ORLANDO, Fla. – It goes without saying that the 76ers are accustomed to playing undermanned the last few seasons, but the team took it to a whole new level Monday and it cost them dearly in a 112-109 overtime loss to Orlando (see Instant Replay).
The Sixers started the game with nine eligible players, one of whom arrived on a flight from Philly just three hours before tipoff. They finished the game with just six (three players fouled out and a fourth finished one foul short of disqualification).
And still they could have snuck out of town with a victory had the last-minute arrival, Justin Anderson, converted a drive in the final seconds of regulation. He didn't.
In fact, the Sixers hardly made any shots in the fourth quarter and overtime, going a combined 10 of 34 (29.4 percent) as they gave away all of a 17-point, second-half lead.
"You fight with what you're left with," Sixers coach Brett Brown said about his undermanned team. "I think our guys embraced that situation. We played with a beaten-down team, but it shows the character of the team and how we've been trying to play almost the entire year."
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The tired shots and even more tired legs took a lot of the luster out of a career-best night for Richaun Holmes (24 points, 14 rebounds) and great performances from Robert Covington (24 points, 13 rebounds) and Nik Stauskas (20 points, five boards). This came just 24 hours after the Sixers beat Boston Sunday.
"Playing back-to-back is no excuse," Holmes said. "We got the lead and should have been able to keep it. We played hard, had a chance to win the game and didn't do it."
The 76ers' defense was sharp again, limiting Orlando to 37.6 percent (35 of 93) shooting for the game and only 9 of 28 (32.1 percent) in the fourth quarter and overtime.
But the Sixers got beat in the only spot they couldn't defend: the free throw line. Orlando hit all 11 free throws in the fourth quarter and 8 of 9 in overtime, including 4 for 4 in the final 11 seconds to seal the win.
The Sixers were 1 for 2 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter and didn't shoot a free throw in overtime.
"That discrepancy is brutal," Brown said. "Trying to win on the road, in a back-to-back situation with a beaten-down team, those types of things are hard to overcome."
What was even more difficult to overcome was the lack of bodies at the end of the game. Already without Jahlil Okafor (knee) and Gerald Henderson (rest), the Sixers had Dario Saric and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot foul out during the fourth quarter, while Holmes picked up his final foul in OT.
Saric, who won the game for the Sixers when they visited Orlando a month ago, played only 26 minutes before fouling out Monday. Saric was on his way to another big night with 18 points and five boards, but got his sixth foul with 3:52 left in regulation.
"Not having Dario, we get impacted us all over the place," Brown said.
"You're losing the Rookie of the Year on offense and defense," added point guard T.J. McConnell. "He's a solid defender and you know what he can do offensively. To lose him with a good portion of the fourth quarter is tough, but we can't rely on just him game in and game out. Somebody has to step up."