As the Sixers know well, there’s never a single explanation for a late-game collapse. Every ill-conceived pass, blown layup and momentum swing matters.
Still, one thing stands out from the Sixers’ 114-109 loss in their home opener Friday night to the Nets: Eight consecutive empty possessions against a team with Kevin Durant and James Harden is a bad idea.
The Sixers took a 108-98 lead with 5:33 to go in the game. They didn’t score again until Seth Curry was intentionally fouled with 15.2 seconds left and split two free throws.
Joel Embiid, who was bothered by a right knee he called “extremely sore,” thought subpar ball movement was an underlying problem.
“We’ve got to do better when it comes to execution,” Embiid said. “Danny (Green) had two air balls. Those are good shots, especially for him. And then I missed a layup. And Tobias (Harris) missed a floater. We could’ve moved the ball a little better the last three or four minutes. We had a good first 44 minutes of the game moving the ball, playing with each other.
“I thought in the fourth quarter the ball kind of stuck a little bit. I wasn’t as aggressive as I would’ve liked. But it’s the second game of the season against Brooklyn. That’s a good team, considered the favorite to win it all. I thought the guys did a great job. Obviously we can always get better, and we will.”
Green in fact air balled three long-range attempts over the final stretch, although one was an out-of-rhythm try late in the shot clock and another was a contested jumper to conclude a slow-moving, disjointed Sixers trip.
The middle miss, an open transition shot from the right wing, was undoubtedly pivotal. It led to a Patty Mills layup a few seconds later.
“The good news with Danny is I’ll guarantee you if he gets one next game, he’ll shoot it,” Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said. “That’s what he does. He’s got to keep shooting them. You live with them when they go in, you live with them when they don’t. And they were good shots.”
Outside of that lone Green misfire, the Sixers were stuck in the half court during their fruitless run. Their issues stamping wins against the Hawks last postseason were not solely about Ben Simmons and his extensively covered lack of fourth-quarter aggression.
“We finished the game by holding the ball,” Rivers said. “We’re just not that type of team. That’s not who we are. We don’t have the playmakers that can do that. They have the ability to give the ball to Durant; he can dance 1-on-1. Harden can do that. We really don’t have that type of team. So we have to get our (offense) through motion and movement, and we have to keep believing that.”
Part of what stings most about these types of losses is that it’s not an exaggeration to say one play with slightly better luck could have turned the outcome. Harris was 0 for 2 on floaters. Embiid missed a comfortable look just inside the foul line, plus a layup with 1:04 left. He thought he was pushed on the play, though said “that’s not an excuse.”
All of that counts and hurts, though not nearly as much as those losses to Atlanta. The Sixers haven’t won a meaningful game at Wells Fargo Center since Shake Milton — sidelined Friday by a right ankle sprain — delivered 14 key second-half points in Game 2 of that series back on June 8.
The Hawks will visit Philadelphia next Saturday.