However ball bounces, Sixers must cut out 4th-quarter mistakes to stay alive vs. Knicks

However ball bounces, Sixers must cut out 4th-quarter mistakes to stay alive vs. Knicks

However ball bounces, Sixers must cut out 4th-quarter mistakes to stay alive vs. Knicks originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

As Joel Embiid noted Sunday with the Sixers a single game from Round 1 elimination, “bad bounces” and luck were part of the team’s Game 4 loss to the Knicks.

To some extent, that’s always the case. Miss crucial wide-open jumpers, lose out on a crucial loose ball or two, and a gut-wrenching playoff defeat’s in the books. However, fourth-quarter miscues within their own power are a major reason why the Sixers find themselves down 3-1 going into Tuesday night’s Game 5 at Madison Square Garden.

Of course, shotmaking still matters. None of Tobias Harris, Kelly Oubre Jr., Nicolas Batum and Buddy Hield have made a three-pointer in the fourth quarter this series. They’re 0 for 8 as a group.

Another fourth period in which All-Stars Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey combine to shoot 2 for 13 from the floor will presumably spell the end of the Sixers’ season. Maxey’s 2-for-8 fourth in Game 4 included two misses on good three-point opportunities.

“I thought he had some great looks,” Sixers head coach Nick Nurse said Sunday. “Obviously he got nine threes up (in the game). He didn’t quite get to the rim as much as he has been. He did a bit, but he had a couple (shots) roll off. That’s OK. He was fighting, playing. He’s made every one of those this whole series, and he’ll make ‘em again.”

Maxey helped the Sixers be a relatively low-mistake team this regular season. With or without Embiid, the Sixers generally avoided tons of rash turnovers, understood their roles, and played hard. The team’s 12.0 turnover percentage was the best in the NBA, according to Cleaning the Glass.

While defensive rebounding has been the Sixers’ biggest problem in the series, they’ve not played the clean, sharp basketball needed to compensate for all of the Knicks’ second (and third and fourth) chances.

Too many Sixers possessions during their extended fourth-quarter drought in Game 4 started slowly. That meant any late-clock indecision was costly.

The Sixers’ mistakes did not all stem from the Knicks’ pressure and physicality. With no New York player in his vicinity, Maxey let a defensive board slip from his grasp.

About 15 seconds later, Embiid came out to the perimeter expecting Jalen Brunson to use Precious Achiuwa’s screen and go to his right hand.

Brunson instead caught Kelly Oubre Jr. flat-footed and drove down the middle of the floor. Kyle Lowry opted against leaving OG Anunoby open in the corner, so Brunson had an unguarded layup.

Oubre twice fouled jump shooters in the fourth quarter.

No team is flawless and the Sixers don’t want to be excessively cautious and timid in crunch-time moments. Still, if Game 5 goes down to the wire, they’ll have to make fewer errors on the plays within their control.

On a nine-game winning streak when this series began, the Sixers now need three victories in a row.

“We’ve got to play better,” Nurse said. “We’ve got to play better. That was a hell of a game. It could’ve went either way. We were up 10 twice in both halves. We’ve played (well). The stretches where we’re not good have to be just slightly below-average rather than really bad. ... You’re not going to play great all the time, but those stretches need to be a little bit more around average.”