Once again, the Philadelphia 76ers had a victory well in hand before gift-wrapping it and giving it away to a less talented team. This time, they blew a 21-point 3rd quarter lead, losing 99-94 Friday night to the Memphis Grizzlies at the Wells Fargo Center.
By all accounts, this was a unique defeat, even for a team that seemingly invents new ways to lose on a weekly basis.
In the NBA, it isn't often that a team loses when they shoot 13-for-20 from beyond the arc. But that's exactly what happened down in South Philadelphia last night.
Early on, the game was relatively uneventful - the Sixers led 44-40 at halftime, with both teams shooting less than 43 percent to start the game. The Sixers' bench, which has been phenomenal over the past few games, outscored the Grizzlies' reserves 21-0 in the first two quarters.
A 25-5 run early in the second half sparked the Sixers to a 70-49 lead late in the 3rd quarter. And that's when the wheels began to fall off.
"Sometimes when we get the lead, we can get away from the fundamentals," said Andre Iguodala, searching for an explanation for the 4th quarter meltdown. "We learned a lot. No matter what, the game is not over."
Those "fundamentals" Iguodala referred to include taking care of the basketball. The Sixers were uncharacteristically sloppy against the Grizzlies, turning the ball over 20 times, including a staggering 11 turnovers in the 4th quarter alone.
Memphis controlled the glass as well on Friday night, outrebounding the Sixers 41-33. But the primary cause of the defeat was the Grizzlies' zone defense, which completely puzzled the Sixers.
"They went with their second unit... went to a zone. And we just went dead," said Sixers' coach Doug Collins following the game. "Absolutely dead in the water."
While the Sixers' were unable to score, Memphis had no such problems, outscoring the 76ers 42-21 in the final 12 minutes. Every Grizzlies starter scored in double-figures, led by Zach Randolph who finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds.
Even after relinquishing the lead, the Sixers found themselves down by only 3 points with 6 seconds to go. With Philadelphia trying to catch the Grizzlies off-guard, Tony Battie uncorked an errant 60-foot inbound pass that Iguodala was unable to corral before stepping out of bounds. Two Memphis' free throws later, and the Sixers picked up their first home loss since January 11.
Elton Brand had his usual game with 15 points and 9 rebounds. And again, Andre Iguodala did a little bit of everything, finishing with 12 points, 9 assists and 8 rebounds. But they, along with the rest of their teammates, were unable to close the game out at the end.
For what it's worth, this is the Sixers' worst defeat... in the past nine days. Even for this team, it's going to be hard to top the 99-98 defeat to the Orlando Magic on January 19, a game in which they gave up two 4-point plays with the game in the balance.
Even so, this is a terrible loss. There is no excuse for the Sixers blowing a 16-point 4th quarter lead against a mediocre team, as their head coach would attest to.
"When you're up 70 to 49 at home, with three minutes to go [in the 3rd quarter], you gotta close that game out," said Collins.
The loss prevented the Sixers' from earning their first 4-game winning streak of the season.
"It's very disheartening," said Elton Brand following the defeat. "This game hurts, but we have to get better and learn from it."