TORONTO - When you're mired in a funk, the path to losses can be different but they all lead to the same dark road.
Tuesday at home against the Brooklyn Nets, the Sixers allowed a one-point halftime deficit to escalate quickly. The Nets scored 18 of the first 20 points of the third quarter in what became a 20-point loss for the Sixers.
Wednesday night in Toronto, the Sixers and Raptors were tied midway through the third. That's when Toronto put together a 22-12 run to end the quarter and take a 10-point lead into the fourth. The Raptors were able to ride that out to a 90-72 victory, handing the Sixers (15-22) their fifth straight loss and 16th in 21 games.
In the third quarters of those two games, the Nets (14-for-19) and Raptors (12-for-19) shot a combined 26-for-38 (68.4 percent) and outscored the Sixers by 64-35.
If there is an answer, or even the smallest of hints, as to how to end this skid the team is currently enduring, coach Doug Collins can't seem to figure it out.
He has changed his rotation, as Nick Young played just 4 minutes up to the midway point of the fourth quarter on Wednesday and Damien Wilkins was getting significant time. Collins has tried switching defenses, ridden a variety of players at the offensive end, but . . .
Toronto entered the game having won seven of its last 10, but had lost its previous two. It seemed very much a winnable game for the Sixers, until that dreaded third-quarter stretch - again. And when the frustration from those 12 minutes mounted, the Sixers carried it like a bad hangover into the fourth, when they scored just 11 points.
"I don't think we had the energy from the start," said Jrue Holiday, who had 16 points. "It's always discouraging [when the team isn't shooting well]. Any shooter, any scorer, you don't see the ball go in [it's tough]. Even from your teammates, you're making nice passes, trying to make the extra pass and all that, and you don't see the ball go in it definitely deflates your energy."
There was plenty of energy after the game as the teams exchanged heated words in the hallways behind the court as both were going to their locker rooms.
It all stemmed from a play with 15.6 seconds left and the Raptors with the ball, up 16. It certainly would appear to be a time when Toronto would hold the ball and run out the clock. Instead, guard Jose Calderon threw an alley-oop pass to Landry Fields, who threw down a dunk. Sixers coach Doug Collins stared down at the Raptors' bench, where, when the game ended, coach Dwane Casey waved at Collins. The Sixers coach didn't respond and a couple of minutes later, as the Sixers approached their locker room, words were exchanged.
In the Raptors' locker room, both Calderon and Casey said they wanted to apologize, saying they didn't know how much time was left. Perhaps the fire that Collins' players showed after the late-game incident will carry over to the next game, which is Saturday at home against Houston. Right now, they need to look anywhere and everywhere for some answers.
"We couldn't get any stops," Collins said of the Raptors' 29-point third quarter. "We got to within six and we just had nothing left, so it goes six to 18 to finish the game. Everything we did was a jump shot. We just didn't have anything.
"I think what happens when you get a little fatigued, the ball sticks, guys don't move. They did a really good job early in the game of pressing us at the elbows, trying to take away the elbow catches."
And with a lack of inside presence, when the elbow jumpers are taken away from the Sixers' bigger players, there isn't much left they can do offensively.
"It's discouraging but, as a team, I think we're really strong," said Holiday, who was matched in scoring by Thaddeus Young. "What we really need to get back to is a stat that coach said, and that we're 29th in the league in scoring. I think we're [scoring] 93 points a game or something like that. So we have to get back to defense, hold them to 90 or 89 points."
Jason Richardson was dressed but did not play against the Raptors. Though he has battled through a variety of injuries this season, he was medically fine to play. Call it a night off for a veteran . . . Kwame Brown was not with the team, as he is dealing with a death in the family . . . Amir Johnson and DeMar DeRozan each scored 19 to lead the Raptors (13-22).