After the 76ers set a new franchise standard for futility by losing 17 consecutive games to start the season, a loss to one of the NBA's elite teams may not seem like a big deal.
But it's how they lost that pains the Sixers.
They blew an 18-point, fourth-quarter advantage en route to suffering a 120-115 overtime embarrassment to the Memphis Grizzlies Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
"That is a cruel loss. That is a very cruel loss," Sixers coach Brett Brown said.
The setback dropped the Sixers to 2-21 and extended their recent losing streak to three games. The Grizzlies improved to 19-4 thanks in large part to Mike Conley.
The Memphis point guard finished with a game-high 36 points on 13-for-22 shooting to go with nine assists. The eighth-year veteran scored 14 of the Grizzlies' final 19 points.
Conley scored 10 straight for the Grizzlies during a stretch in the fourth quarter and into overtime. The 6-foot-1, 175-pounder scored eight straight in regulation, including his three-pointer at the buzzer to force overtime.
Up by 109-106 with 4.6 seconds left, the Sixers had the option to foul Marc Gasol and put him at the foul line. Even if he had made both foul shots, the Sixers would have had a one-point lead and the ball in the closing seconds.
Instead, Brown opted not to foul Gasol, who assisted on Conley's buzzer-beating three. The Grizzlies made 8 of 12 three-pointers in the fourth quarter and 11 of 26 for the game.
"No I didn't," Brown said when asked if he considered fouling Gasol. "I just got done seeing all of their threes. Some of them you shake their hand - Mike Conley is Mike Conley. . . . Some of it was defensive mistakes.
"As far as coming down to foul them, you know I'm going to back our defense. Just seeing the end of the game, there aren't many regrets."
Conley followed his tying three by scoring the first two points of overtime on a layup. Then Conley's three-pointer with 23.9 seconds left in the extra session gave Memphis a 119-112 advantage. His foul shot with seconds remaining gave the Grizzlies their five-point margin of victory.
"I hate to lose. I'm going to do whatever it takes to try to will my team and get my guys going and give ourselves a chance to win," Conley said. "A lot of teams would look at that scoreboard and figure everything is not going our way, we got in late and all of these things that are going against us. And we fought through it. We gave no excuses. We went out there and fought for it."
Robert Covington led the Sixers with 24 points, while Hollis Thompson added 21. Michael Carter-Williams contributed 16 points, 11 assists, and 11 rebounds for a triple-double in the loss. However, five of his six turnovers came in the fourth quarter and overtime.
"My overtime performance was terrible," said Carter-Williams, who missed all three of his shots in the extra session. "I was trying to do too much. I was pretty upset the game even got to overtime, and I let it get to me."
Early on, the Sixers were motivated. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies showed signs of coming off a double-overtime win over the Charlotte Hornets the night before.
Memphis was lackluster, and the Sixers took full advantage. They built a commanding 11-point cushion on a Henry Sims layup with 6 minutes, 32 seconds left in the first half.
The Sixers dominated play and held the advantage in shooting percentage (48.8 to 40.5) and rebounding (25-20) before intermission.
Still, there was a sense that the Grizzlies were playing at half speed and could take over the game whenever they wanted.
Eventually, they did.
Memphis opened up the third quarter with a 13-3 run to take a 56-53 lead with 8:51 left in the quarter. But instead of lying down, the Sixers thrived in transition, regained the lead, and extended their cushion to 18 points (95-77) with 7:39 to play in regulation. The Grizzlies pulled within three (107-104) on Mike Conley's corner three-pointer with 43.9 seconds left.
Carter-Williams was called for an offensive foul on a push off on the ensuing possession. So the Grizzlies had the ball with 25.6 seconds left.
The Grizzlies pulled within one point, 107-106, when Thompson was called for goaltending on Conley's layup attempt with 15.3 left. But Thompson made up for that with a pair of foul shots with 4.6 seconds left to give the Sixers a 109-106 lead.
But Conley went on to force overtime.
The Sixers were without reserve guard K.J. McDaniels. The rookie sprained his ankle on Wednesday at the Atlanta Hawks. He played through the pain and participated in Friday's game at the Brooklyn Nets.