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

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

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.

Sixers-Clippers 5 things: Big men, minus Joel Embiid, in the spotlight

Sixers-Clippers 5 things: Big men, minus Joel Embiid, in the spotlight

The Sixers (15-27) on Tuesday night open their latest back-to-back set against the LA Clippers (30-16) at the Wells Fargo Center (7 p.m./CSN, CSNPhilly.com and streaming live on the NBC Sports app).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Missing in action
The Sixers are used to Joel Embiid missing at least one game of back-to-back sets. However, they will have to forge ahead without him in both contests coming up on consecutive days.

Embiid will miss the Sixers' games on Tuesday and Wednesday after suffering a left knee contusion in the team's 93-92 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday. The matchups will mark three straight absences for the Eastern Conference Player of the Week after he was sidelined for the Sixers' blowout loss in Atlanta to the Hawks on Saturday night.

The Sixers haven't exactly been able to survive without Embiid's production this season. They are 2-10 minus the Rookie of the Year frontrunner and have allowed 106.5 points in those games.

Brett Brown challenged his team to perform better — particularly on defense — during this upcoming stint without Embiid.

“It’s still about our defense, it’s still about running, it’s still about sharing the ball,” Brown said after practice Monday. “I think you go with Jahlil (Okafor) and Nerlens (Noel) and challenge them in relation to rim protection and what Joel provides us. The group around them also has got to perform at a higher level when you don’t have Joel. I think that second group that we have been playing, led by Nerlens, really can take on a far greater defensive identity than it has recently, and Nerlens will be the captain of that.”

2. The Blake Show is back
While the Sixers will be without their star big man in Tuesday's tilt, the Clippers are expected to get one of theirs back in their lineup.

Blake Griffin is likely to return to action against the Sixers after missing 18 games following right knee surgery.

Griffin was averaging 21.2 points and 8.8 rebounds this season as the Clippers jumped out to a 20-6 record. Griffin underwent an arthroscopic procedure to remove loose bodies from the knee on Dec. 19, and the Clips have recorded just a 10-8 mark since.

With fellow superstar Chris Paul now sidelined with an injured thumb, getting the five-time All-Star Griffin back should be a major boost for the Clippers.

3. Take care
The Clippers may not be the force they once were in the open court (15th in the NBA with 12.7 fastbreak points per game this season), but that doesn't mean they still can't revert to their Lob City ways in the blink of an eye.

That could be the case on Tuesday if the Sixers continue to turn the ball over at such an alarming rate.

The Sixers, who are last in the league with 17.1 turnovers per game, have somehow been even worse during this recent string of success. They have committed 19.4 turnovers a night over the last five games and 17.8 during the last 10 contests.

The Sixers have been able to survive thanks to their active defense creating opportunities on offense and some clutch shooting. However, with Embiid sidelined and facing a Clippers team that ranks in the top five in field-goal and three-point percentage, those miscues may come back to haunt the Sixers.

4. Injuries
Okafor (knee) is probable. Embiid (knee), Ben Simmons (foot) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are out for the Sixers.

Griffin (knee) is probable. Paul (thumb) and Brice Johnson (back) are out for the Clippers.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost nine straight games to the Clippers.

• Ersan Ilyasova is averaging 17.4 points and 4.6 rebounds per game during January.

• DeAndre Jordan has averaged a double-double of 11.3 points and 12.8 rebounds against the Sixers during his career.

Scouting reports: Villanova-Marquette and St. Joe's-St. Bonaventure

Scouting reports: Villanova-Marquette and St. Joe's-St. Bonaventure

Two City 6 schools are in action Tuesday night. Let’s take a closer look at the matchups.

No. 1 Villanova (19-1, 7-1 Big East) at Marquette (13-6, 4-3 Big East) 
8 p.m. at BMO Harris Bradley Center on FOX Sports 1

Last time out
Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins combined for 44 points, as No. 1 Villanova won its fifth straight game Saturday afternoon, dispatching Providence, 78-68, at the Wells Fargo Center in a game that four Wildcats scored 10 or more points, three or more assists and three or more rebounds. After the game, Villanova head coach Jay Wright opened up about the Wildcats’ “constant challenge” of a national championship hangover and how ‘Nova has overcome it (see story).

Marquette is coming off a 102-94 upset win Saturday over No. 7 Creighton in the second game of a difficult three-game stretch against top-25 teams. Last Monday, the Golden Eagles fell, 88-80, to No. 13 Butler, and tonight, they tip off against the top team in the nation.

Scouting report
While Wright admitted the Wildcats are fighting through a championship hangover, it might not seem that way if you take a look at the scores during their current five-game winning streak.

Villanova won by an average of 18 points during the streak, including a 25-point win over then-No. 15 Xavier and a 30-point win over Seton Hall. Jenkins has scored over 15 points and shot 50 percent or better from three in four out of the five games.

Marquette started off the year 10-3, but has seen a drop-off since. Entering tonight, the Golden Eagles have lost three of their last six games, including one to Villanova on Jan. 7.

The Golden Eagles rank second in the Big East in points per game at 84.6, and lead the conference in three-point percentage at 41. They have five players averaging double digits, with Jajuan Johnson leading the way with 13 points per game and Markus Howard at 12.8 ppg.

What it means
With a victory, Villanova would extend its win streak before its matchup with No. 12 Virginia on Sunday afternoon.

A win for Marquette would help its résumé for the NCAA Tournament. It currently has an RPI ranking of 53, and a victory over ‘Nova would give its profile a significant boost.

History
This will be the second of two meetings between the two schools this season, as Villanova beat Marquette back on Jan. 7 in its first game after its first loss of the season — a 66-58 defeat to then-No. 18 Butler on Jan. 4. The Wildcats shot a season-best 60 percent from three against Marquette in the victory, with Jenkins shooting 6 of 9 from downtown and scoring a game-high 23 points.

What’s next
Villanova takes on No. 12 Virginia at 1 p.m. Sunday on FOX. 

Marquette will face Providence at home Saturday.

St. Joe's (9-9, 2-4 A-10) at St. Bonaventure (12-6, 4-2 A-10)
7 p.m. at the Reilly Center on TCN

Scouting report
The Hawks have lost four of their last six games entering tonight, and with Shavar Newkirk out for the season with a torn ACL, Lamarr Kimble and James Demery have become St. Joe’s primary scorers, averaging 14.7 and 14.9 points, respectively.

Charlie Brown is coming off a stretch that earned him A-10 Rookie of the Week honors for the second time this season. The freshman is averaging 15 points and 7.5 rebounds over his previous two games, and scored a career-high 19 points against Penn last Saturday. 

But, the Hawks will have their hands full with St. Bonaventure's backcourt. For the Bonnies, Jaylen Adams averages 21.8 points, while Matt Mobley averages 19.9 points. St. Bonaventure also leads the A-10 in scoring, averaging 81.6 points.

History
The Hawks fell to St. Bonaventure, 98-90, last season at the Reilly Center. St. Joe’s had five players in double figures but it wasn’t enough, as Marcus Posley put up a game-high 47 points. 

But, the Hawks will be without four of those five players that put up double figures last March. DeAndre’ Bembry declared for the NBA draft, Isaiah Miles and Aaron Brown both graduated and Newkirk tore his ACL in December. The Hawks will need to count on Kimble, the one player the Hawks have who scored double figures against St. Bonaventure last season.

What’s next
St. Joe’s will take on La Salle in a Big 5 matchup at Hagan Arena on Saturday.

St. Bonaventure plays Rhode Island Saturday afternoon.