Sixers Lose Double Overtime Thriller to Grizzlies
The Philadelphia 76ers fell to the Memphis Grizzlies 104-99 Wednesday night in double overtime, a tough defeat for a young team looking to build momentum.
It’s hard to have a signature win in November, but that’s what this one would have been for Brett Brown‘s young Sixers team. The Sixers came into the game winners of four straight at the Wells Fargo Center and two straight overall, in search of their first three-game winning streak in nearly three years, while playing against a quality, experienced, and tough opponent that was riding a five-game winning streak.
They gave the Grizzlies all they could handle, forcing David Fizdale‘s veteran-laden team into ten extra minutes of basketball before they could finally take control of the game.
Sixers head coach Brett Brown found himself in a little bit of a jam, having used up all of star center Joel Embiid‘s 24-minute allotment during regulation. With the game starting to get away from the Sixers, Embiid entered the game despite already reaching the limits of his minutes restriction.
“I kind of begged them for the first overtime,” Embiid would go on to admit after the game.
And it worked, to an extent. The Sixers erased that three-point deficit and had a pair of chances to win the game on the final possession, but a Jerryd Bayless missed three-pointer, followed by Ersan Ilyasova drawing a foul, leading to a turnaround jumper from Embiid as time expired that missed everything.
This time, Brown had no choice. With the Sixers headed to double overtime, their best player was done for the night.
Embiid made his case, trying to convince the Sixers training staff that since he wasn’t going to play on Friday against the Chicago Bulls that he had three days of rest before his next game on Sunday, so there was no harm in exceeding the restriction just this once. The training staff would hear none of it, and a frustrated Embiid threw a towel over his head and kicked a nearby chair.
“I respect that. Very much I respect it. You see how much he wants to help us try to win, and how competitive he is,” Brown said after the game about Embiid’s show of frustration. “That’s a hard life to live, isn’t it? From everybody’s perspective. Coaches, teammates, Joel, fans. But it’s just the way it is.”
It’s a decision that’s going to be second guessed, and one that many will be annoyed with. It’s a decision that very well could have could have influenced the outcome of the game, that could have propelled the Sixers into their first three-game winning streak since January 2014. It was also a decision Brown feels he had to make.
“There it is. On your bench, 10 feet from me. It’s very tempting (to put him back in). But you just can’t do it. It’s a bigger world that we’re living in, it’s a far greater vision, a much longer vision that we see,” Brown would go on to say. “That’s the discipline that we have to have. ”
For as much frustration over the decision as Embiid showed during the game, he seemed to accept it once he cooled down and had the chance to process his reality.
“They care about me, and they’re going to do whatever they can to protect me,” Embiid said. “I understand the way they’re thinking, and just have to trust the process.”
Still, Embiid, who normally plays in 5-minute clumps, admits that constantly heading to the bench has hurt his productivity.
“I think the minutes restrictions are kind of messing up my rhythm too. I think when those minute restrictions are off I think I’ll have a better rhythm, a better understanding of the game,” Embiid said. “I can’t wait for that day to come.”
Embiid finished the game with 12 points (4-10 shooting), 11 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks, and a steal in 27 minutes of play. It was Embiid’s 4th double-double of the season.
In truth, this was a game where Embiid’s minutes restrictions should have never played a factor in the outcome.
The Sixers held a 71-63 advantage heading into the fourth quarter before Memphis jumped out to a 19-5 run to start the final frame and seemingly take control of the game. Still, these young Sixers fought back, tying the game with a pair of beautifully executed plays down the stretch which led to wide-open corner three-point attempts by Ersan Ilyasova and Nik Stauskas to reel off a 6-0 run and tie the game at 85.
Both Marc Gasol and Robert Covington would then go 1-for-2 from the free-throw line in consecutive trips down the court to send the game into overtime tied at 86.
Sure, Marc Gasol’s 27 points were impressive, as was Mike Conley‘s 25 point, 9 rebound, and 9 assist performance. But it was the defense from the Grizzlies which won them the game.
Memphis came into the game with the league’s 4th-ranked defense, and looked every bit of that ranking as they held the Sixers to just 30.8 percent shooting in the fourth quarter and overtime periods. The Sixers also committed 13 turnovers, compared to just 5 for the Grizzlies, during that span. Jerryd Bayless (3-7), Joel Embiid (1-4), and Nik Stauskas (2-6) all struggled down the stretch.
That’s not entirely surprising for a team stocked with veterans like the Grizzlies are, especially when they’ve been playing at such a high level of late. In the long run hanging with the Grizzlies was a good sign for the progress these young Sixers have made, and climbing back from 6 points down with 1:53 left to play in regulation isn’t something this team was likely to accomplish in years, or even weeks, past.
Still there’s an undeniable sting to this game, the feeling of a lost opportunity, and the growing expectation that they’d be able to pull this game out. They played well, and Brown would have liked for his guys to be rewarded for it.
“They really guard, and they’re physical, and they’re smart, and they’re veterans,” Brown said about Memphis. “But by and large I think it’s a game that I look at and we fought. We really fought. And it’s unfortunate that we’re not celebrating Thanksgiving with a win, but I leave very proud of those guys.”
* Embiid struggled, relatively, at times offensively. Marc Gasol is one of the smarter post defenders in the game and he was able to hold his own against Embiid down low, which gave Memphis’ crisp double teams a chance to work. Embiid took notice. “I’m going to go back and watch film and try to learn from him, see some of the stuff, how he positions himself on the court and try to learn. Try to get whatever I can from him,” Embiid said on Gasol.
* In fact, Embiid knew he was going to sit either tonight against Memphis or Friday night against Chicago for rest. He preferred to go up against Gasol so he could learn from the former Defensive Player of the Year. “The plan was either missing this game or the Friday game. I really wanted to go up against Marc because I think he makes me better,” Embiid said.
* After 3 games where he kept his turnovers in check, Embiid racked up 7 giveaways tonight against the Grizzlies.
* Embiid was seen visibly shaking his left hand during the game, at one point coming out so head athletic trainer Kevin Johnson could take a look. After the game Embiid said he had been hit on his funny bone and his hand was temporarily numb, and it went away after a few moments.
* Jahlil Okafor struggled tonight, and in a big way. Okafor finished with just 2 points on 1-6 shooting and just 1 rebound in 26 minutes of play, and was picked apart trying to defend the Mike Conley / Marc Gasol pick and roll. “I’m sure it’s hard for him. There’s a human side to all of this that everybody has to recognize. That is the challenge of the current situation. It’s a challenge,” Brown said after the game about Okafor’s struggles.
* Robert Covington built off of his big late-game three-pointer the other day by playing what was easily his best overall game of the season, finishing with 19 points (6-10 shooting, 4-7 from three), 10 rebounds, 3 steals, 3 blocks, and 2 assists. Covington has been tasked with guarding point guards the last two nights, a pretty incredible testament to a guy who’s naturally a combo forward, and his defense tonight was superb once again, forcing numerous turnovers, forcing Mike Conley into tough, contested shots, and grabbing contested rebounds. Covington finished the night with 12 deflections on the game. No other Sixers player had more than 3.
* Ersan Ilyasova had yet another strong game for the Sixers, finishing with a season-high 22 points to go along with 12 rebounds, making 8 of his 15 field goal attempts.
* The Sixers also got a boost from Jerryd Bayless in his second game back from a wrist injury suffered during training camp. Bayless finished with 18 points (6-15 shooting), 6 rebounds, and 6 assists, although he did have 5 turnovers as well.
* Outside of Bayless the Sixers didn’t get much production from their bench. Nik Stauskas shot just 3-12 for his 10 points. Dario Saric had just 3 points on 1-6 shooting in his 22 minutes of play, and Okafor had just 2 points and 1 rebound on 1-6 shooting in 26 minutes.
* The Sixers were without starting shooting guard Gerald Henderson, who missed the game with an illness. Hollis Thompson started in his place, but shot just 3-10 from the field in his first start of the season.
Derek Bodner covers the 76ers for Philadelphia magazine. Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.