The 76ers beat the Detroit Pistons Saturday night. But what could have been a cushioned victory turned into a battle.
Stumbling through the third quarter, the Sixers allowed an 18-point lead to dwindle against Detroit. It was a familiar scene for the 13-9 Sixers.
Turnovers, fouls, a decline in defense, poor shot selection, and low energy in the second half have been issues that the Sixers are well aware of. They talk about it often, they discuss it at halftime, and they're trying to find a reason behind it all.
Brett Brown and many of the players aren't really sure what to make of the difficulty the Sixers are having when they come out of the locker room after intermission.
"I don't know," Brown said of the third-quarter fallout after the Sixers' 108-103 win over the Pistons. "You're fooling yourself if you're talking about truly getting in the playoffs and winning in the playoffs if we can't handle that side of it."
In six of the Sixers' losses this season they have been outscored in the third quarter. In two of the three other losses, they've been outdone in the fourth. The final loss is the outlier, which was a buzzer-beating loss in Sacramento on Nov. 9.
The Sixers have also won four games in which they've been outscored in the third quarter, including Saturday's game against the Pistons.
The Sixers were fifth in the Eastern Conference standings heading into Sunday, a great place to be. In the third quarter, though, the Sixers ranked 10th in the East in both points (25.7) and field-goal percentage (45.6). This echoes Brown's point — the Sixers have to be more consistent through 48 minutes if they want to battle with the playoff contenders.
It's not just the scoring production to look at. The third quarter has been a struggle in all areas for the Sixers.
They have committed 386 turnovers this season and rank 29th in the NBA with an average of 17.5 miscues a game. Just over 30 percent (119 of 386) of the team's turnovers are committed in the third quarter.
The Sixers also rank 29th in the league in fouls, averaging 23.9 per game. In the Sixers' nine losses this season, 37.2 percent of the team's fouls have been committed in the third.
Brown said part of the problem is having a young team prone to turnovers, with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid racking up a large portion of the team's miscues. Embiid said that as a leader of the team he takes responsibility for not bringing the right amount of energy after halftime.
"I think it's on me," Embiid said. "When we start the third quarter I'm not aggressive, I've got to change that. I'm definitely going to do a better job."
So why is it that the Sixers are having a hard time starting the second half of games?
"Must be the basketball gods," Amir Johnson said with a laugh after Saturday's game. "For some reason we're coming out lackadaisical, and in our mind we know we have to come out with good starts."
The areas where the team struggles are not a mystery. The reason the team isn't able to come out with the same energy in the second half as they did in the first is the enigma.
The good thing is that collectively the Sixers see the trend and are working to make a change. They put an emphasis on the third quarter in film sessions and in practice and all agree that it needs to get better if they want to reach the next level.