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The Anatomy of a Collapse

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It’s unconscionable to think that a team that led by 20 points two times in a game, shot 56% from the field, 50% from 3-point range and has been one of the better defensive teams in the league could lose. But the 76ers did on Sunday night to the Milwaukee Bucks. Once is an aberration, twice is a trend. What would four times be? That’s how many times the Sixers have lost 20 point leads and lost a game this year, tying the lowly New York Knicks in that category. How does that happen? What’s missing?

How about a season high 26 turnovers.

“You see teams just crawl into our chins,” Coach Brett Brown told the media after the 118-110 loss. “They’re really smothering us, and how we react and respond is going to be a key influence as to how successful we are.”

How did the Sixers get the lead? The usual formula. Ben Simmons was brilliant, getting eight assists in the first quarter. Embiid was having his way in the paint. Dario Saric was a man possessed! He scratched, clawed and fought for 15 points on just six shots in the opening frame. Those two were a +18, and the the first collapse happened when they were out. That was was kind of easy to understand. They came back in, and the team played better.

The second half collapse, you know, the one where the Bucks closed the 3rd quarter on a 21-0 run, is a little harder to explain, but is more of a microcosm of the Sixers problems with big leads.

Joel Embiid was not his normal self. He bumped knees early in the game, not sure if that had an effect. He was careless with the ball. He seemed to struggle hitting cutters out of double-teams, and his shot was was off. JoJo finished with 19 points, and eight rebounds. He lacked his normal swagger. That’s despite a large contingent of Philly fans who came out to Milwaukee avenge his wronged Rookie-of-the-Year loss to Malcolm Brogdon last year. This can happen to a player once in a while, but Embiid has been the model of consistency, a double-double machine, and a stopper on defense.

When you hold a lead, you have to have a go-to player to get you a basket when you need it. That player is usually Embiid for Philadelphia. Opponents know that, and he has been able to pass out of the double-teams to find open players. Embiid was not successful doing so on Sunday night. He had seven turnovers. Is this an aberration or a trend? Is it an adjustment that the Bucks made on defense and will Embiid adjust back? Or was it just bad game for the “Process.”

Simmons unwillingness to take a jump shot made the defense pack in on Embiid. Simmons was tentative during the 3rd quarter Milwaukee run. You can live with Simmons not being an outside shooter, but if that’s the case, he needs to take better care of the basketball. He will get better.

The rebuilt Sixers bench didn’t provide much punch. T.J. McConnell struggled, as did Ilyasova and Belinelli. Arguably their top three bench players combined for a -31 rating. Amir Johnson continued to struggle, and for some reason, Richaun Holmes can’t get off the bench. The Sixers could have used his energy to change momentum.

Perhaps the biggest issue was J.J. Redick having five turnovers from the two-guard spot. That’s unacceptable. Redick is a veteran and was supposed to help to teach this young-talented team how to win. Dropping passes out of bounds and inexplicably trying to thread the needle when the opposition is on a run can’t happen. Redick knows that, but he has had a tendency for turnovers this year.

When the opposition is on a run, and big lead is at stake, you need a playmaker who can get his own shot. You need a guard who can shoot from deep, mid range, and create offense. That player was supposed to be Markelle Fultz.

The Sixers had a chance to move into the 5th spot in the Eastern Conference with a win. That should not be the primary concern. The concern needs to be turnovers. 26 is unacceptable. They know that. They also know that if they don’t fix that, playoffs will be short lived.  There will be many runs in a playoff series. Philadelphia needs to understand how to take care of the basketball.

“We will learn from this.” Brown said.

They need to, quickly.

About Mike Small

Married for 23 years, and a father of four. Currently a Pharmaceutical Sales Leader, and contributor for TLSportsMedia, covering the Philadelphia 76ers and other relevant NBA topics. Previously worked as a television sports anchor in Eastern North Carolina, radio talk show host in Charlotte, North Carolina. Also served as the producer of "The Dean Smith Show", a weekly television show on The University of North Carolina basketball team, and "The Mack Brown Show", a weekly television show on the UNC football team-while doing all of the player features. Wrote a weekly column and articles for Carolina Blue Newspaper. Was also a contributor to, "A Season of Dreams", a book on the 1993 National Champion North Carolina Basketball Team.

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