It took about 47 minutes for the Sixers to shake the cobwebs and find their defensive bearings against the Utah Jazz on Monday night. Unfortunately, the damage done in the first half by Al Jefferson and the Jazz proved insurmountable, as they held off the 76ers late with a 112-107 win in overtime.
Philadelphia, as usual, made its late attack through a balanced, team effort. Lou Williams stepped up on defense to end regulation and put up the only Philly points in overtime. Andre Iguodala had the ball in his hands late in the game, but while he played a big part getting the team its 1st and only lead with a minute to go in the game, he couldn’t seal the win at the end of regulation and didn’t manage any points in OT – including an ugly missed 3 that sealed the loss late.
What held the Sixers back, though, was their lack of defensive effort. Trailing by as many as 21 points, the game eroded into a glorified pickup game. While it allowed the Sixers to shoot their way back into the game, they never buckled down on enough defensive possessions to seize control of the game – save for the steal that led to Iggy’s lead-changing dunk in the 4th.
After the game, Doug Collins said the team would need to bring more of a “blue collar attitude” if they planned to win night in and night out.
Jazz big man Al Jefferson utilized his repertoire of post moves to work the Sixers bigs on his way to 30 points. Even when the Sixers made their runs in the second half, Jefferson managed to stave off any momentum swings by consistently getting buckets or drawing fouls down low. Utah, almost to a fault, continued to feed him down low through the fourth and OT, but he pulled through more often than not for his team. What really pushed the Jazz over the top was the play of Andrei Kirilenko. As the Sixers shifted their focus to Jefferson, AK47 dropped 9 points in the extra session.
Despite the back-to-back losses, nobody in Philadelphia should be rushing to press the panic button. If anything, this is a time to take a lesson from the loss.
This is not the first time the team has faced adversity this year. Their play since the 3-13 start is no aberration – recent wins against San Antonio and Boston justify their elevation to relevance since November. With their playoff picture pretty much locked in (no home court advantage against one of the East top dogs), there is no reason to over-analyze the current losing streak.
Playing in their 3rd overtime in the last 6 games, maybe the Sixers were a little gassed. Jrue Holiday looked particularly sluggish to start and faded a bit late in the game. There will be those quick to note the fact Holiday is in his second year, and could be hitting a late-season wall. However, it is important to look at the opponents he’s matched up with over the last week: Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo, and Devin Harris; two of the best five point guards in the game and a former All-Star. Maybe the minutes from the extra sessions are mounting, especially considering that Jrue didn’t spend all of All-Star weekend off (playing in the Rookie-Sophomore game). If it’s an issue, Collins will surely remedy it with rest before the post season.
After solid showings against some of the league’s elite last week, maybe the Sixers were a little emotionally spent heading into their current road trip. The NBA season is a flow of ups and downs, and the Sixers would be best served to put the loss behind them and be ready to play all four quarters against Blake Griffin and the Clippers on Wednesday.