If you're still waiting for them to blow another whistle to put the Dallas Mavericks back on the free-throw line — with another chance to tie the Sixers last night, send the game into overtime and ultimately steal the win — I certainly don't blame you. It had all the makings of another calamitous Sixers loss on Saturday, as they led by five in the final minute, but Mavericks guard Yogi Ferrell still went to the line with Dallas down two and 0.2 seconds to go. In a rare super-break for Philly, however, Ferrell bricked the first FT, and then his intentional miss of the second was batted harmlessly away as time expired. Final score, deep breath: Sixers 112, Mavs 110.
Hard to know how to feel about this one. On the one hand, we got the 'W', with our two best players excelling. Ben Simmons was again brilliant in the casual manner of a 10-year vet. It didn't even seem like he was playing that well, yet he still ended with a 23-7-8 night on 10-15 shooting with three steals and just a single turnover. Joel Embiid was much less efficient and much more difficult to watch at times, and despite some hilarious early abuse of former teammate Nerlens Noel, there were stretches where he just couldn't seem to get anything going against an undersized Mavs frontcourt. But he still ended with a 23-9-4, and the biggest bucket of the game down the stretch. And now we've got multiple wins, both on the road, before even getting to November — how many years would we have absolutely killed to go 2-4 in our first six?
But, hard not to ask: How many times are we gonna have to go through this late-game absurdity, really? This moral loss wasn't quite as much on the Sixers as the actual-loss against the Rockets on Wednesday, with Harrison Barnes nailing a pair of preoposterous threes late for the Mavs that made the final minute much more interesting than it should have been. Still, we left the door open. T.J. McConnell, again an inspiration for most of this one (15 points and eight assists!), missed an open three with 82 seconds left, and then bungled the ensuing possession by passing up another open three and coughing the ball up. More irritatingly, Jerryd Bayless went to the line with six seconds to go and the chance to at least make it a three-point lead, and missed one of two, almost begging the Mavs to make this a Halloween-style haunting for Philly. It's getting old.
BTW, quick word on Bayless: Gives me no joy to say this, but I think he's officially my least favorite Sixer of the post-Process era. Basketball-Reference claims he's shooting 47 percent from three for us this season — with multiple made threes in each of the six games thus far — so I suppose he's technically doing his job. But he's definitely a Hollis Thompson-type shooter, where it feels like he always makes early but misses late, and he consistently gets the easiest looks on the team, but you never think it's going down when it leaves his hands. That's probably unfair to Jerryd, but it doesn't help that he's a zero on D, and also always seems to make one absolutely boneheaded and/or game-killing play per fourth quarter. I could not have been less confident when he went to the line with six seconds left last night.
But while we're speaking of late-game Sixers catastrophes, have to at least mention the one thing that did go right: Embiid's bucket with 15 seconds left to put the 76ers up four and (seemingly) ice the game for Philly was a really big moment for him. JoJo has been a majorly unreliable late-game option for Philly for most of his brief NBA career thus far, with a tendency to get stuck in traffic and either strangle the possession or turn the ball over. But for this set he was calm, decisive and efficient, dribbling his man down in the paint, protecting the ball, and spinning towards the basket for an easy layup before help could even properly arrive. Very encouraging, and something you hope we'll see a lot more of from The Process in the weeks and months to come.
Anyway, if all losses end up looking the same in the standings for the Sixers, I guess all wins have to as well. Reliably winning the games they should, against subpar teams like the Mavs — even on the road, with JJ Redick out with back tightness — is a major step for Philly, and they're 2-for-2 so far. Frustrating that they're not at least 3-3 overall, and with another game against the Rockets coming before we leave Texas, it may be a little while before we climb to .500 still. But as long as the team stays mostly healthy and consistently escapes with more points than the other team when they outplay a lesser team, we should have the opportunity to get our head above water before long.