SACRAMENTO, CA – The sting the 76ers felt at the end of Thursday’s back-and-forth battle with the Sacramento Kings was not entirely unfamiliar, but it was one the club hadn’t experienced for a bit.
De’Aaron Fox’s (11 pts, 4-13 fg) elbow jumper with 14.1 seconds to play capped Sacramento’s decisive 7-0 game-ending run, and subsequently dealt the Sixers a difficult 109-108 defeat at Golden1 Center.
The loss came in the second contest of the Sixers’ five-game Western Conference road trip, and halted the franchise’s five-game winning streak, its longest in nearly six years.
“We had been doing well closing out games,” Brett Brown said afterwards. “That’s part of young guys learning how to play smarter, and how to execute better when it matters most.”
For most of Thursday’s tilt, the crisp, smooth, efficient play that had characterized the Sixers’ efforts in recent weeks was tough to come by. Then, at the most critical of junctures, the team recaptured its recent form.
Behind three straight driving baskets from Ben Simmons, a few powerful deposits from Joel Embiid, and timely 3-point shooting from Dario Saric and Robert Covington, the visitors vaulted in front, 108-102, with 98 seconds on the clock. The Sixers were oh-so-close to polishing off an impressive comeback bid, after trailing by as many as 9 points in the first half.
Ultimately, there was too much time left, and a few too many opportunities missed.
Fox got the Kings going with a lay-up, followed moments later by a Garrett Temple 3-pointer that sliced the margin to one. Both Embiid and Covington missed scoring chances on the Sixers’ ensuing possession, which ended with a loose ball being awarded to Sacramento.
After Fox connected on his clutch go-ahead jumper, Embiid came up empty on a 19-footer at the elbow with 1.0 second to go. The Kings survived.
“It’s a tough loss,” said Embiid, who, in his return, finished with 22 points (7-20 fg), a career-high 15 rebounds, and 3 blocks. “The shot I took, it’s a shot I make.”
From his view on the sideline, Brown saw the Sixers’ struggle to stay organized, and maintain discipline.
“We got sped up, we didn’t do what we had been drilling quite well. We let one go.”
True as that may be, there was nothing that could be done once Thursday’s final buzzer sounded.
Amidst fresh disappointment inside the Sixers’ locker room, there was also a purposeful, collective mindset to forward. The mission is to avoid enduring a similar fate in the future.
“One of the lessons we got to learn is we got to put these types of games away early,” said Covington.
The swing man tallied a game-high 24 points Thursday, converting 6 of his 12 3-point attempts, his final one giving the Sixers a 105-100 edge at the 2 minute, 22 second mark.
“You give teams momentum, anything is possible. That’s what happened tonight.”
Embiid echoed those sentiments, too. Like Brown, he felt the Sixers’ defense could have been sharper at the outset of Thursday’s game. Despite setting the tone in the first quarter, the Sixers ended up yielding 64 points by halftime, and trailed by seven at the break.
Thanks to going 5 for 9 from behind the arc and controlling the glass in the third period, the Sixers clawed back to cut the deficit to three, 84-81, entering the fourth. Embiid, back in uniform for the first time in six days, struck quick, locking up the score at 84-84 via an and-1. He tallied eight points in the final frame.
“In the fourth quarter, I had a different mindset, and things changed,” said Embiid, who posted his fourth double-double in nine appearances.
From there, Thursday’s game proceeded to be played at a possession’s difference, until Saric stroked a trey that widened the Sixers’ lead to 102-98. At that stage, circumstances seemed to be aligning for a sixth consecutive triumph.
It was not to be.
“It’s a tough one, for sure, but it’s a lesson,” Covington said. “We’re going to go back and watch the small things, and what we’re going to do is learn from the mistakes, fix them, and then move on to the next one.”
For the first time in 11 outings, Simmons logged fewer than 33 minutes of action. He played only seven minutes between quarters two and three due to foul trouble, before staying on the floor for the entire fourth quarter. His evening ended with 18 points (6-8 fg, 6-8 ft), 2 rebounds, and 6 assists.
Saric tallied 13 points (5-12 fg, 3-8 3fg) and 10 caroms for his second double-double in as many games.
In the aftermath of a bout that featured 21 lead changes and nine ties, bench production loomed as a noteworthy factor. The Sixers’ reserves were outscored by their Sacramento counterparts, 56-17.
Generating a pair of four-point plays on successive possessions, let alone via the same player, certainly isn’t your typical, everyday NBA development. But sure enough in Thursday’s second quarter, it happened, courtesy of Robert Covington.
Saturday, the Sixers will reach the midway point of their season-long 5-game Western Conference road trip, and the test they’ll face in the Golden State Warriors figures to be their toughest to-date. After dropping two of their first three games, the defending NBA champs have since rattled off five wins in a row. A month int, Golden State currently claims the league’s top net rating, at 13.5, and best 3-point field goal percentage, at 40.8.