Usually when Stephen Curry buries a three-pointer with 3:45 to go in a game to give the Warriors a 13-point lead, it means curtains for the opposition.
Considering the Warriors beat the Cavaliers, Bulls, Pacers, Spurs and Mavericks by an average margin of 25.4 points in their last five games, it would have been easy for the Sixers to get demoralized down by 13 in the waning moments Saturday.
But the Sixers aren’t like most NBA teams. Logic certainly doesn’t apply.
Instead of folding up against the defending champs, the Sixers went on a 15-2 run to tie the game with 22.3 seconds to go on a steal by Isaiah Canaan and a dunk from Ish Smith. In fact, just moments before Canaan put the Sixers on the verge of completing the comeback he hit a corner three-pointer and drew a foul from Curry to make it a two-point game with 38.6 seconds to go.
Problem for the Sixers was that they left too much time on the clock for the Warriors. Even though the Sixers double-teamed Curry on the last possession, the Warriors found Harrison Barnes in the corner for a three-pointer with 0.2 seconds left, handing Brett Brown's club a 108-105 loss.
Score it as another moral victory.
Still, improbably, in 24 seconds, the Sixers went from six points down to tie the game.
How did that happen? And how were the Sixers able to go toe-to-toe with the Warriors when powerhouses like the Spurs, Cavs, Bulls and Pacers could not?
“It was a testament to our coaching staff and a testament to our team that we kept grinding and kept pushing and found ourselves in a good position,” Smith said.
Actually, it was a statistical anomaly that the Sixers were down by 13 points late in the game. Considering that the Warriors had attempted just two free throws in the entire game — only the fourth time since records were kept going back to 1963 that a team attempted just two free throws in a game — and turned it over 23 times to the Sixers’ paltry 12, the Sixers, realistically, should have led.
But maybe the fact that the Warriors could hold a 13-point lead with so many turnovers, two free throws and a season-worst 35 points in the second half, shows how good they are.
“I guess you don’t need to take free throws when you shoot the ball as well as they do,” Smith said. “They shoot it really, really well. One time during the first half I didn’t think they were going to miss. It’s pretty special. They play with a rhythm and it’s not a surprise they are the champs.”
The Warriors shot 49.5 percent for the game and had 37 assists on 47 baskets. In the first half, they had a team-record 26 assists on 32 baskets while shooting 65.3 percent.
But the Sixers trailed by 19 at the half and didn’t play that badly. They turned it over just five times.
The flaw for the Sixers was foul shooting. They went 11 for 21 from the line in the game, including a combined 4 for 12 from Nerlens Noel (3 for 7) and Jahlil Okafor (1 for 5). In a way, the missed free throws could be construed as a turnover.
Still, Warriors coach Steve Kerr could sense that the Sixers were inching back into the game.
“I could feel it coming,” Kerr said. “The first five minutes of the third quarter we completely messed around with the game and we probably should’ve lost. You know, if the gods delivered what should’ve happened, we probably should’ve lost because that’s what happens when you mess around with the game and with the ball. We had 23 turnovers. After a beautiful first half of ball movement, we totally got away from our game and lost our focus. But, you know, Harrison [Barnes] bailed us out.”
There is the moral victory angle, which the Sixers really don’t want any part of (see story). Instead, Smith says the Sixers can use the loss to Warriors as a learning tool. Yeah, they lost, but they understand how to take that next step in tight games against good teams.
“We have to take the next step,” Smith said. “We’ve been right there. Chicago we took to overtime, Cleveland we were right there in the final two minutes. I look at that as where we need to grow and take that next step.”