Sixers Continue Growth Even in Loss to Thunder

Written By Roy Burton On Thursday, March 10, 2011

There are no such things are moral victories in the Sixers' locker room.

However, after Wednesday's night's disappointing 110-105 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, many Sixers' fans probably came to a similar conclusion.

We may have something here.

Heading into the game, it was logical - reasonable, even - to have expected the Sixers to lose against the Thunder. Oklahoma City was coming off of a bad loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday, and is battling to hold onto the 4th seed in the Western Conference.

Even after the Sixers started out the game on a 12-2 run, it seemed that it would be only a matter of time before the Thunder inevitably came back, which they did in short order in the first quarter.

What happened next was a bit of a surprise.

The Sixers - one of the hottest teams in the NBA - stood toe-to-toe with the Thunder all night, virtually matching them shot for shot. The last two quarters were especially frenzied - the dynamic Oklahoma City duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook carried the Thunder on their backs as they withstood the Sixers' multi-dimensional attack.

Elton Brand bullied his way in the paint, scoring 13 points and pulling down 15 rebounds. Meanwhile, Lou Williams led the backcourt attack, scoring 13 of his 22 points in the final period of regulation.

The versatile Andre Iguodala was unusually careless with the ball with 6 turnovers on the night, but still finished with 14 points, 8 assists and 6 rebounds.

As solid as Iguodala has been playing recently - averaging 14.7 points, 8.3 assists and 7.7 rebounds the past nine games - there is still a difference between him and the elite players in the NBA.

Kevin Durant is one of those players.

With his team down 101-96 late in the 4th quarter, the Oklahoma City superstar dominated the final 40 seconds of regulation.

After hitting a tough 12-footer along the baseline to cut the deficit to three, he forced Iguodala to take a bad shot, and the Thunder's Nick Collison corralled the rebound with 12.4 seconds to go.

It was no surprise to the Sixers and to the other 19,283 in attendance at the Wells Fargo Center that Kevin Durant was going to take the last shot. The fact that he made that game-tying three-pointer with 6.3 seconds left was less of a surprise.

The Sixers had a final chance to win at the end of regulation, but Westbrook managed to draw a charge on a driving Iguodala with 1.9 seconds to go. On the resulting Thunder possession, Durant missed a potential game-winning 24-footer, proving that he is, in fact, human.

It was then that the air of invincibility that propelled the 76ers for most of the night seemed to come out of their sails.

While the Sixers only managed to score four points in the overtime period, Durant - who finished with 34 points and 16 rebounds - and Westbrook combined for six of the nine Thunder points in the extra session.

As wide as the gulf is between Durant and Iguodala, so is the divide between the Sixers and the elite teams in the NBA. Oklahoma City was a basket away from taking the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers to seven games in last year's playoffs. Meanwhile, the Sixers' 33-31 record is seen as vast improvement over their performance from recent seasons.

The 76ers have been playing exceptionally well recently, having won 16 of their past 21 games. But in the final minutes of Wednesday's game, the Sixers played a bit out of control at times, looking to make the big play instead of the safe play.

As a relatively young team, Doug Collins's young charges are still learning what it'll take to close games out against the class of the Association. Hopefully, that will come in time. But those that follow the team can take some solace in losses such as these.

We may have something here.

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