Rockets stun Sixers at the buzzer

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Houston 105, Philadelphia 104 – Box Score

Over the past few years, the Sixers have lost a lot of games. Mixed into what were blowouts too numerous to recall, there were also quite a few times where the team should have won, only for victory to slip through their fingers in the final minutes, or even seconds. It would sting, but then you would remember, at least that helps them in the lottery. Now, the Sixers have set their sights on the playoffs, and without the fallback of knowing the loss helps them in the lottery, Wednesday night’s last-minute collapse to Houston just plain stings.

With three minutes left in the game, a Ben Simmons bucket put Philadelphia ahead 104-96. Those were the last points the team would score, as Houston went on a 9-0 run to close out the game, capped by an Eric Gordon corner three over the outstretched arm of Joel Embiid at the buzzer. As JoJo turned to watch the ball go through the net, his entire body momentarily slumped down in dejection. You could just imagine him thinking about all the hours of rehab and the time spent in the gym, just to get back on the court, and how he and his Sixers teammates weren’t supposed to lose that game.

Despite a questionable goaltending call on Embiid that gave the Rockets an extra point in the final minute, the Sixers have no one to blame for the loss but themselves and their horrible, late-game execution offensively. Their final possessions after the final Simmons score were as follows:

  1. A Ben Simmons lay-up blocked by Clint Capela. After the Sixers got the offensive rebound, J.J. Redick turned it over trying to drive past James Harden. This possession actually wasn’t terrible, as the Capela block was a very nice defensive play, and you could have made the argument that Harden fouled Redick (J.J. certainly thought so).
  2. A bad pass by Simmons trying to pass to a covered Jerryd Bayless in the corner.
  3. An off-balance Redick heave from behind the arc with the shot clock about to expire.
  4. Redick actually freed himself for a wide-open three with a nice pump fake. The shot rimmed off, but it was a great look.
  5. Simmons went iso but couldn’t get another going against Eric Gordon, who bodied up the rookie very effectively. Simmons bailed it out to Bayless with 3 seconds left on the shot clock, who had no choice but to try and drive. His shot attempt was blocked by Harden for a shot clock violation.

You might notice that at no point during those final five possessions is there mention of Joel Embiid, the unstoppable unicorn who had 21 points on 13 field goal attempts for the evening. I know it’s harder to get the ball to a big man in late game situations, but you have to work it to JoJo at some point. It shouldn’t be that difficult to get him the ball 12-15 feet out and at the very least, he can pull up for the mid-range jumper that’s been butter for him this season because he’s much larger than anyone defending him. The Sixers didn’t try much of anything beyond have the shot clock wind down and go iso with Simmons, and the fault falls on Brett Brown.

Still, despite the loss, it’s important to see the silver lining that the Sixers genuinely outplayed one of the top teams in the league (albeit one missing key pieces in Chris Paul, Trevor Ariza, and Nene). Late-game quagmire aside, Ben Simmons was excellent with 14 points, 7 rebounds, 9 assists, 3 steals, and a block. Redick dropped a team-high 22 points, including 9 points in the fourth quarter where he turned Harden back into a human turnstile. Embiid was excellent both scoring the basketball and on the defensive end, looking spry and healthy flying all over the court.

And I haven’t yet mentioned the star of the game, Timothy John McConnell, who tallied 6 points, 5 rebounds, 9 assists, and *6 steals* in 28 minutes of action. TJ was in full gritness mode, lurking for those backcourt steals he’s made a specialty of his over the years. When McConnell is hurling himself around and creating extra possessions, the entire team’s energy level just kicks into a higher gear.

In the end, hopefully the Sixers are able to learn from this defeat. Unlike past years, somebody like Simmons is actually going to be here for the next decade, so it’s valuable to get him reps in clutch situations. The loss is awful, but maybe the team will take that bitter taste in their mouths and use it as a little extra motivation going forward. If nothing else, the excitement of the game helped us forget about the team PR nightmare around the Markelle Fultz situation for an evening.

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