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December 05, 2015

Nuggets 108, 76ers 105: Sixers fail down the stretch yet again

For much of Saturday afternoon’s rare matinee at “The Center,” the Philadelphia 76ers looked pretty good. Tony Wroten was back in the fold, the ball was flying around the perimeter, and the Sixers were getting positive contributions from up and down the lineup.

They didn’t get enough stops, though. The Denver Nuggets, led by Danilo Gallinari’s 24 points, closed on an 11-1 run and earned a 108-105 victory to drop the Sixers' record down to 1-20. This was yet another rough fourth-quarter performance by the Sixers. Here’s what I saw:

•    The absence of Jahlil Okafor forced the Sixers to go to some smaller lineups, and it was pretty jarring how much more fluid the offense looked. For long stretches, the ball movement was excellent and a bunch of open threes (15-31 was the end total) were the result. To be fair, Denver’s 25th-ranked defense didn’t provide much resistance at all, either.

“We had a lot of great looks,” Isaiah Canaan (15 points on 5-8 Canaanballs) said. “The ball wasn’t really sticking and we were moving.”

•    Wroten must have been a major catalyst, right? Not really. On a minutes restriction, the fourth-year guard scored four points on 2-7 shooting and added three assists to five turnovers. That last number is ugly, but I think you can take a major positive away from the fact that Wroten looked healthy enough to fly into the lane for some of those out-of-control charges right out of the chute.

“I’ve been away from basketball for 10 months, so I just got to get the feel back,” Wroten said. “Overall, I feel good, just trying to get back comfortable.”

He looked like Tony Wroten, which of course means some good and some bad.

•    Playing the 5 in small-ball lineups, Richaun Holmes battled hard and did some nice things in the second half. The rookie had 10 points (4-4 shooting), 4 rebounds, and even knocked down a three pointer. Brett Brown did say after the game that Holmes struggled in the first half, but it might be necessary to find minutes for the rookie, even when Okafor returns to action.

•    There were a lot of contributors, so we will go lightning round with everyone else: JaKarr Sampson’s toughness (13 points), Robert Covington’s sniping (5-12 from deep), Nik Stauskas' general SAUCE (9 points, made shots and kept the ball moving on offense), and T.J. McConnell’s playmaking (six assists, could have been close to 10).

•    Nerlens Noel finished the game with five turnovers, and just like with the Eagles’ receiving corps, drops were a problem. He bobbled catchable passes in a couple of big spots. Noel had a decent line (14 points on 5-7 shooting, 5 rebounds, and 2 blocks) but I do wonder if he is being held back by health.

Friend of the site Derek Bodner wrote a good piece about Noel’s decreased defensive activity, and there were times he simply wasn’t attempting the plays he routinely made last year. Jameer Nelson should not be beating Noel off the dribble for easy layups.

“This one definitely hurts like most of them do,” Noel said after the game. “I think we definitely did have control of the whole game. But you know, it’s just the last 3, 4, 5 minutes that are the most crucial.”

Crunch-time woes

We mentioned the stats the other day, but the Sixers are comically bad at the end of close games. It’s certainly worth a longer piece in the next week. Reggie Miller called the period “winning time,” but for this group, it is unfortunately losing time. Here are the updated numbers:

Today, they held a 97-92 lead with five minutes left and needed a miracle heave by Covington to lose by three points. Brown made a very questionable decision (from here, at least) to play Canaan at the point late in the game, but the truth is they were already losing ground with McConnell leading the team.

“Our team isn’t designed to have people that can create their own shots,” Brown said. “So you really have to set screens for your teammates. You got to come hard to the ball. You can’t let people bust up plays by wedging in between you and the dribble handoff guy. It’s just something that we have to get tougher.”

I liked this analogy from Canaan.

“The last few minutes of the game is like the red zone in the NFL,” he said. “Everybody has their best defenders, everybody is locked in. We just got to close it.”

Up next

Just a teensy bit of a step-up in competition as the 16-4 San Antonio Spurs come to town on Monday night. Will Gregg Popovich again mention that he wouldn’t like coaching the rebuilding Sixers like his former assistant is currently doing? Probably, but you are just going to have to tune in to find out. Tip will be at around 7:10 p.m.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann