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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Hawks 129, Sixers 127: Sixers fall victim to dreaded letdown game vs. plucky Hawks

Hawks 129, Sixers 127: Sixers fall victim to dreaded letdown game vs. plucky Hawks

BOX SCORE

What a letdown.

Coming off a huge win over the Celtics, the Sixers came out flat in a 129-127 loss to the feisty young Hawks at State Farm Arena Saturday night.

Rookie Trae Young buried a floater with .01 seconds left to halt the Sixers' winning streak at six.

The loss drops the Sixers to 47-26 on the season.

Here are observations from the game:

• The first half was defense optional. Atlanta shot 53 percent from the floor, including 9 of 24 (37 percent) from three. The Hawks scored 74 points, the most the Sixers have surrendered to an opponent in a half this season. Still, the Sixers trailed by only six at the break.

This was just an obvious letdown early, but give the Sixers credit for turning it up. They went on a 15-3 run to close the third quarter and tie the game at 100.

But defensive issues continued to plague the Sixers in the fourth as they allowed 29 points.

• Don’t be fooled by their record, this Hawks team is a plucky bunch.

Young has been excellent since the All-Star break, averaging 24.9 points and 8.7 assists per game while shooting 40 percent from three. Second-year forward John Collins is having a strong sophomore campaign, averaging 19.5 and 9.7 rebounds a contest.

Young did his thing in this one, recording 32 points on 11 of 20 and 11 assists. The Young-Collins pick-and-roll hurt the Sixers big time. In fact, pick-and-roll defense continues to be an issue for the Sixers in general.

• Joel Embiid has been a monster since returning to the lineup against the Pacers on March 10. In those five games, he’s averaging almost 30 points, 17 rebounds and two blocks a contest. 

After hitting 20 of 21 against the Celtics Wednesday, Embiid lived at the line yet again Saturday, going 11 of 14.

He also showed off more of his guard-like skills.

He did get a little too loose with his handle on a couple plays down the stretch that led to two poorly-timed turnovers. He finished with 27 points and 12 rebounds.

• Since putting up 32 points in Oklahoma City, Tobias Harris has been mired in a mini-slump. In his last 10 games, he’s shooting just 32 percent from three.

With that in mind, Harris made a concerted effort to get to the basket and get easier looks. He made three nice floaters in the paint in the first quarter. After starting the game 4 of 4, Harris went just 1 of his next 12. He had just 13 points.

Harris struggled defensively as well, especially when switched on to rookie Young. Mike Scott helped pick up the slack a little against his former team, going 3 of 6 from three and scoring nine points.

• It was interesting to see Jimmy Butler bring the ball up the floor on the Sixers’ first possession, but certainly not surprising. This could be a formula that works. If Ben Simmons can push the ball in transition, you run. If not, you give the ball to Butler and let him work in the half court.

It was evident early on that Kevin Huerter wasn’t physically strong enough to stick with Butler as the rookie picked up two early fouls. Butler was more assertive than usual early on with 13 first-half points.

Butler was good down the stretch, but didn't handle a double team well on the Sixers' possession before Young's game-winner. He had 25 points.

• Since the Hawks don’t have a viable rim protector or player that matches up well, this looked like a matchup Simmons could do well in. He looked to get to the basket early and often, but missed a few easy looks early on, but was better after halftime. He went 9 of 16 for 21 points.

There is a wrinkle to the Sixers’ offense with the Simmons-Embiid pairing. They run a “snug” pick-and-roll which is basically just a pick-and-roll run through the post. It’s such a difficult thing to stop with their size and skills.

Simmons continues to do an excellent job taking care of the basketball. He had nine assists to just two turnovers.

• Boban Marjanovic hit his first career three and it was a beaut from the corner.

Before tonight, Marjanovic was 0 for 3 for his career. Brett Brown told us that this could be something we saw. Marjanovic has nice touch for such a massive human.

With that said, it was another tough defensive game for Marjanovic. He was a big part of the Sixers’ porous defense, especially in the pick-and-roll.

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Sixers at Hawks: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

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Sixers at Hawks: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

With a 10-game countdown to the playoffs, the Sixers (47-25) are in Atlanta taking on the Hawks (25-48) at State Farm Arena. The Hawks have been eliminated from the playoff race, but they’ve been putting up solid numbers since the All-Star break. They're tied for first in the NBA in points per game, total points, second in three-point field goals made, and third in rebounds per game. 

Here are the essentials for tonight's game:

•  When: 7:30 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 7 p.m.
•  Where: State Farm Arena
•  Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
•  Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC MyTeams app

Here are three storylines to watch.

Joel Embiid debut

Up until tonight, whether because of injuries or load management, Embiid has actually missed every game at State Farm Arena since he’s been in the league. Embiid’s numbers over the past two games have been ridiculous (77 points, 37 rebounds, 10 assists), making him the first player with those stats since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1972.

That starting lineup though!

The Sixers are now 7-1 with the Ben Simmons-JJ Redick-Tobias Harris-Jimmy Butler-Embiid starting lineup. Their numbers in that span: 17.7 net rating, 119.3 offensive rating, 101.7 defensive rating, and opponents are shooting 44.1 percent. It’s really felt like players have started to buy into and figure out their roles the past few games.

JJ on fiiiiire

Redick has hit at least four threes in his past five games, the longest stretch of his career (Allen Iverson and Willie Burton are the only Sixers with such a streak). If he keeps the threes draining tonight, Redick will set a record for the longest such streak in franchise history.

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