconds to go and Philly up one, Collins still had Elton playing center,
when a stop was basically all the team needed to secure the win. Miller
ended up driving past Andre Iguodala for a layup, with the help defense
from Elton coming a split-second too late, and his outstretched arm
missing the ball by millimeters. You’d have to think that if Vucevic or
Battie were in there, maybe they get a finger on it, deflect it, alter
it somehow. But Collins stuck with his small lineup and was punished for
it.

Secondly, Collins decided not to call a time-out off the
rebound of Andre Miller’s missed banker with 15 seconds left in OT, with
the Sixers down two. Again, this move is defensible, as the Sixers had
been scoring well in transition late and might have had more of a shot
at an easy deuce or go-ahead three with the Nuggets flustered getting
back on D, instead of having time to set up in the half-court. But the
problem was that all of the Sixers seemed to expect Collins to call
time, resulting in Jodie Meeks corralling the rebound for two seconds
before getting it to a playmaker, Jrue Holiday trotting the ball up
court, and then running a discombobulated play that ended with him
throwing the ball into the capable hands of Andre Miller. If Collins
planned not to call a timeout then, then you’d hope he would’ve told the
team that in the timeout before their previous possession, so they
could’ve responded quickly with it and had the element of surprise on
their side. Instead, they never even got off a shot.

There’s a lot to talk about with this game, obviously—with all I’ve
already said, I still haven’t even mentioned Jrue’s gorgeous spin move
and layup in the fourth to put the team up one with less than a minute
to go, nor Andre Iguodala’s near triple-double (11-10-9) or the
definitively poor shooting night that went with it (4-12 with a big FT
miss)—but bottom line, the team hung tough but couldn’t quite get a hold
of the game. Tough one, and it’ll take a win Friday against the Hawks
to make up for it—no doubt all our guys will be chomping at the bit to
wash the taste of this one out of their mouths, and hopefully Spence can
join the party as well.

In any event, hell of a game. If you’re not watching this team by now, shame on you.