If the Sixers are going to take the next step in their development, it’s going to start right before the game ends.
The team has to figure out how to close out late in the fourth quarter. The Sixers have blown leads down the stretch in the past (a fairly common result in recent years), but their 105-104 defeat to the Rockets had a different burn to it (see observations).
“I think this is the toughest one,” T.J. McConnell said. “To work as hard as we did, I certainly think we deserved that one.”
The Sixers weren’t a lottery-bound team making a statement against a contender on Wednesday. This time around, they are a revamped and playoff-hungry squad with a chance to compete any given night.
The Sixers took a 104-96 lead off a layup by Ben Simmons with 3:05 to play. They didn’t score again the rest of the evening.
The Rockets closed out the game on a 9-0 run and stole the win with a deflating buzzer-beating three from Eric Gordon in the corner (see video). The Rockets earned a key basket leading up to that play when Joel Embiid toppled over James Harden while blocking a shot and was whistled for goaltending (see story). Harden went on to sink a free throw to cut the Sixers’ lead to two with 30 seconds to go.
During that final three-minute stretch, the Sixers shot 0 for 4, including an uncharacteristic pair of three-point misses on back-to-back possessions from JJ Redick. They also committed a trio of turnovers and failed to get a shot to the rim while they were up two with six seconds remaining.
Their last misstep led to the Rockets’ winning play. Brett Brown said he didn’t have “buyer’s remorse” for not calling a timeout to regroup before then.
“The growth that we’re going to make to be in the game, have the chance to win a game against a really good Houston team isn’t good enough,” Brown said. “Ultimately we do have to be able to walk those games down with a little bit more authority.”
The Sixers’ crowd will have to wait another week for the team to try to deliver a ‘W’ in Philadelphia. The Sixers are 0-2 at the Wells Fargo Center and do not play at home again until next Wednesday against the Hawks.
“The reason why it stings so much is because we’re on our home court,” Justin Anderson said. “We wanted to try to get our first win here in front of our fans.”
The Sixers are not practicing on Thursday. They will take the day off to regroup before they face the Mavericks and Rockets, again, on the road.
While the team is not going to wallow in this loss, it won't forget the final three minutes either.
“It’s time to buckle down and get stops,” McConnell said.