76ers

How did that happen? No good answers for Sixers' collapse to Bulls

How did that happen? No good answers for Sixers' collapse to Bulls

The final 0.5 seconds of the Sixers’ 108-107 loss to the Bulls (see observations) on Wednesday night were weird, but you can at least explain them. The clock started early on the Sixers’ unsuccessful inbounds play, meaning the officials had to call everyone back on the court and do it all over again.

The defensive coverage on Zach LaVine’s game-winning layup with 1.6 seconds to go defies a good explanation. As Robin Lopez handed the ball off to LaVine — who finished with 39 points — both Mike Scott and Jimmy Butler darted toward Lopez. LaVine drove into the gaping lane and converted the layup (plus a foul) that effectively capped the Sixers’ collapse.

“That’s an environment where we switch,” Brett Brown told reporters in Chicago. “If we had to do it again, we would’ve and should’ve done that better.” 

Ben Simmons had a different perspective. 

“Every player on the court was in the right,” he said. “I think every player did the right thing. I think what we were in was what we really wanted to be in. That happens.”

And Butler, after posting a team-high 22 points, took responsibility for allowing his man an unobstructed path to the hoop.

“I think I should’ve just fought through the screen, stay with my man,” he said. “A lot of that’s on me. I think I just gotta be better on the defensive end.”

Perhaps Simmons and Butler wanted to shield Scott from blame. If, as Brown said, the Sixers intended to switch in that situation, then it was Scott’s job to pick up LaVine. Or maybe neither player felt like getting into too much detail about a painful loss. Regardless, the Sixers’ execution on that final defensive play couldn’t have been much worse. 

Up by as many as 10 points late in the fourth quarter, the Sixers squandered opportunity after opportunity to put the 19-47 Bulls away. They made life difficult for themselves, as they often have this season — and even in Tobias Harris’ 11 games with the team. The Sixers have recently escaped with wins over the Pelicans, Thunder and Magic despite late-game sloppiness and prolonged offensive droughts, but they weren’t so lucky Wednesday night.

“We’ve been in a couple games now where the fourth quarter has been tight," Harris said. "Really the exact scenario as this one tonight — too many home run plays, too many turnovers, and not really great execution on our end. I think the fourth quarter comes, we gotta find a way to get to the free throw line, get to the bonus and help ourselves a little bit. Something we can learn and progress from.”

Brown will inevitably receive ample criticism for this unpleasant trend. In hindsight, you can question why Scott was on the floor over Amir Johnson late, leaving the Sixers without a traditional rim protector. You can wonder why Brown didn’t start sending help defenders at LaVine, or why Harris wasn’t a more central part of the late-game offense.

But Brown can’t keep his players from making foolish turnovers, losing individual defensive matchups they’re capable of winning, and missing shots they usually make.

When the game was at stake, Butler, Scott and the Sixers somehow left the opposition’s best scorer all alone.

With the Rockets up next on Friday, that’s the unfortunate reality. 

“I ain’t even gonna lie,” Butler said. “I’m still kinda pissed off that we lost this one, so I’m not even really worried about them right now.”

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'It's a gift and a curse' — Steve Nash shares his thoughts on Ben Simmons

'It's a gift and a curse' — Steve Nash shares his thoughts on Ben Simmons

On the surface, Steve Nash and Ben Simmons don’t have a ton in common. 

Nash, inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2018, shot 42.8 percent from three-point range and 90.4 percent from the foul line in his NBA career. Simmons’ shooting is not a strength.

However, the two chatted Saturday night at Madison Square Garden after Simmons’ 21-point, eight-assist performance in the Sixers’ win over the Knicks (see observations).

Simmons told reporters he talked with Nash, a co-owner of the MLS’ Vancouver Whitecaps FC, about soccer.

“He was such a great leader, a competitive spirit,” Simmons said. “Just watching highlights and some of his games, the way he played, he was just relentless. He played through anything." 

Nash sees a lot to admire in Simmons’ game, too. He said he thinks Simmons is worthy of being an All-Star for the second straight season.

Ben’s a generational talent. Crazy athlete, can play multiple positions on offense and defense. Obviously his glaring weakness is the shooting, but he’s so gifted that he can make up for it in other ways, and it’s about finding a way for him to be at his best for this group. And that’s a challenge for this club, is how do all the pieces fit together? Ben’s ability at both ends of the floor is unique and he’s a special, special player. 

“I wouldn’t put it past him to become a reliable shooter at some stage in his career, but he still does so many things at both ends of the floor that if you could find a way as an organization to promote that, you have an incredible, incredible piece. That is a huge challenge — how do all the pieces fit? … I think it’s something that Brett [Brown] and everyone are working through every day. It’s a gift and a curse.

Though his game isn’t much like Nash’s, Simmons said he can still take a lot from the 2004-05 NBA MVP. 

“He’s a legend, so definitely,” Simmons said. “I definitely want to talk to him and pick up things.”

Nash was asked whether Simmons can keep going as an infrequent jump shooter. 

“He can, in the right environment,” Nash said. “If he can figure out how to make some shots in some parts of the court, it can change everything. … He can do so many things. He can change positions four or five times in a game. That in itself is huge. So, how do you absorb that? That’s the challenge. Like I said, it’s a gift and a curse, and they’ll have to figure that out.”

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Tobias Harris trolls Ben Simmons before and after Sixers' win

Tobias Harris trolls Ben Simmons before and after Sixers' win

There are probably quite a few people that would like to be Ben Simmons.

Tobias Harris took that a step further before the Sixers game Saturday night against the Knicks, rocking Simmons' expensive looking neckwear.

The Sixers sweated out a win and snapped their six-game road losing streak at Madison Square Garden Saturday (see observations). Harris had a rough night, going 5 of 13 overall, but he did hit a huge three with 28.2 seconds left off a Simmons’ inbounds pass to give the Sixers a two-point lead.

“I was just trying to get it in,” Simmons told reporters postgame. “I don’t think we had any timeouts left, so I’m glad he came to the ball and put up a great shot. He made it look good.”

The chemistry between the two seems to be paying off on the court.

“He’s locked in,” Simmons said. “He’s been aggressive taking shots. We want him to keep shooting the ball and taking those open looks. He’s a great player."

Postgame, Harris went back into Simmons mode.

The team also had a little fun with Harris’ “Fresh Prince” impersonation.

Simmons had a big night, posting 20 points for the fourth straight game — the first time in his career he's done so. The duo of Harris and Simmons also combined for the biggest defensive play of the game, trapping Julius Randle and causing a turnover with 7.6 seconds left.

Even though Harris accidentally gave Simmons a smack in the face in his haste while celebrating.

The Sixers have won three games in a row and it looks like they’re having fun again.

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