Admit it: the Sixers had you fooled.
When JJ Redick absorbed a foul and still made that rainbow three-pointer to take a lead over the Detroit Pistons with 5.6 seconds remaining in overtime, you thought things would be different. For a moment, you forgot just how much the Sixers struggle to finish off close games.
And then it all came crashing down as Blake Griffin rumbled through the lane and finished through Robert Covington’s contact for the and-one. Griffin tacked on the free throw of his career-high 50-point night to hand the Sixers a thrilling, yet gut-wrenching, 133-132 loss (see observations).
“It was a great game. You think it was a fantastic game for fans to watch,” Brett Brown told reporters. “You’re going to learn a lot more when you can actually sit down and see the tape.”
What the Sixers will learn from looking at the game film is that old habits die hard as their late-game struggles creeped up yet again.
The Sixers were 4-7 in regular-season games decided by three points or less a season ago. That trend continued in the postseason when they dropped two games within that margin during their series loss to the Boston Celtics.
The Sixers almost met a similar fate their last time out against the Orlando Magic before they ultimately survived at home. But on this night, against a better opponent, the team wasn’t able to outrun one of its major flaws.
The final defensive sequence to cap Tuesday night’s breakdown consisted of several mistakes. Brown made the questionable decision of having Amir Johnson in the game at that moment. Then somehow both Johnson and Joel Embiid bit on a fake dribble handoff move from Griffin. The trifecta was complete when Covington challenged Griffin at the rim only to foul the high-flying forward.
All of this even though the Sixers knew exactly what was coming.
“The last play, when Blake scored, that’s what we knew they were going to run,” former Griffin teammate Redick said. “We just did a poor job defensively executing that. That was what we drew up in the huddle. We said this is what they’re gonna run. We’ve got to be better there.”
The Sixers have been saying for a while they need to get better in the final moments of tight games. Maybe one day their actions will follow suit.
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