Sixers Lose Another 4th Quarter Lead, Fall to Nuggets 108-105

The 76ers led by 5 with 3:24 to play, but once again struggled to execute down the stretch.

The Sixers fell to the Nuggets 108-105 at the Wells Fargo Center | John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

The Sixers fell to the Nuggets 108-105 at the Wells Fargo Center | John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

In what has become a familiar tale, he Philadelphia 76ers held a late fourth quarter lead but struggled to execute down the stretch, falling to the Denver Nuggets by a score of 108-105.

This game was particularly tough because the Sixers controlled the game for much of the day. The Sixers took a 48-47 lead with 4:37 remaining in the second quarter, a lead they held up until the Nuggets broke a 102-102 tie with 47 seconds remaining in the game.

The Sixers lead reached as high as 11 when Robert Covington made a three pointer to give the Sixers a 76-65 lead with 3:53 left in the third quarter.

The Sixers offense once again stalled down the stretch. After Nerlens Noel went 1-of-2 from the free throw line to give the Sixers a 102-98 lead with 2:41 remaining, the Sixers didn’t score again until Robert Covington hit a 33 foot heave as time expired. During that time the Sixers went 0-4 from the field and committed two costly turnovers.

“We had two big turnovers, and we did a poor job of guarding at the end,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said after the game. “Right now it’s extremely frustrating trying to close out a game.”

“When it gets down to that period, and the defense heats up, our team isn’t designed to have people that can create their own shots,” Brown continued. “It’s just something that we have to get tougher. We have to get tougher.”

Center Nerlens Noel shared much of Brown’s frustration.

“This one definitely hurts,” Noel said. “We did have control of the whole game. It was just the last 3, 4, 5 minutes that was the most crucial. We let up too many open shots, and they knocked them down and that kept them in the game.”

It’s a pattern the Sixers have found themselves in far too often so far this season. After tonight’s game the Sixers have played a total of 36 “clutch” minutes, defined as the last 5 minutes of a game and neither team up by more than 5 points. The Sixers are shooting 26.1% from the field in clutch situations, with more turnovers (19) than made field goals (12).

On the season, the Sixers have been outscored 108-40 in clutch situations, with their -68 point differential being the worst differential in the league by a mile: second worst is Phoenix at -36.

“It’s a hard pill to swallow because we know there’s about 8 games this year that we should have won and we let them slip away at the end,” shooting guard Isaiah Canaan said after the game. “We can’t just keep saying ‘Hey, we’re going to learn from it, we’re going to learn from it.’ It’s about time for us to just go out there and close the game.”

Quick Thoughts: 

* Isaiah Canaan was fantastic in the first half, where he scored 12 of his 15 points. Canaan finished with 15 points on 5-9 shooting from the field, with all 5 of his made field goals coming from three point range. Canaan once again struggled down the stretch when he was tasked with running the offense, however.

* Random stat: T.J. McConnell averages 1 assist for every 11 passes he makes. It takes Canaan, on average, 21.6 passes to generate an assist.

* Tonight was notable because it was Tony Wroten‘s season debut, his first game back from undergoing surgery to repair a torn ACL in his right knee last February. Wroten looked predictably rusty, going just 2-7 from the field for his 4 points, while committing 5 turnovers in 13 minutes. Brown said before the game that Wroten was on a minutes restriction, with them looking to get him between 12 and 14 minutes of playing time.

* Robert Covington had another good game, scoring 18 points on 6-13 shooting to go along with 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and a blocked shot. Covington is averaging 17.6 points per game while shooting 42.4% from three point range on an incredible 8.3 attempts per game.

* Nerlens Noel had some success offensively (14 points on 5-8 shooting), but collected only 4 defensive rebounds and had just 2 blocked shots and no steals. He also turned the ball over 5 times.

* Defensive rebounding was a problem for the Sixers, who allowed the Nuggets to collect 13 offensive rebounds despite Denver only missing 44 shots.

* Richaun Holmes had easily his best game of the season, scoring 10 points and grabbing 4 rebounds off the bench. Ditto JaKarr Sampson, who had 13 points and 6 rebounds, and made some pretty nice offensive moves late in the game.

* T.J. McConnell kept doing what he does. He struggled a little bit from the field (4-10 shooting), but had 8 rebounds, 6 assists, and only 2 turnovers. He also made a three pointer, pulling up confidently off of a pick, and went to the free throw line for the second game in a row after failing to make a trip to the line in the first 17 games of his NBA career.

* Nik Stauskas had one of his stronger games of late, scoring 9 points in 27 minutes off the bench and going 2-4 from three point range.