The Sixers had been there before. Build an early lead, watch it fall apart.
The Sixers rushed out to a 24-point advantage over the Wizards in the second quarter on Wednesday night. Then, it started to dwindle.
Twenty-four points became five by the third. When the Sixers built the margin back up, they let it shrink again. Their 15-point lead with 10:31 to play was down to just three with a minute-and-a-half left.
They sat on the verge of dropping to 1-10 with another letdown. Instead, they regrouped against a struggling, two-win Wizards team for a 109-102 victory (see Instant Replay). Neither Joel Embiid (back-to-back) nor Bradley Beal (right hamstring tightness) played.
“There was just a poise level that was fantastic,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. “Our guys learned how to win a close game.”
The Sixers had lost three games this season in which they led by 10 points or more, including blowing an 18-point edge over the Magic.
When facing the defending champions, they had a five-point lead over the Cavaliers with less than four minutes to play and lost.
Last week, the Sixers also led the Pacers by five with 25.4 seconds to play. They had to go to overtime to get the win.
“We’ve been, obviously, in a lot of tough games,” Jahlil Okafor said. “I think we did a better job today of staying composed, we didn’t turn the ball over, and we had some really key stops that we needed. It’s good to see all the hard work is paying off.”
Neither team shot well down the stretch. Both went without a field goal in the final 53.9 seconds of the game. The Sixers did tackle an area of weakness during the closing minutes. They rank 26th in the NBA in turnovers, but did not commit one in the last 2:56.
“This was a bit different than some of the losses that we’ve had where we’ve made some big-time mistakes or just turned it over — over and over — or defensively made a mistake,” Gerald Henderson said. “We didn’t have much of that. We just fought it out and finished the game like we should have.”
The Sixers have been down the road of surrendering leads more than enough times to know what they have to do to reverse that outcome.
“We go overboard on what’s it going to take to close out a game?” Brown said. “We know that if we’re going to win, it’s not because we’re beating anybody by 20. So we’ve been doing the same thing for two months since we left [training camp at] Stockton. You just beat up on it, you do it, it gets a little bit more comfortable.”