By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
Final from Portland. pic.twitter.com/9EJf76vjIq
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) December 29, 2017
Portland 114, Philadelphia 110- Box Score
In a rare turn of events, it was the Sixers’ opponent that saw their star player have his status turn from questionable to out just prior to gametime Thursday night. Portland sat out Damian Lillard with his hamstring injury, while Joel Embiid was cleared to take the court, and for three quarters, that looked like it would be enough for a Philadelphia victory. Embiid did his best Lillard impression, sinking a career-high 6 threes on 12 attempts for a team-best 29 points. The team led by 13 heading into the final quarter, but sadly, that’s when events turned all too familiar.
You could basically play choose your own adventure in pointing out different directions where this game went wrong for the Sixers, most glaringly the 19-0 run by Portland in the fourth quarter. Robert Covington injured his left middle finger early in the second half, meaning plenty of Jerryd Bayless down the stretch. For anyone that’s watched Bayless this season, you can likely guess the result. 0 points and 0 assists in 20 minutes for a game-worst -20 plus/minus. Why you don’t throw Richaun Holmes, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, or even Justin Anderson (who was cleared to play, but hadn’t received practice time) on the floor when Bayless is giving you literally nothing is a head-scratcher.
There were also some questionable calls. CJ McCollum attempted as many free throws as the entire Sixers team (14); naturally, he made all 14 on his way to a game-high 34 points. Jusuf Nurkic also got to the line repeatedly (going 11-16), as he was definitely the more physical player in his matchup with Embiid. Still, Nurkic played for a long stretch with 5 fouls and there was definitely a moment or two when the referees could have easily blown the whistle to foul him out of the game. I know the Sixers are terrible at drawing fouls (outside of Embiid), but a 47-14 disparity in free throw attempts is ridiculous.
Finally, as they’re apt to do, the Sixers just killed themselves. After doing such a wonderful job of taking care of the ball for the first three quarters, 7 of the team’s 13 turnovers came in the fourth quarter. T.J. McConnell tried to throw a three-quarters court lob to Embiid that sailed and hit the top of the backboard. Embiid made an incredibly lazy pass to the top of the key that led to a Shabazz Napier runout. Ben Simmons had a couple plays where he over-dribbled into a crowd and lost the ball. These are avoidable mistakes that end up being the reason a team continuously loses double-digit leads in the fourth quarter. The Sixers are the embodiment of when you point a finger at someone else, there are three pointing back at you.
After the high of a Christmas Day victory in New York, the Sixers are back in the throes of a losing skid that has seen them fall in defeat 10 of their last 12 games. They will finish out 2017 in Denver Saturday night and Phoenix on New Year’s Eve. I, for one, am ready to turn the calendar page on this season.
- We always took about how Simmons uses passing angles no one would even consider. This play where he actually passed over the basket to Amir Johnson was equal parts dangerous and fun. Look at Nurkic duck!
Simmons lobbing this pass made Nurkic look pretty bad. pic.twitter.com/Ti2TRRnU3H
— Rich Hofmann (@rich_hofmann) December 29, 2017
- I didn’t mention him earlier, but Dario Saric shook off his bad performance against the Knicks with an excellent effort. Saric went 5-6 from three and 10-12 from the field overall, collecting 25 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals. That’s the sort of play that encourages you into thinking he can coexist alongside Embiid and Simmons.
- Bayless is still set to make $8.6M next season. That signing is a huge misfire from Bryan Colangelo.