If the Sixers were going to lose, head coach Brett Brown knew exactly how it was going to happen.
“As the coach, you always are — terrified is too dramatic — you’re always aware of letdowns,” he said before the Sixers’ 121-112 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night (see observations). “After Thanksgiving, you come back, you’re proud of your home court, we’ve won a bunch in a row here at home. … So my heart and my head go straight to, if we guard, I think we can win. And if we rebound as part of that mentality, we can win.”
The Sixers didn’t defend well, they were outrebounded 42-31, and as Brown feared, they suffered their worst defeat of the season, to the NBA’s worst team.
After the game, he called his comments before tip-off a “pre mortem.”
There are numerous parallels with Friday’s defeat and the Sixers’ previous worst loss of the season, a 25-point blowout on Nov. 4 in Brooklyn.
On both nights, the Sixers’ effort was questionable. After their loss to the Nets, Ben Simmons called the team out.
“We’ve been playing soft,” Simmons told reporters. “We’ve been bulls—-ing.”
The effort was disappointing again on Friday, as the sluggish Sixers dug themselves an early 22-8 hole.
“We had no spirit,” Brown said. “We didn’t play defense in front of our home fans.”
It was an uncharacteristic performance for a team that had been 10-0 at Wells Fargo Center, the last undefeated team in the NBA, against the now-3-14 Cavs.
Why was that sprit lacking?
According to a deadpan Ben Simmons, “Probably all the food from Thanksgiving.”
Jimmy Butler had a different explanation.
“I think we got comfortable,” Butler said. “Playing at home, we’ve played so well at home this entire year, we really came out with zero energy. Not even low energy — zero energy. As much as I hate to say it, they came in here and did what they wanted to do.”
As was the case in that loss in Brooklyn, the Sixers actually shot a higher percentage than their opponent. Against the Nets, their 27 turnovers were the glaring issue. On Friday, the Cavs’ 14 offensive rebounds doomed the Sixers. The Cavs attempted 18 more shots than the Sixers.
The final similarity between those two losses is the type of players that did damage against the Sixers.
Caris LeVert, D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie combined for 53 points on 22 for 51 shooting for Brooklyn. For the Cavs, Rodney Hood, Collin Sexton and Cedi Osman posted 68 points on 27 for 52 shooting. Both trios torched the Sixers off the dribble and with tough, contested long two-point jumpers.
“Those teams that have three live-ball guys — Brooklyn, you know, this team, we struggle,” Brown said. “We’re going to have to find some answers. … We struggle guarding them. I thought all their guards made tough shots, beat us off the live dribble. There wasn’t as much resistance on the ball as we needed. They just did not feel us sometimes. Other times they felt us, and Hood made some tough shots. There’s no denying that this is a disappointing loss, and we’ll talk more with the team tomorrow about it.”
The Sixers are back in Brooklyn on Sunday for another game against the Nets.
Brown is clearly aware of what his team needs to do to avoid a second straight loss.
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