Sixers End Season With 115-105 Loss to Bulls

The Sixers blew a huge second quarter lead on their way to a 115-105 loss to the Chicago Bulls. The Sixers finished the season with a 10-72 record.

Robert Covington averaged 25 points per game over the Sixers last 4 games | Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Covington averaged 25 points per game over the Sixers last 4 games | Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

There was only one way for the Sixers to end the season that would truly be emblematic of their struggles all year: build a big lead, get destroyed in the middle quarters, then mount a comeback that was destined to come up short.

That’s why even when the Sixers built a 24-point second quarter lead, going up 42-18 on a lifeless Bulls team that was already eliminated from postseason contention, no Sixers fan felt safe, and for good reason.

The Bulls scored 33 points in the final 9 minutes, 27 seconds of the second quarter to cut a 24-point deficit to 9 at the half. Nikola Mirotic and Justin Holiday each had 8 points for the Bulls during the run.

Chicago then used a 22-7 run to begin the third quarter to finish off the comeback, with Holiday adding another 11 points during that pivotal six minute stretch.

Overall, from the 9:27 point of the second quarter to 5:55 in the third, the Bulls outscored the Sixers 55-24, a pace of 161 points per 100 possessions for Chicago. The Bulls outscored the Sixers by 29 points, 70-41, in the middle quarters.

The Sixers would fall down by as many as 19 points in the second half before mounting a comeback that always seemed like it was going to run out of gas. Three-point shots by Ish Smith and Hollis Thompson, followed by a layup from Hollis, cut the lead to seven with 4:44 remaining, but the Bulls answered with a quick 5-0 run of their own. The Sixers would never really threaten again.

Robert Covington led the way with 27 points on 7-17 shooting, including 6-13 from three-point range, for the Sixers. Covington averaged 25 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists per game over the Sixers’ final four contests.

More importantly, Covington shot 37.5 percent on 7.7 three-point attempts since January 1st, while committing just 1.8 turnovers per game over that span, bouncing back from early season struggles after returning from injury. Covington shot just 30.8 percent from three-point range and committed 2.7 turnovers per game prior to the new year.

Time PeriodPPGRPGFG%3PT%Turnover RateTS%
Through Dec 31st (24 games)11.55.836.7%30.8%17.2%50.3%
Since Jan 1st (42 games)13.66.539.5%37.5%11.8%56.6%
2014-15 (70 games)13.54.539.6%37.4%11.8%55.4%
Robert Covington's play improved dramatically after the new year.
(Source: nba.com/stats)

Covington was joined by Hollis Thompson (21 points on 8-13 shooting off the bench), Jerami Grant (20 points on 7-14 shooting), Kendall Marshall (11 points), and Ish Smith (10) in double figures. Nerlens Noel finished with 7 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 3 steals, but shot just 3-10 from the field.

Nikola Mirotic (32 points, 10-17 shooting, 7-11 three-point) and Justin Holiday (29 points on 9-15) led the way for the Bulls.

Holiday’s 29-point performance was a career-high, while 32 was the second best of Mirotic’s career.

The two teams combined to make 32 three-point shots, with the 17 made three-pointers setting the franchise record for the Sixers, a record the Sixers set three times this year (Nov 27th vs Houston, March 29th vs Charlotte, April 2nd vs Indiana).

2,255 three-point attempts by the Sixers this season was the most in franchise history, topping the 2,160 set last year, which topped the 1,847 during Brett Brown‘s first season with the team. The most three-point attempts by a Sixers team that wasn’t coached by Brett Brown (and led by Sam Hinkie) was in 2004-05, when Jim O’Brien‘s squad launched 1,453 three-point attempts.

Overall, the Sixers shot 37.1 percent on 38.4 three-point attempts per game over their final 8 games of the season. On the season, the Golden State Warriors led the league with 31.6 three-point attempts per game.

76ers-three-point-shooting

The game finishes off an obviously disappointing 2015-16 campaign which saw the Sixers win just 10 games, including a league-worst 2-27 record after the All-Star break. The next closest team, the Los Angeles Lakers, had three times as many wins over that span.

That collapse came mostly on the defensive side of the court, with the Sixers giving up 110.4 points per 100 possessions since the break, a drastic departure from the 104.6 per 100 possessions they gave up prior to the All-Star break, and the third-worst defense in the league over that span.

The Sixers will now be faced with an offseason of both great hope, but also tremendous uncertainty. With up to four first-round draft picks, Joel Embiid on the path to recovery, Dario Saric reportedly planning to join the team, many players who are currently on the team will be looking for employment elsewhere.

With Embiid, Noel, and Jahlil Okafor all playing center, along with the addition of Saric, and potential front court players like Ben Simmons in the draft, there’s a chance for critical, franchise-altering decisions to be made this summer. Combine the uncertainty at point guard (Ish Smith is a free agent), and uncertainty with the front office and coaching staff that naturally comes when a team changes its lead basketball decision maker, like the Sixers did when they hired Bryan Colangelo, and this could be a summer of change for the Sixers, in virtually every way imaginable.

Derek Bodner covers the 76ers for Philadelphia magazine. Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.