As one key Sixer returned to the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday night, another was noticeably absent.
With the Toronto Raptors in town for a game to determine sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Division, the Sixers got their rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams back after a foot injury put him on the sidelines for the last four games.
But even with Carter-Williams back, the Sixers were missing a huge piece in Thad Young, who was not with the team in the 108-98 defeat (see Instant Replay).
Young was tending to some personal issues and coach Brett Brown isn’t quite sure when the seven-year veteran will return. Without Young, the Sixers struggled on defense as the Raptors drilled 14 three-pointers. They also had difficulty hanging onto the ball, committing 20 turnovers that helped the Raptors build a 16-point lead in the second half.
Without Young, Brown had to alter his rotation and his substitution patterns. That meant Spencer Hawes was playing power forward and sometimes guarding a quicker player in Rudy Gay, and Daniel Orton got his first start of the season.
“When a guy is out of the lineup you have to be versatile and do whatever you’re called for,” said Hawes, who led the Sixers with 28 points and 10 rebounds.
However, there are some things that can’t be replaced.
Where Young was missed the most was in his leadership ability. A strong voice on and off the court is one thing. But to lead by example and on defense like Young does really resonates. With Young on the floor it would have been difficult for the Raptors to go on a 15-5 run in the final 2:15 of the third quarter to turn a six-point deficit into a 16-point debacle.
“You look at it and say, ‘Why and who was on the floor?’ You’re always challenged by not having too many of your senior players [on the bench],” Brown explained. “But there aren’t many senior players.”
The Sixers got no closer than 10 points in the fourth quarter with that run by the Raptors at the end of the third quarter deciding the game. Hawes and Evan Turner battled foul trouble during the second half and Carter-Williams was shaking off the rust.
When it came time to hold the fort at the end of the third quarter, the Sixers couldn’t pull it off.
“That period was a killer,” Brown said. “You can lose games in that period of time. My answer is that our young guys have to fix that. They have to grow or we’re going to see something similar at the end of the third period.”
The Sixers went 2 for 6 with a turnover during that fateful stretch, while Toronto went 6 for 6 with five three-pointers.
“Discipline,” Hawes said. “I see that quarter ending in a barrage of threes. Closing out quarters is always important, but especially in the second half when you work hard and fight to be in it and then you give it up in a two- or three-minute span. We have to address that.”
It’s one thing to address it and put in plans to halt a decisive run, but it’s another to have the horses to do it. Without Young, the Sixers were missing a major cog.
And add in a tough shooting night for Turner, who went 4 for 13, and six turnovers from the rookie Carter-Williams, and the result wasn’t tough to fathom.
“His rhythm was a little off and his fitness was evident where he hadn’t played basketball at that level in a while,” Brown said about Carter-Williams. “And like any young player, he gets so excited to come back and play that he tries too hard to put his imprint on the game. He tried to force things in the paint and he didn’t let the game come to him as naturally as he normally does. It was clear that Michael hadn’t played in a while.”
Carter-Williams didn't dispute the idea that he was a little excited to get back on the floor.
“I felt pretty good and my foot wasn’t bothering me,” Carter-Williams said. “I struggled a little bit just getting back into the swing of things.”
With four straight losses, the 5-8 Sixers are a half-game behind the Raptors for first place in the Atlantic Division. They will try to snap the losing skid on Friday night when the Milwaukee Bucks come to town.