Thus Endeth the Winning Streak: Sixers Come Up Short Against Bucks

Thus Endeth the Winning Streak: Sixers Come Up Short Against Bucks
November 12, 2012, 5:15 pm

After playing six straight games where one team basically controlled the
game the entire way, the Sixers finally caught themselves in a
back-and-forth tonight against the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks started
the game on absolute fire—so much so that even our old friend Samuel
Dalembert hit a fadeaway jumper from the wing that I swear he didn't hit
once in his time as a Sixer—and from there, the pendulum swung back and
forth the entire game, with the Bucks getting out to formidable leads
(as back as 16 just after halftime) and the Sixers battling back. The
Sixers had it at even midway through the fourth, but came up one run
short as the Bucks were able to hold on for a 103-96 win.

The
best and the worst tonight came from our breakout point guard, Jrue
Holiday. At a glance, you'd have to say Jrue had a good game, ending
with 25 points on 10-18 shooting as the Sixers' leading scorer. But the
turnovers, a (mostly forgivable) problem for Jrue all season, were
especially costly tonight, as a couple prospective Sixers runs (the
final one especially) were cut off by Jrue giving the ball up trying to
make a cross-court pass in the lane. The Damaja turned the ball over
seven times in all, and his unusually harried play in the fourth
ultimately did the Sixers in.

Of course, Holiday doesn't
shoulder all the blame in this one. Our top two centers, perhaps
unnerved by the news that they weren't going to be spelled by Andrew
Bynum anytime soon, gave us virtually no production tonight, scoring a
combined six points and grabbing a combined seven rebounds. For the
second straight night, Lavoy Allen didn't register a single point,
looking overmatched and short of confidence. Meanwhile, neither Allen
nor Spencer Hawes gave Jrue any help switching on the pick-and-roll,
allowing dynamic Buck scoring guards Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis to
fire away from range (and fire they did, combining for 54 points, 33
from Jennings).

There were positives for the Sixers. Namely, we
got a big boost from the returned Jason Richardson, who prevented the
Bucks from running away with the game early, scoring ten in the first
quarter and ending with 20 on the game. Richardson and Dorell Wright
combined for seven threes on the night, giving the Sixers that added
offensive dimension they'd largely been lacking while he was recovering
from his ankle sprain. For what it's worth, J-Rich was also the team's
emotional leader on the evening, urging the crowd to get into the game
as the Sixers embarked upon a big third-quarter run to cut the Bucks'
halftime lead to ribbons. You like to see that from the team's elder
statesman, especially when he's helping out on the court as much as he
did tonight.

Worth noting that Coach Collins was evidently so
enamored with Richardson and Wright and what they gave the offense
throughout the game that Evan Turner—who had a solid-but-unspectacular
game with eight points, four rebounds and five assists in just 25
minutes—sat on the bench for most of the fourth quarter. The thinking is
understandable, but the Sixers could've really used Turner's rebounding
in the fourth—a couple of second-chance buckets killed the Sixers
late—and having a second ball-handler on the court as Jrue started to
lose control of the game might not have been the worst thing either.
Tough call for Collins, and one he'll have to make a whole bunch more
times before season's end, so it'll be interesting to see where he goes
down the stretch in future games.

Anyway, I don't want to get on
Jrue too much for his fourth-quarter play, so I'll end talking about
part of his game tonight that really impressed me. Twice at the end of
quarters—the second and the third—Holiday was given the ball on the
team's final possession. Both times he dribbled the clock nearly to its
end, but rather than simply hoist a contested across-his-body three—like
say oh I dunno Lou Williams might have done in the past—at the end of
it, Jrue patiently probed the defense, waited until he got some clear
space, and hoisted a high-percentage look, hitting both times. It was so
calm, cool and collected that you'd never believe either was done in an
end-of-quarter situation.

In other words, they were the exact
opposite of the rushed, sloppy, almost panicked way he ended the game.
But Jrue's young still—not only is he just 22, he's only really been
running this team's offense for seven games now. You'd rather see all
the hits and misses with Jrue at this stage than see no spark at all,
and nothing I saw tonight makes me at all worried about Jrue in the long
term. Without Andrew Bynum, Jrue's being asked to do just about
everything for this team offensively, and so far, he's succeeding a
whole lot more than he's failing. A learning opportunity late in this
one for sure, though.

The loss drops the Sixers to 4-3 on the
season, but they'll have a chance to make up for it with four more
winnable games at the WFC, of which the middling Utah Jazz probably
presents the toughest opponent. Wednesday night they get to go against
the hapless Pistons, losers of each of their first eight, with as good
an opportunity for an easy win as they'll get early this season. Whether
or not the Sixers will pick it up will likely be telling about where
our young team is at right now. I have faith.

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