Harrison Barnes’ Last-Second Shot Lifts Warriors Over Sixers

In a game that few expected to be close, a last-second three-pointer by Harrison Barnes spoiled an incredible 4th quarter comeback by the Philadelphia 76ers.

Golden State Warriors forward Harrison Barnes (40) is congratulated after hitting the game winning shot against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center. 108-105 | Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Golden State Warriors forward Harrison Barnes (40) is congratulated after hitting the game winning shot against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center. 108-105 | Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Sixers head coach Brett Brown doesn’t believe in moral victories.

“We don’t feel that way, and I don’t want our guys to feel like that,” Brown said after his team lost to the Golden State Warriors on a last-second three-pointer by Harrison Barnes Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

“It’s sort of the beauty of the job that we have. You win or you lose. I kind of like that,” Brown continued. “The good thing in our industry is you get a chance to do it again in 48 hours. It’s almost an inverted compliment to our guys. You wouldn’t believe how quickly 20 year olds forget. In our world that we live in sometimes that’s a good thing.”

But in this instance, he might have to make an exception.

Sure, heading into tonight’s game against the Golden State Warriors the Sixers had compiled a 6-10 record since acquiring point guard Ish Smith on December 24th, with a net rating of -3.8 that ranks a respectable 22nd in the league over that time. The Sixers found themselves in close games much more frequently of late, and were executing at a much higher level down the stretch than they had been during their disastrous 1-30 start to the season.

But this was different. These were the Warriors. The world champion Golden State Warriors. The 42-4 Golden State Warriors.

The Warriors last five games before taking on the Sixers came against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, San Antonio Spurs, and Dallas Mavericks, teams who have compiled a 149-82 record so far this season. The Warriors went 5-0 against them, winning by an average of 25.4 point per game against that murderers row of a schedule.

The Warriors had been going up against the best the NBA had to offer, and were making them look silly.

So for the Sixers to claw all the way back from a 24 point second-half lead against that team, it would be impossible for Brett Brown and his players not to take something positive from that.

“I feel like they know we’re playing good basketball. They know that they have a chance to come back,” Brown said when speaking about the confidence in the Sixers’ locker room. “I think that’s the value, and the victory, that we get out of it. Just the knowledge that we have something to offer too.”

The comeback started in earnest in the fourth quarter, which the Sixers entered with a 19 point deficit to overcome. The Sixers started the final frame with a 9-2 run against the Warriors bench, cutting the deficit to just 12 points with 9:03 remaining, prompting Warriors head coach Steve Kerr to bring starters Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green back into the game.

Even just that accomplishment — forcing Curry and the gang to come back in and finish off a feisty Sixers squad — would have been an accomplishment for some, but the Sixers had even more fight left in them. The Sixers struggled to make further inroads with the Warriors heavy hitters back in the game, but they also kept the game close, setting themselves up for one final frenetic burst down the stretch.

The second wave of the comeback came after Stephen Curry nailed a three-pointer to put the Warriors up 13, 103-90, with 3:45 remaining. The shot prompted Sixers head coach Brett Brown to call a timeout, and should have been enough to essentially ice the game. But the Sixers reeled off 9 straight points to pull to within 4 with a minute remaining.

In desperate need of a stop, the Warriors turned to Stephen Curry, the NBA’s reigning MVP, once again. Curry delivered, hitting a tough reverse layup that gave the Warriors a 6 point lead with 46 seconds remaining.

Again, most would have assumed that would be enough to hold off the Sixers. And, on most nights, it probably would have.

But the Sixers had a couple more big plays left in them, and none bigger than the four point play by Isaiah Canaan on the next possession. The Sixers ran Canaan off of screens to free him for a three-point attempt, which he made, but to add insult to injury Curry also committed a costly foul, sending Canaan to the line to cut the Warriors 6 point deficit to just 2 with 38 seconds remaining in regulation.

For a player known for his three-point shooting, Canaan came up with a huge deflection on the next play, which resulted in an Ish Smith transition dunk to tie the game at 105 with 22 seconds remaining. Sixers fans don’t get many chances to cheer late game heroics, but the Wells Fargo Center was rocking Saturday night.

Unfortunately, all that improbable  6-0 run by the Sixers did was setup some heartbreak for Sixers fans desperate for a signature win to hang their hat on.

After Stephen Curry ran the clock down to 10, Draymond Green came out beyond the three point line to set a pick for Curry, causing Nerlens Noel to switch onto Curry. After running Green into a help defender, Ish Smith, Curry’s initial defender, then sprinted back to double Curry 30 feet from the basket, forcing the ball out of the reigning MVP’s hands. The Sixers’ defense collapsed on Green, forcing a kickout pass to Harrison Barnes, who drilled a wide open three-pointer with 0.2 seconds remaining. The shot proved to be the game winner.

Brown said after the game that he has no regrets about how the Sixers defended the possession.

“We have a thing that we call ‘anybody but…’ rule,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said after the game. “Anybody but Dirk [Nowitzki], anybody but Kobe [Bryant], anybody but [Kevin] Durant, anybody but the MVP.

“To have [Stephen] Curry walk down the game is not how we’re going to leave this gym. So we went after him,” Brown continued.

The Sixers had a foul to give on the final possession, and did discuss using the foul to run off clock and force the Warriors into taking the ball back out of bounds, this time with less time left on the clock to set up a final possession.

“We talked about it. Nerlens [Noel] actually talked about it. He said he was about to take one when I went to go double,” Sixers point guard Ish Smith said after the game. “But Steph’s a great player, so when he sees me double he just got off of it and allowed Draymond [Green] to quarterback the gym.”

The Sixers started the game strong, leading 17-10 six minutes into the game. According to ESPN Stats & Info, the lead the Sixers built to start the game was the first time Golden State had trailed in 189 minutes of play.

The Sixers had four of their five starters score during the surprising start to the game, but Nik Stauskas, who scored 7 points on 3-3 shooting during the run, provided the biggest boost.

The Warriors responded in impressive, almost crushing, fashion, scoring 63 points over the final 18 minutes of the first half to take a commanding 73-54 lead into the break. Klay Thompson led the Warriors with 21 points on 9-15 shooting in the first half. Stephen Curry added 13 first half points, and Draymond Green finished with 10 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 assists in the half.

The Sixers completely turned the tables around in the third quarter, however, holding the Warriors to just 18 points on 8-22 shooting in the frame. The Sixers weren’t able to make much of a comeback though, as they struggled their way to an 8-24 shooting performance of their own.

The Sixers finally put together a complete team performance in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Warriors by a score of 33-17 in the final frame to set the stage for the late game drama.

After dropping 39 points on the Sixers in the second quarter alone, the Sixers held the Warriors to just 35 second half points. That was the lowest total the Warriors have scored in any half of play this year.

The Sixers were led by Isaiah Canaan, who had 18 points on 5-11 shooting off the bench, with a team-leading +16 in the plus-minus column. The Sixers also got boosts off the bench from Hollis Thompson (11 points) and Jahlil Okafor (13 points on 6-7 shooting), who came off the bench in his first game back since missing two games due to an illness.

Ish Smith (16 points), Robert Covington (12), Jerami Grant (10), and Nik Stauskas (10) rounded out the list of double-digit scorers for the Sixers.

Perhaps most impressive about the comeback, besides the fact that it came against the 43-4 Golden State Warriors, was that it was not the result of any individual player simply having an incredible night, but instead the result of a suffocating defensive performance against one of the best offensive teams in recent history.

“The first half they kind of threw a punch to us, but the second half we responded so well,” forward Robert Covington said after the game. “One thing that really stood out tonight is how everybody was engaged [defensively]. Everybody was basically as one tonight.”

Brett Brown and his staff may not be accepting of moral victories, but the team is undeniably playing better basketball of late. And that’s a positive.

Odds and Ends

* After the game head coach Brett Brown mentioned how going to a three point guard set, with Ish Smith, T.J. McConnell, and Isaiah Canaan all on the floor at the same time, really turned the game around for the Sixers. That was the first time all year Brown has had those three on the court together.

* Nik Stauskas was on the court for the start of the game when the Sixers built up a 17-10 lead during the first 6 minutes of play. Stauskas played 16 minutes after that, and the Sixers were a -33 during those 16 minutes.

* Ish Smith came up huge late in the game for the Sixers once again, but he was really struggling up until that point, finishing just 7-19 from the field for his 16 points. Smith missed a lot of shots he otherwise normally makes, and did finish with 9 assists to only 1 turnover on the night.

* Nerlens Noel followed a similar path, struggling for much of the first 40 minutes of play before becoming a central figure in the comeback. Noel struggled against Andrew Bogut, but finished with 9 points, 8 rebounds, 2 steals, and a block on the night, although he did also have 4 turnovers in the game.

* T.J. McConnell had another excellent game off the bench, chipping in 6 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, and 0 turnovers, and he played perhaps the best defense on Curry in the game.

* As we mentioned pregame, Brown was likely going to try to avoid placing two big men on the court at the same time as much as possible, and ended up only playing Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor as traditional bigs against the run-and-gun Golden State Warriors. Both Carl Landry and Richaun Holmes did not play in the game.

Derek Bodner covers the 76ers for Philadelphia magazine’s Sixers Post. Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.