76ers

Sixers' late collapse sealed by Eric Gordon buzzer-beating 3

Sixers' late collapse sealed by Eric Gordon buzzer-beating 3

BOX SCORE

If the Sixers are going to take the next step in their development, it’s going to start right before the game ends. 

The team has to figure out how to close out late in the fourth quarter. The Sixers have blown leads down the stretch in the past (a fairly common result in recent years), but their 105-104 defeat to the Rockets had a different burn to it (see observations).

“I think this is the toughest one,” T.J. McConnell said. “To work as hard as we did, I certainly think we deserved that one.”

The Sixers weren’t a lottery-bound team making a statement against a contender on Wednesday. This time around, they are a revamped and playoff-hungry squad with a chance to compete any given night. 

The Sixers took a 104-96 lead off a layup by Ben Simmons with 3:05 to play. They didn’t score again the rest of the evening. 

The Rockets closed out the game on a 9-0 run and stole the win with a deflating buzzer-beating three from Eric Gordon in the corner (see video). The Rockets earned a key basket leading up to that play when Joel Embiid toppled over James Harden while blocking a shot and was whistled for goaltending (see story). Harden went on to sink a free throw to cut the Sixers’ lead to two with 30 seconds to go. 

During that final three-minute stretch, the Sixers shot 0 for 4, including an uncharacteristic pair of three-point misses on back-to-back possessions from JJ Redick. They also committed a trio of turnovers and failed to get a shot to the rim while they were up two with six seconds remaining. 

Their last misstep led to the Rockets’ winning play. Brett Brown said he didn’t have “buyer’s remorse” for not calling a timeout to regroup before then. 

“The growth that we’re going to make to be in the game, have the chance to win a game against a really good Houston team isn’t good enough,” Brown said. “Ultimately we do have to be able to walk those games down with a little bit more authority.”

The Sixers’ crowd will have to wait another week for the team to try to deliver a ‘W’ in Philadelphia. The Sixers are 0-2 at the Wells Fargo Center and do not play at home again until next Wednesday against the Hawks. 

“The reason why it stings so much is because we’re on our home court,” Justin Anderson said. “We wanted to try to get our first win here in front of our fans.”

The Sixers are not practicing on Thursday. They will take the day off to regroup before they face the Mavericks and Rockets, again, on the road. 

While the team is not going to wallow in this loss, it won't forget the final three minutes either.

“It’s time to buckle down and get stops,” McConnell said.

Ben Simmons’ triple-double helps Sixers overcome mountain of turnovers

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USA Today Images

Ben Simmons’ triple-double helps Sixers overcome mountain of turnovers

BOX SCORE 

MIAMI -- The Sixers are leaving Miami with a 3-1 series lead.

After a hard-fought battle, they came back for a 106-102 win at AmericanAirlines Arena. They will look to close out the first round Tuesday night back in Philadelphia.

• The tone of the series can be summed up with this moment right here. There were falls on one end of the court, scuffles on the other, and tensions flaring in between. Watch the video that resulted in a personal foul on Simmons and technicals on Robert Covington and James Johnson.

• Joel Embiid got away with one mask-less play. He drew a foul and was quickly handed his mask to wear. Then after free throws, he kept the mask on but lifted it off his face, chased down a block and put the mask back on. Embiid (14 points) did most of his scoring at the foul line, where he shot 10 for 13. He struggled from the field, shooting 2 for 11 and 0 for 4 from three, along with eight turnovers (see more below). Embiid did his work on the boards with a team-high 12 rebounds.

• Dwyane Wade (25 points) scored 10 points in the final 1:45 of the game. But he missed a key free throw that would have made it a one-point Sixers' lead with 17 seconds to play. JJ Redick grabbed the rebound on the miss, got fouled, and knocked down both shots to give the Sixers the final four-point advantage.

• The Sixers reverted back to their old ways in first half with turnover trouble. They committed 17 … yes, in the first half alone. Embiid and Ben Simmons combined for nine. Those errors by the Sixers led to 20 Heat points. The team committed 26 on the afternoon (30 points). They had been cracking down on the problem, averaging just 12.7 in the first three games of the series.

• Another triple-double for Ben Simmons. He scored the first four points of the fourth quarter to erase the Heat’s lead and make it a tie game. He posted 17 points, including a driving dunk to give the Sixers a three-point edge with a minute to play. Simmons also had 13 rebounds, 10 assists, four steals and seven turnovers.

• Hassan Whiteside got the memo the Heat needed a win. After scoring a total of 11 points in the first three games, Whiteside reached that total in the third quarter and scored 13 points with 13 rebounds on the game.

• The Sixers relied too heavily on three-point shooting to start the game. They went 2 for 9 in the first quarter and 7 for 31 overall. The Heat struggled, too, going 7 for 19. The Sixers were outscored 58 to 44 in the paint.

Sixers have already embraced key aspects of NBA postseason

Sixers have already embraced key aspects of NBA postseason

Perhaps the Sixers have been underestimated a bit.

Outside of Joel Embiid’s health, all of the chatter going into the playoffs was about how the relatively inexperienced roster would handle the big stage. 

Sure, the team has a crop of veterans that have been there and done that. However, young impact players such as Embiid, Ben Simmons and Dario Saric were all getting their first taste of the postseason.

So how are they feeling about it to this point?

“I love it,” Embiid said at Friday’s practice. “I live for these moments. I thrive in this type of atmosphere. I think I was built for this, especially playoff basketball.”

Embiid appears particularly fond of the postseason in environments where the Sixers are short on support.

After missing the first two games of the series in Philadelphia while still recovering from orbital fracture surgery, Embiid stepped back into the starting lineup on the road in Miami.

Was getting barked at by rowdy fans in hostile territory going to be a problem? Not for the villain now known as “The Phantom of the Process.”

“I actually think I play better on the road because I just love the atmosphere,” Embiid said. “I just love looking around the arena, people booing, people going against us. That just takes my game to another level.”

The Sixers’ performance isn’t the only thing that has been taken up a notch. Their intensity level and physicality have jumped in this first-round matchup with the bruising Heat.

“I said it before, I wish it was like this all season,” said Simmons, who is averaging 20.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 9.7 assists per game in the series. “I’m enjoying it. It’s very competitive and that’s the type of basketball I want to play.”

“It’s basketball. It’s fun,” Justin Anderson said. “Playing like that is fun. Every possession matters. You can tell there’s not a lot of empty possessions. Guys are getting shots up on every possession.

“… It’s intensified. It’s just basketball. It’s the best basketball in the world, and we’re putting ourselves in a position to hopefully go and get another one in Game 4.”