In Review | Second Half in Rip City Source of Dramatic Swings
Midway through Thursday’s third quarter at Moda Center, the 76ers were rolling.
They were making shots, gettings stops, and protecting the basketball. The scoreboard reflected their dominance, the margin, at one point, growing as large as 18.
In the fourth quarter, the mojo, the momentum, it all disappeared.
Fueled by a furious comeback, the Portland Trail Blazers summoned up an impressive finish, fending off the Sixers, 114-110.
Portland, which had been idle since December 23rd, outscored the Sixers 42-25 over the final 12 minutes of regulation, en route to splitting the two-game season series between the teams.
On an evening they were without potent point guard Damian Lillard, the Trail Blazers got a big boost from the two-time All-Star’s fill-in, Shabazz Napier. The UConn product went for a season-high 23 points (7-9 fg, 6-7 ft), including 15 in the fourth frame.
“We had an opportunity without Damian being here,” Brett Brown said afterwards, referring to Rip City’s star being held out with a right hamstring injury. “I give them credit. They did not roll over.”
Particularly down the stretch.
Napier’s steal and subsequent transition lay-up with just over five and half minutes to go capped a game-changing 23-2 stretch, and gave Portland a 97-90 advantage. Despite two late 3-pointers from Joel Embiid, the Sixers couldn’t recover.
C.J. McCollum, Lillard’s backcourt partner-in-crime, proved a tough cover as well, netting a game-best 34 points. He posted 14 points in Thursday’s opening quarter, shot 9 for 20 overall, and was perfect on 14 attempts from the free throw line.
The performance was a stark contrast to McCollum’s Thanksgiving Eve showing at The Center, where he was limited to 5 points on a single basket.
That the Sixers lost Robert Covington, one of their top defensive stoppers, to a left middle finger injury in Thursday’s second half didn’t help matters, either.
“When Covington went out, we really missed him,” said Brown, “but we give [Portland] credit.”
Embiid paced the Sixers with 29 points (9-21 fg) and 9 rebounds. He hit 6 of 12 3-point tries, setting a new career mark for buckets made from beyond the arc.
Following the loss, the big man focused on how, moving forward, he and his teammates can do a better job preserving leads.
“Stop turning the ball over, play better defense without fouling,” Embiid said.
While the Sixers’ 14 turnovers against the Blazers was their lowest total in 12 games, 8 of those giveaways came in Thursday’s decisive fourth quarter.
As to Embiid’s second point about the Sixers fouling too much, Portland went to the free throw line for 47 attempts, 34 more tries than the Sixers were afforded. The Trail Blazers wound up outscoring the Sixers 36-10 from the stripe. The bulk of Portland’s foul shots came after intermission.
Ben Simmons considered Thursday’s third quarter to be the turning point. The Sixers managed to open up an 18-point edge, 78-60, on the strength of a 27-6 surge, but in the last three minutes of the period, Rip City began to show signs of life, especially Napier.
“We just didn’t capitalize,” said Simmons, who manufactured 17 points (7-17 fg), 4 caroms, and 8 dimes in 33 minutes. “We didn’t run our plays, didn’t get stops, rebounds. It just came down to playing hard."
Not to be overlooked in the stinging loss to Portland were the efforts of Dario Saric. The second-year forward provided a steady, efficient two-way presence, tallying 25 points (10-12 fg, 5-6 3fg), 9 rebounds, and 4 assists. He and Simmons were both instrumental in helping trigger the Sixers’ auspicious burst that coincided with the start of the second half.
After a JJ Redick triple put the Sixers up 88-74 less than a minute into the fourth quarter, the Blazers began their push. Portland snapped off 19 points in succession, using free throws from McCollum and Napier to jump ahead. Consecutive 3-pointers from Mo Harkless widened the gap to 10 points, 103-93, with three minutes to play.
Embiid’s sixth and final three with 9 seconds to go cut the Sixers’ deficit to 111-108, but a technical foul was called on the visitors after Saric inadvertently crossed the baseline as Portland was trying to inbound the ball. McCollum hit the ensuing freebie, and the Trail Blazers had possession.
For the Sixers, there was too much ground to make up, and too little time left.
Midway through Thursday’s second period, Ben Simmons went into offensive takeover mode. This stepback elbow jumper came during a stretch in which the rookie point man pumped out 8 points in a row.
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) December 29, 2017
To close out the 2017 portion of the schedule, the Sixers will cap the calendar year with their fourth back-to-back set of the season, beginning with Saturday’s match-up against the Denver Nuggets. Despite having to get by without injured off-season All-Star acquisition Paul Millsap, Denver has played well. As of Thursday, the Nuggets ranked sixth in the Western Conference. They recently had a season-high tying three-game winning streak snapped Wednesday in an overtime loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.