In Review | Sixers Denied in Latest Hard-Fought Fourth Quarter
It was another down-to-the-wire finish, on yet another shorthanded night. Unfortunately for the 76ers, Tuesday also marked another loss, one that came in their latest tightly-contested game.
With Joel Embiid missing in action (back tightness) for the second time in as many days, the Sixers went back and forth with Sacramento Kings in South Philadelphia, much like they did Monday against the Chicago Bulls in the Windy City, where they came up two points short.
This time around, the margin was again similarly narrow, as Sacramento used a strong fourth quarter to push past the Sixers, 101-95.
A 21-3 blitz bridging the first and second halves vaulted the Sixers to a lead as large as 16. That cushion eventually washed away in the final frame, in which the Kings outscored their hosts, 30-17.
"I think we look forward to reclaiming some health, we look forward to reclaiming some form, and rebuilding our confidence,” Brett Brown said afterwards.
On top of Embiid’s absence Tuesday, the Sixers lost JJ Redick to right hamstring tightness in the third quarter. The team did its best to make do with the personnel that was left.
“It’s a prideful group, they work hard,” said Brown. “We will stay strong, and stay together.”
The backcourt combo of Buddy Hield and Garrett Temple emerged as a major factor during Sacramento’s closing kick. Hield scored 10 of his 24 points in the fourth, while Temple went for all of his 9 points in the quarter.
After Hield drilled a 3-pointer to give the Kings a 79-78 edge, they never trailed again.
Ben Simmons had an active evening for the Sixers, tallying 13 points, 12 rebounds, 9 assists, and 3 steals. He hit all but one of his six field goal attempts, the first two of which were successful mid-range elbow jumpers.
The rookie, who Tuesday generated his 18th double-double of the year, felt the Sixers ultimately lost their way.
“I don’t think we were focusing down the stretch,” he said, citing empty possessions and a general lack of execution. “It comes down to us focusing, and making sure we’re committed to defense and offense at the same time.”
The Sixers and Kings traded leads 17 times, and were tied on 8 occassions.
Opportunities were there for the taking in the fourth quarter. The Sixers just couldn’t capitalize, going 5 for 20 from the field.
Brown understands that ebbs and flows in shot-making are natural parts of an NBA season.
“I think that when you look at some of the shooting percentages, and some of the open [3-point] looks that we’ve had in some of our recent games, they just haven’t gone in,” the head coach said.
The Sixers were 10 for 35 from the outside Tuesday, which equated to 28.6 percent. Two of those triples, however, came at particularly timely junctures, each one trimming the Sixers’ deficit to a single possession, first at 88-86, then again at 92-89. Jerryd Bayless nailed both, but the Sixers couldn’t answer with subsequent defensive stops.
“I think it’s a mix of everything,” Bayless said of the Sixers’ recent troubles. “I don’t know if we can pinpoint just one area. I think we’re doing a lot of things making it very difficult for us.”
That 17-year veteran big man Zach Randolph was at Sacramento’s disposal wasn’t helpful to the Sixers’ cause. The two-time All-Star seemed primed for a potent showing from the start, going for 13 of his game-best 27 points in the first quarter. He added 10 more in the third, and converted a clutch 7-footer with two minutes to go that gave the Kings a 6-point pad.
The game plan was to show Randolph a crowd when he went to his left, a signature tactic of the southpaw. The 36-year old managed to circumvent the Sixers’ strategy.
“He’s a really good player,” said T.J. McConnell, who scored 11 points (5-6 fg) for a second straight contest. “He’s been doing it for a really long time.”
Checking in during the waning minutes of Tuesday’s first quarter, McConnell, along with a few other members of the Sixers’ reserve corps, did their part to chip away at Sacramento, keeping the Sixers close enough for the starters to come back in, take over, and steer the squad into intermission with some momentum.
The Sixers ripped off a 13-2 tear to close the second quarter, which yielded a 57-48 advantage at the break. The gap grew wider in the third, once the Sixers began the period on an 8-1 spurt.
Reigning NCAA Player of the Year Frank Mason (16 pts) delivered a string of inspiring baskets midway through the third quarter. The flurry got the Kings back into the swing of things, and set the stage for Tuesday’s decisive fourth frame.
Simmons, like several of his teammates, chose to look forward in the aftermath of a stinging defeat.
“I think if we just come together,” he said, “we can figure it out as a team. I think we’ll pull together.”
Of note, recently-acquired forward Trevor Booker was back in uniform Tuesday. He posted 6 points and 6 boards in 15 minutes, on the heels of missing the Sixers’ previous game with an ankle sprain.
The spark plug role is one typically filled by T.J. McConnell, but not necessarily always via his scoring. Both Monday in Chicago, and Tuesday against Sacramento, the reserve point guard provided potent relief. He reached double-figures in each game, and was especially aggressive against the Kings in the first half, as shown below.
Slow-motion grit. pic.twitter.com/bqIAWvJtmO
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) December 20, 2017
Amidst the Boston Celtics’ impressively resilient, successful start to the season, perhaps not enough attention has been paid to what the Toronto Raptors have been doing. By winning nine of their last 10 games, the Raps have snuck up the Eastern Conference standings in relatively quiet fashion, pulling to within 3.5 games of the rival C’s. As of Tuesday, the division foes were separated by just one game in the loss column. On Thursday, Toronto will make its first visit of the season to The Center. Two days later, the clubs will square off again at Air Canada Centre.