Late-game execution again dooms Sixers

Late-game execution again dooms Sixers


CHICAGO — The Sixers blew a nine-point fourth-quarter lead as they had no answer for Nikola Mirotic and Kris Dunn down the stretch in a 117-115 loss to the Chicago Bulls on Monday night. 

Dario Saric tried to keep the 76ers in the game with 27 points and six rebounds. Ben Simmons appeared to notch his fourth triple-double of the season before having an assist taken away. He finished with 19 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists. 

Simmons had a chance to force overtime, but couldn't convert on a layup with 0.5 seconds left. 

The Sixers dropped below .500 (14-15) for the first time since Oct. 30 with the defeat, while the Bulls (9-20) extended their improbable winning streak to six games.

• Saric made a three-pointer with 39.4 seconds left to get the Sixers within two, but Simmons couldn't capitalize after a defensive stop. Saric scored 10 points in the fourth quarter.

• The Sixers were limited with Joel Embiid, Trevor Booker and Furkan Korkmaz missing the game. Korkmaz is out indefinitely with a left foot injury and Booker missed the game after spraining his left ankle on Friday.

• Simmons took a page out of the absent Embiid's book by staring down Paul Zipser after a layup to give the Sixers a 96-94 lead with 7:52 left in the fourth quarter. Simmons then blocked Justin Holiday's shot to set up a three-pointer by Jerryd Bayless, and capped it off with another layup over Bobby Portis to extend the lead to 101-94. 

Simmons also gave Portis the stare-down treatment while heading into a Chicago timeout. After a pair of Bulls free throws, Bayless converted a four-point play to give the Sixers a 105-96 lead with 5:51 left.

• After attempting only one shot in 17 minutes in the first half, Robert Covington helped sparked the Sixers in the third quarter and erased a 12-point deficit with eight points. 

• After leading, 18-10, the Sixers allowed a 20-5 Bulls run late in the first quarter. A series of defensive lapses had Brett Brown irate on the sidelines. The Sixers also had seven turnovers in the quarter, which led to 11 Chicago points. 

The Sixers gave up back-to-back fastbreak points late in the second half to Denzel Valentine and Holiday to give the Bulls a 64-54 lead. The Sixers allowed Chicago to shoot 8 of 14 from three-point range in the first half and couldn't contain Holiday, who went off for 20 points. He was 5 of 7 from three-point range. The Sixers trailed, 67-59, at the end of the first half despite shooting 50 percent.

• Brown is hoping to see Simmons go more outside of his comfort zone in games so the rookie can develop his mid-range jumper. 

“We have to start that more than we have seen it. We have to do it,” Brown said. “Because he has impacted the game so easily without having to, so like all of you, you go where you succeed.” 

Brown is putting an emphasis on Simmons to improve his jump shot during game action, which Simmons rarely did in the first half. Although, he was effective going to the rim as he scored 13 points on 6 of 11 shooting.

“He has been able to impact a game the way we've seen, kind of his whole life, at LSU, high school in Miami, the first 30 games in the NBA, but it is not real,” Brown said. “His evolution is going to be he has to grow that, and so, he works, but it's hard in the NBA. You don't have tons of practice time, so our next step is going to be promoting that through real-time games.

“Finding that balance of how you do it ends up in the fluidity of NBA life cause it is just relentless in its games. Oftentimes, that's all you have, and I'm excited."

• Embiid was a no-show in Chicago again. The center did not make the trip with the Sixers as he sat out the first game of a back-to-back set and has not played in Chicago since he was a member of the Kansas Jayhawks in a 94-83 win over Duke when he scored two points as a freshman.

Before the game, Brown was asked if NBA commissioner Adam Silver suggested teams rest their star players at home rather than on the road in back-to-back games. 

“He may have, but it has never been a mandate,” Brown said. “What we do is pay most of the attention to the team, to the individual, and I think we would all understand that there was no mandate from the league saying you have to rest them at home.” 

Embiid played a career-high 49 minutes in a triple-overtime loss to Oklahoma City on Friday. The Sixers host the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday night.

“I think what is most important is the player's health first, the organization second,” Brown said. “We fully understand the responsibility we have to the league. We fully understand the responsibility we have to the sport, but sometimes it doesn't all coexist and line up, does it? And so, with that in mind, as an organization, we make the decision based on that order of criteria and that's what we decided to do."  

• Covington and Jacob Pullen were back in their hometown. Covington starred at Proviso West and Pullen at Proviso East (see story).

Cousins posts historic triple-double in double-overtime win

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Cousins posts historic triple-double in double-overtime win

NEW ORLEANS — DeMarcus Cousins had 44 points, 24 rebounds and 10 assists, Anthony Davis scored 34 points, and the All-Star pair led a 17-point New Orleans comeback in the final five minutes of regulation before the Pelicans pulled out a 132-128 victory over the Chicago Bulls in double overtime Monday night.

Cousins scored seven points in the second overtime on a 3-pointer, a turnaround jumper and two free throws with 8.2 seconds left. He became the first NBA player since Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1972 to have as many as 40 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists in a game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

E'Twaun Moore scored 15 points, including a 3 in the second overtime to help the Pelicans win for the fifth time in six games.

Jerian Grant had 22 points and 13 assists, and Robin Lopez also scored 22 for the Bulls, who appeared well on their way to their fifth victory in six games when they opened the fourth quarter with a 23-5 run to take their largest lead at 104-86.

Chicago still led by 17 when Bobby Portis hit a pair of free throws with 5:06 left in the fourth quarter. But Cousins and Davis led New Orleans back with a stunning 21-2 run. Jrue Holiday tied it at 110 on a 3 with 46 seconds left, and Davis briefly gave New Orleans the lead with an alley-oop dunk of Holiday's lob (see full recap).

Murray's 38 points lead Nuggets over Trail Blazers
DENVER — Jamal Murray scored a career-high 38 points, including a three-point play in the final minute, and the Denver Nuggets beat the Portland Trail Blazers 104-101 on Monday night.

Nikola Jokic had 16 points and 12 rebounds, and Will Barton hit four free throws in the final 10 seconds to secure the win and spoil Jusuf Nurkic's return to Denver.

Nurkic had 19 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks in his first game back at Pepsi Center. Damian Lillard had 25 points and seven assists for Portland.

Nurkic played two-plus seasons with the Nuggets to begin his career, and was playing his first game in Denver since he was dealt to Portland last season. He received a smattering of boos when he was introduced as a starter and a few during the game (see full recap).

Bucks beat Suns hours after firing Kidd
MILWAUKEE — Khris Middleton spent three-plus years under Jason Kidd's tutelage, blossoming into a dangerous scorer with the Milwaukee Bucks.

He showed off what he learned in the Bucks' first game without Kidd.

Middleton scored 35 points, Malcolm Brogdon added a career-high 32 and Milwaukee beat the Phoenix Suns 109-105 on Monday night hours after firing Kidd.

"It's tough for me," Middleton said. "He took my game to another level. He took this team to a whole other level. Today was a tough day."

Assistant Joe Prunty was promoted to replace Kidd for the rest of the year. After a slow start, the Bucks heeded the new coach's call to focus (see full recap).

Rockets come back to top Heat
HOUSTON — Chris Paul wasn't thrilled with how the Houston Rockets played Monday night.

The veteran was perfectly happy with the outcome though.

James Harden scored 28 points and the Rockets overcame a big early deficit to beat the Miami Heat 99-90.

"You have those games during the season where (you) win the game and move on ... out of 82 of them sometimes it's going to be ugly, but you just want to win," Paul said.

Miami led by double digits before halftime, but the game stayed close throughout most of the second half. It was tied with about three minutes left when Harden hit a 3-pointer just before the shot clock expired. That was the start of a 7-2 run that made it 95-90 with 38 seconds left (see full recap).

Sixers' loss falls on Brown? No, his stars went missing

Sixers' loss falls on Brown? No, his stars went missing


For a team that almost won its eighth game in nine tries Monday night, the flaws on this Sixers squad are obvious.

They blow big leads.

They turn the ball over too much.

They don’t have a dependable perimeter scorer late in the game.

And they’re reliant on their stars to cover up those problems. While Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot’s season-high 20 points (see highlights) and Dario Saric’s 22 almost saved the team Monday, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid have to show up if the Sixers want to win night in and night out, and they didn’t in an ugly 105-101 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies (see observations).

“Our stars weren’t stars tonight, and our wings were below average," Brett Brown told reporters. "I think [Luwawu-Cabarrot] played well. I think in general the story should be the turnovers. You can’t win any NBA game that matters, and you certainly can’t even consider the playoffs, if this ends up just part of who we are.”

The Sixers, who led the NBA with 18.1 turnovers per game entering Monday’s contest, had 24 turnovers compared to just 12 for the Grizzlies. Ten of those turnovers came in the fourth quarter.

Twenty-four turnovers, and 39 points off those turnovers, are obviously unacceptable statistics. But Brown knows a young team that plays fast like the Sixers will have plenty of games with turnover totals in the high-teens. The Sixers can win those games, but only if their stars play like stars.

Simmons had only eight field goal attempts against the Grizzlies, and didn’t take a free throw for the second straight game. He had just six points along with seven assists and four turnovers.

Embiid scored 15 points, going 5 for 13 from the field and 5 for 9 from the line. While the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week pulled down 14 rebounds, he wasn’t himself.

“This wasn’t one of Jo’s games,” Brown said. “For whatever reason, from the start to the end, this just wasn’t one of his games. It was clear there wasn’t much going on tonight. When you see him miss the type of free throws that he missed, you know something’s going on. He’s had a great season, he’s a Player of the Week, and sometimes those games happen.”

Like Brown, Simmons was frustrated with the loss, and he agreed with his coach’s sentiment that “the stars weren’t stars.”

“Yeah, we weren’t,” Simmons said. “We sucked. We didn’t make big plays down the stretch, didn’t take care of the ball. Defensively, we weren’t too bad, but yeah, he’s right.”

Coaching this Sixers team is not an easy job. It may look easy when Embiid is playing like the second coming of Hakeem Olajuwon and Simmons is making freakish play after freakish play, but Brown must feel helpless as he watches his young team gift the opposition free points while its big lead vanishes. When the Sixers win, it’s been pretty, but many of the losses have followed the same ugly pattern.

Brown can stress how important it is to take care of the ball, call timeouts to try to stop the opponent’s momentum and draw up plays to get his stars the ball in crunch time. He did all of those things Monday, and it wasn’t enough, because Embiid and Simmons had off nights on the same night. Many Sixers fans will want Brown to do more and will think this team should be beyond these sort of collapses. While that's a fair perspective, you can also understand Brown's exasperation.

“I thought that we had not much leadership,” Brown said. “I thought our poise was poor. I thought it was an immature loss. I think it’s a game where you look at the mistakes that were made and the opportunities that we blew, those types of words come to mind. It’s not something that we leave Memphis dusting off, thinking that there are 82 games and stuff like this happens — that’s not good enough. This is a game we should have won, we were in a position to win and we didn’t have the maturity to close it out.”