Many a times, a celebratory night can be, unfortunately, followed by an excruciating hangover. On Saturday, the Sixers slogged through their first game since earning a spot in the playoffs, falling in Milwaukee in overtime, 93-87.
The Sixers (40-37) came out of the gate sizzling; shooting over 60% from the field in a 30 point first quarter. However, it would take them almost two full quarters to put up their next 30 points, letting the Bucks chip away at the lead. In fact, they finished the game only a pedestrian 40% (35-87) from the field. Milwaukee (31-45), fighting for their playoff lives, plugged away through the second half before finally finding their stroke and surpassing Philly.
Milwaukee’s been a problem for the Sixers lately. It was less than a month ago when the Bucks put up a cool 28 spot on the Sixers in their last matchup. Recent losses to the Kings, Jazz and Bucks put Philly in an awkward spot. Because, as disconcerting as these losses may be, they all came within an arms’ length of important wins over playoff-bound squads like Boston, Atlanta, and Chicago. Saturday, the Sixers were playing their first game since clinching a playoff berth with a win over the Nets on Friday.
It would be easy to dismiss the losses as aberrations in the Sixers’ hot streak. Certainly they have proven capable of beating teams such as the Bucks, home or away. However, Doug Collins instilled a very valid point after the game; “I talked to our guys a little bit about it. I said, ‘That’s what playoff basketball is going to be about. They’re going to know all of our plays’.”
Point being, no matter how much the Sixers have seemingly accomplished so far this year, no team gets the win by simply showing up. In most cases, yes, the better team will win, but that team has to come out and execute. The conundrum surrounding the issue is, with so little time to go in the season, is it even worth the worry to overanalyze this trend? The team still brings it against the playoff-caliber teams, and there are only 5 games left on the schedule. Three of those games (Tuesday at Boston, Wednesday vs. NY, and April 11th vs. Orlando) will certainly serve as tune-ups for the looming playoff battles to come.
For what its worth, Collins will more than likely bring in the reigns this last week of the season and keep his team focused every night – no matter who they are playing. Their last ugly loss was to the Kings, avenged the very next night in their triumph over Chicago. Philly’s next game is another trip to an Eastern superpower, the Boston Celtics. Their last game on the road, it will be a measuring stick for the Sixers’ playoff readiness as the C’s continue to scrap with Chicago and Miami for seeds 1 through 3. The best thing Philly can do now is take their time off before the matchup to regain their composure. Ending the regular season on a strong note will only help them in the second season that waits ahead. As the Bucks proved, when a teams’ postseason is on the line, they will study you front-to-back and notch the intensity up till the final buzzer sounds. From there, it’s a matter of execution that determines who comes out on top.