Earlier this week, the Philadelphia 76ers blew a 14-point lead to the Milwaukee Bucks and lost a heartbreaker when Joel Embiid's potential game-tying layup in the closing seconds was blocked by Giannis Antetokounmpo. On Thursday night, the hard times continued, though in a much more disappointing fashion with a 102-94 loss to the lottery-bound Detroit Pistons.
Whereas against the Bucks, they were beaten in large part by the brilliance of a two-time MVP, this time they beat themselves. In the fourth quarter, in particular, they were brutal. They shot 37.5 percent from the field in the frame, had nearly as many turnovers (five) as made shots (six), and were outscored 29-15 as they let another fourth-quarter lead slip away.
After the game, coach Doc Rivers criticized his team's offensive approach down the stretch. The Sixers scored just seven points in the final five minutes and 52 seconds.
"I thought it was a tough game," Rivers said. "I thought offensively we really just stood around. They were switching; we just played outside and didn't move the ball as a group. At halftime we were shooting 42 percent I think, and I just thought the fouls bailed us out. We were awful in the first half, too. We played with very little life tonight, didn't play together tonight at all. That's something we've been doing. It's just one of those nights, but a tough one."
A fair criticism, and one the Sixers have faced for a few seasons now. The difference these days is that the team has James Harden, who they traded for specifically to solve those sorts of problems. He hasn't quite been the player they were expecting, however, at least not often enough. Thursday night was another rough performance from Harden. He finished with 18 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, but shot 4 of 15 from the field and was poor in the fourth quarter.
Even Rivers couldn't ignore another sub-part performance from one of his leading men. He called out Harden and offered a defense of his second unit, which has been under fire at times this season.
"Well, [the bench] didn't struggle," Rivers said. "They didn't get a lot of shots in their defense. I think during that stretch, it was more James than them. So you know, yeah, it's just a tough night."
This specific result, and this specific quote, in a vacuum, aren't that big of a deal. The bigger problem for the Sixers is that they've lost three games in a row and are trending in the wrong direction heading into the playoffs. Even worse, with speculation that some members of the Sixers aren't thrilled with Rivers, and the coach singling out his new star acquisition, the situation seems ripe for further drama.