The loss isn't the tough thing to take. If OKC isn't the best team in the league, they're number 2 or 3. On the second night of a back-to-back, against OKC with a boatload of rest. Losing this game is something you can live with. Standing toe-to-toe with the Thunder for 11 rounds, smothering their strength with your strength only to see it all slip away in the 12th round, and not because they hit you with a haymaker, but because you just couldn't finish them off when you had them on the ropes? That's what hurts. The how hurts oh so much. (game capsule).
Here's your rotation chart. The end of the game was tough to watch, but the end of the second quarter was a tactical disaster. With 1:20 left, Collins inserted Turner for Thad and went small. The Thunder went on an 8-0 to end the half with the only break in their barrage coming when Turner and Durant tussled for a double tech. The most impressive stretch was the beginning of the third, and really the entire third quarter when the Sixers D completely locked down the #2 offense in the league. OKC scored 10 points in the third:
Jrue and Iguodala outplayed Durant and Westbrook in this game. When that happens, you have to win the game. Just have to. Westbrook put up decent numbers early in the game when Collins switched Jrue off of Westbrook after he picked up a quick foul on a stupid play underneath the hoop. Prior to the foul, with Jrue on him in the first quarter, Westbrook was 0/2 from the floor with two turnovers. After Meeks switched onto him, he was 4/4 from the floor for 10 points. Jrue covered Westbrook most of the rest of the game. I remember a couple of possessions where Lou was on him, and maybe one with Turner, but it was mainly Jrue. After the first quarter, Westbrook shot 3/14 for 12 points and 4 more turnovers. Let me break this down for you: With Jrue on him, 3/16 from the floor, 12 points, 6 turnovers. Without Jrue on him, 4/4 from the floor, 10 points, 1 turnover (and that turnover was a pass Jrue intercepted while he was guarding Cook off the ball). I do remember Westbrook missing a jumper with Lou on him, so let's say 3/15, 12 points, 6 turnovers with Jrue on him. 4/5, 10 points, 1 turnover w/out Jrue on him.
Iguodala did as good of a job on Durant as you can do. 23 points on 22 possessions (18 shots, 9 FTs). Too many of those points actually came when Jrue and Iguodala switched on a Durant/Westbrook screen, which they really shouldn't have done (I think Durant scored 6 on four plays, if memory serves).
On the offensive end, both Jrue and Iguodala were very good. With Jrue scoring and Iguodala doing everything. Those guys and Thad played like All Stars tonight, but two guys elevating their games against the toughest competition in the league wasn't enough to overcome the team's glaring weakness (and no, I'm not talking about crunch time offense). In the first half, the Sixers grabbed 45% of available defensive boards. In the second half they upped their percentage to a whopping 68%. That's just not going to get the job done. Igudoala and Jrue both deserve some of the blame here, especially Jrue who couldn't keep a body on Westbrook to save his life. Of course, if they had a big who could grab a board to save his life, maybe those boards would've been gobbled up before Westbrook could sneak in to steal them. Who knows?
The Voose made the dumbest play of the season tonight, handing the ball to Royal Ivey for an uncontested layup mere seconds after failing to challenge another layup. He got a quick hook and wasn't heard from again. Lavoy wasn't much better. He seemingly dipped his hands in butter before the game began. The failure of the two rookies left Doug Collins no choice but to play Elton Brand 21 of 24 second half minutes, on the second night of a back-to-back. I'd love to blame Brand's bad shooting on tired legs, but his jumper has been short even when he's been rested recently. I guess we can hope it's the thumb, but if he's shooting 5/14 from the floor, and really getting a ton of good looks, this team is going to be in trouble.
Kudos to Thad for really keeping this team in the game early on. When Harden came in, he really sparked OKC's second unit. Thad carried the Sixers with ultra aggressive play on both ends of the floor. He finished the night 8/15 for 16 points with 9 boards.
A one-point loss to the Clippers, a one-point loss to the T-Wolves and now this. These losses don't get any easier, far from it. Maybe they're fatally flawed to the point where they'll always lose these close games to good teams, maybe not. I'd just like to see them exhaust all of their options instead of deciding on one and riding it whether it's working or now.
Player of The Game: Andre Iguodala. Best player on the floor tonight.
Team Record: 21-15
Up Next: vs. GSW, Friday night
Jrue's Goal: 2-2 again tonight. A couple pushes in a row (since inception, 2-6-2)
Two final takeaways. The Sixers played the Thunder as well as anyone has this season, and they did a better job than anyone on Durant and Westbrook. They've played well against some really good teams over this stretch. While the wins haven't been there, it's certainly not fair to say they don't belong. Anyone who prioritizes getting a guy like Monta Ellis to close games over getting a legitimate big man, take a look at the rebounding differential tonight. The Sixers held OKC to a .423 eFg, but thanks to offensive boards, they had to defend 19 extra times on less than 90 possessions. Just give me one guy who can gobble up rebounds and maybe dunk from a standing position. Is that too much to ask?