Coulda Happened: Sixers Stage Improbable Comeback Against Spurs, Lose Anyway

Coulda Happened: Sixers Stage Improbable Comeback Against Spurs, Lose Anyway
January 21, 2013, 5:14 pm
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The MLK Miracle, we coulda called it. In a second-half performance that
seemed like it might result in the second straight incredible comeback
victory at the WFC, the Sixers battled from a seemingly decisive
17-point Spurs lead to an astounding seven-point advantage late in the
fourth quarter. But like the Seahawks in their NFC Divisional Round
game, the Sixers left too much time on the clock, and like the Japanese
after Pearl Harbor (according to Roger Sterling, anyway), they didn't
know how to handle success. A double-digit stretch of consecutive
scoreless possessions left them vulnerable to a late Spurs surge, and
the four-time champs capitalized, pulling out the 85-80 victory.

This
was the kind of game in which you see the difference between young
teams and old teams. The Sixers were able to get back in the game by
running on and attacking the Spurs in the third and fourth quarters, San
Antonio having gotten a little fat off their early success. But when it
came time to execute down the stretch, it was the Sixers who seemed
tight and indecisive, while the Spurs were their time-proven cool, calm,
collected selves, getting easy buckets out of their offense while
Philly hoisted up quick jumpers and turned the ball over repeatedly. It
happens, and the Sixers (one guy in particular) will learn from the
experience, but it's still disappointing.

As much as you hope
Eastern Conference coaches got to watch Friday's win against Toronto
before making a decision on Jrue Holiday's All-Star candidacy, you kinda
hope they turned off this one before the last quarter. For the first
time I can remember in a while—maybe all season—the team was absolutely
rolling while the Damaja was on the bench, and as soon as he was
re-inserted, the offense got loose and sloppy, and a couple turnovers
(Jrue finished with six) and missed shots (he went 7-20 for the game,
with his only Q4 bucket coming in garbage time) later, the Spurs had
erased the Philly lead, taking control shortly thereafter. Holiday still
ended with 15 points, eight assists and four steals, but rather than
making every play down the stretch like he did against Friday, he
learned that taking over a game against the Spurs is a much more
challenging proposition than one against the Raptors.

Still, the
Sixers get a lot of credit for making this a game at all, when it
looked for all the world in the first half that this was gonna be
another 23-point Spurs cruise-control victory. Most of that credit has
to go to Evan Turner, who was an absolute game-changer in the third
quarter, infecting the rest of the Sixers squad with his energy and
aggressiveness, scoring a couple layups in a row, crashing the boards
like crazy, and then running the offense beautifully while Jrue rested
in the fourth. He finished with one of his best stat lines of the
year—18 points on 8-15 shooting, with 12 rebounds and seven assists,
doing all the things we know ET to be capable of doing while in form. Of
course, he missed the biggest shot of the game—a corner three with
about 90 to go that could've put Philly up two—but ultimately, it was an
encouraging game from a player who's looked disturbingly disengaged at
times lately.

Ultimately, I think you take more good from this
game than bad. The fact that the Sixers did not go gently into that good
night, as they did so many times in weeks past, is undoubtedly a good
thing, and hopefully gets them feeling that even a large second-half
deficit against a team as good as the Spurs isn't insurmountable if they
play to their strengths and play as a team. Most Sixer losses of this
nature have come because it felt like they were the less talented team,
but that wasn't what it felt like tonight—it just felt like they were
the much less experienced team, which is true, and which (hopefully) can
be improved over time.

Turnaround opportunity tomorrow night against the Bucks. The season doesn't have to be totally lost just yet.

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