Game Preview | Improved Fourth Quarter Performance Key During Streak

by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

Scene Setter:

The fourth quarter narrative attached to the 76ers for most of the season has been one that’s revolved around up and down play, and the challenges associated with a young group closing out games (see, for example, Oct. 25 vs. Houston, Dec. 19 vs Sacramento, Dec. 28 vs Portland).

Over the course of a resurgent six-game winning streak, which has moved the team from the post-season bubble into the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race, the Sixers have turned this previously pesky trend on its head:

Eight-point differential with three minutes to go against the Wizards on February 6th, and the Sixers snap off seven points in a row to put the game away.

LA Clippers cut a once-16 point margin to two midway through the fourth period on February 10th, and the Sixers answer by stringing together a 17-5 game-ending run.

Tied with the Knicks 73-73 late in the third frame on February 12th, the Sixers subsequently limit their division rival to 13 points in the final 12 minutes of regulation en route to a comfortable 16-point triumph.

Then, there’s the Sixers’ two most recent tilts, a pair of all-out scrambles against the Heat on February 14th, and the Bulls this past Thursday.

The Sixers hung 31 fourth-quarter points on Miami while successfully erasing a 24-point second-half deficit. At Chicago, they used a 6-0 spurt in the final 62 seconds to escape with a one-point victory, 116-115.

So yes, there has been improved fourth-quarter performance, leading to improved results. Over the course of the franchise’s longest winning streak in six years, Brett Brown has seen signs of a club that continues to come together. 

“Their hearts are in the right place, they genuinely care, they coexist wonderfully,” said the fifth-year head coach following Thursday’s poised effort at United Center. “I think we’re trending in the right way, and their attitudes are pointing in the direction we want.”

Since the Sixers’ unbeaten run began nearly three weeks ago, they’ve generated a fourth-quarter net rating of 6.9 (96.4 offrtg / 89.5 defrtg), a respectable figure that puts them just outside of the top third of the league (the Sixers’ fourth-quarter defensive rating the last six games has been no. 1 in the NBA).

To best appreciate this statistic, though, let’s compare that 6.9 net rating to the Sixers’ fourth-quarter net rating from their first 50 regular season games preceding the six-game streak. It was (-) 8.3, 30th out of 30 teams.

The strides the Sixers have made in respect to late-game execution have been equally dramatic, clutch, and timely, and fueled by key players. Check out the individual fourth-quarter net ratings of the Sixers’ five starters the past six games:

Joel Embiid: 27.4 (118.9 offrtg / 91.5 defrtg)

Robert Covington: 23.2 (116.1 / 93.0)

JJ Redick: 21.8 (116.3 / 94.4)

Ben Simmons: 19.8 (112.9 / 93.1)

Dario Saric: 17.3 (114.0 / 96.7)

In crunch time, the Sixers have managed to get the job done. 

“We stole that win,” the All-Star Embiid said Thursday in Chicago, “but sometimes you need those.” 

Attempting to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2012, the Sixers will take whatever they can get. Saturday against the Orlando Magic (5:00 PM EST; NBC Sports Philadelphia, 97.5 FM The Fanatic), the objective will be to win a 12th straight game in South Philadelphia, and put that much more pressure on the six teams in front of the Sixers in the standings. 

“We look forward to coming back home where we’ve got a little bit of a win streak going on,” said  Brown. “We love playing in front of our home fans, and [will] just try to keep this moving.”

How the Sixers have handled fourth quarters has been a major part of this push.

Opponent Outlook:

The Sixers had their way with the Orlando Magic (18-40), 130-111, in the teams’ only other meeting this season back on November 25th. JJ Redick went off against his original club to the tune of 8 3-pointers and 29 points. Dario Saric scored 21, while T.J. McConnell - starting for Ben Simmons in the lone game the Aussie has missed this year - spun a 15-point, 13-assist double-double. Aaron Gordon, whom Orlando drafted fourth overall in 2014, returned to action in Thursday’s loss to the Knicks, after having been sidelined with injury for three weeks. The defeat was the Magic’s fourth in a row.

Follow Along:

Video: NBC Sports Philadelphia / NBC Sports app

Audio: 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network