After a strong start out of the gate, the Sixers (37-36) dropped one to the visiting Sacramento Kings (20-52) in overtime Sunday, 114-111.
The game proved to truly be a tale of two halves. The 76ers relinquished a lead that was as large as 12 in the 1st quarter, heading into the break holding a 5 point lead on Sacramento. In the second half, Kings’ guard Marcus Thorton exploded on the Sixers for 19 of his 32 points in the 3rd quarter, then dropped a few heartbreaking 3-pointers in the 4th on the way to the win.
The bane of the Sixers’ existence on Sunday was their free throw shooting, as they clanged 10 of their 36 shots from the charity stripe. The Kings, also attempting 36 from the line, managed to sink 29 of them, and the 3 extra makes proved to be the difference.
Andre Iguodala put up a horrid 6-14 day from the line. He also found himself struggling to convert the looks he got late, unable to fend off Thorton and the Kings.
For a team that hangs its hat on a balanced scoring attack, the Sixers late game blueprint rarely wavers. With two minutes or less to go in the game, the ball will clearly remain in Iggy’s hands. This season, the results have been mixed. There have been moments of heroism, like March 12, when he converted a hard drive over Kevin Garnett in the final seconds to seal a win against the Celtics. On the other hand, Iguodala has also faltered late in some contests, such as Sunday against the Kings or their March 14th loss against the Jazz, also in overtime, where he went scoreless in the extra session.
A loss to the Kings, after running them out of their gym with a 22-point blowout last Friday, is tough to swallow. Andre’s poor performance in the clutch begs the question as to who should have had the ball in their hands late in the game Sunday, and perhaps beyond. With less than a minute on the clock, the offense deferred to Iggy, who responded by going 0-2 from the field and 1-2 from the line.
Jrue Holiday netted 16 of his 28 points in the 4th, but didn’t even attempt a field goal past the 2:02 mark. In fact, the only reason the game made it to an extra session was a desperation Lou Williams 3 as the clock expired. It was Lou’s only field goal of the game, almost redeeming a 1-12 afternoon. It only resulted in a stay of execution, though, as Lou and crew went cold through overtime.
However, even Williams hasn’t seen too many looks once the clock starts dwindling in the 4th quarters of games this season. No one, save for Iguodala, really does. The one-dimensional assault in crunch time won’t prove fruitful in the playoffs. The plays themselves are usually nothing more than an isolation or high screen for Iggy to drive off – the kind that a coach can develop a scheme against after only a few looks at the game tape.
Now is the time for Collins to draw plays for the supporting cast in the waning moments; if someone is left to test their crunch-time mettle for the first time in the postseason, more than likely they will falter. It is understood that this is Iggy’s team, and he rightfully has earned the late game touches.
But, even the greatest teams have deferred to role players to make big shots when needed. Robert Horry pulled the Shaq-Kobe Laker dynasty out of the fire on numerous occasions. For all the late game accolades he accrued on his own, even the great Michael Jordan fed open shooters like John Paxson and Steve Kerr for open jumpers when the time came.
When defenses key on Andre with the clock running out, it would benefit the Sixers’ offense to have someone else in the holster that can step up. But who?
It would be wise for coach Collins to give the team’s lone 3-point ace, Jodie Meeks, the chance to run off some screens a la Reggie Miller and shoot a trey with a contest on the line. Perhaps Elton Brand should get the chance to operate his consistency in the post when the team is in desperate need of a tough bucket. The list goes on.
On Sunday, Collins probably should have also rode the hot-handed Holiday after he busted open a 96-91 lead with 2 minutes to go in regulation. If spreading the wealth works for the first 46 minutes of a game, why not apply it to the last 2? Only Collins knows, and it remains to be seen if the late game offense will vary as the season closes.
The back-to-back losses couldn’t come at a worse time for Philly, as they head off to take on Chicago (53-19) Monday night. The streaking Bulls, winners of 12 of their last 13, will look to give the Sixers their first 3 game losing streak since late November.