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76ers’ Nick Nurse Unleashes Blunt Truth on Diabolical Defense in Crushing Blazers Defeat

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The 76ers were shorthanded against the Trail Blazers but still put up an unacceptable effort on defense.

The Philadelphia 76ers are currently losers of three straight games for just the second time this season. Their most recent loss, a blowout at the hands of the Portland Trail Blazers by a score of 130-104, is a sign of how much heavy lifting Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey do. Without them for a second straight game, the Sixers floundered.

The Sixers got stomped out in the second half and watched the fourth quarter become mostly garbage time after trailing by just three at the half. Nick Nurse explained how a lapse in defensive execution snowballed into a brutal performance that he said was “of course” disappointing.

“We just really lost our focus, I think, defensively, first and foremost,” Nurse told reporters after the loss. “We really had a good start to the game. First quarter, defensively, was excellent. Pretty much through the second quarter, too, ’til about four minutes to go. And they went on a big run of a lot of stuff at the rim and some dunks and things like that. And we just never really got back to guarding the ball with enough, just, containment. And then when that happened, we weren’t helping the guy who was beat, either. We just lost our defensive focus. It started on the ball and then it just chain-reaction’d from there.”

The Blazers posted a 135.4 offensive rating in the game, per Cleaning the Glass, and they really only needed shots at the rim to make it happen. They did a very good job rebounding their own misses, scoring on layups and lobbing up passes for Deandre Ayton to throw down. A team with the second-to-last-ranked offense in the league should not be able to have a game like that, especially on the second night of a back-to-back. But the shorthanded 76ers allowed it to happen.

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Jerami Grant played a massive role with a game-leading 27 points on 7-13 shooting, including 12-13 from the foul line. He hit a few jumpers but mostly did his damage from up close.

“He was really cooking,” Nurse said. “We were trying to move a bunch of different guys off him. They were running some fairly simple actions for him that, scheme-wise, we weren’t doing very well, either. He was hard for us to handle tonight. Every time he made a move, we fouled him, it seemed like.”

Malcolm Brogdon was also a huge problem for the 76ers. He tallied 24 points, nine assists and five rebounds. Philly floundered in its attempts to prevent him from driving into the paint. Philly’s leading scorer was Kelly Oubre Jr., who notched 25 points. None of his teammates had more than 15.

The 76ers’ inability to compete — let alone win — in games when Embiid doesn’t play is starting to get really problematic. They’re 3-9 in such games. Maxey being out severely hampered them, too, as did the absences of De’Anthony Melton and Robert Covington. But with the New York Knicks on a seven-game winning streak and the Cleveland Cavaliers having won nine of their last 10 games, Philly could take a tumble out of the top of the Eastern Conference standings.

There’s no time for the 76ers to dwell on the loss to Portland, though. They’re back in action just 24 hours later against Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors. For all of the turmoil Golden State has endured this season, No. 30 is not the guy a team with a broken perimeter defense wants to face. All Philly can do is pick itself up and try again.

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“It’s another opportunity tomorrow,” Oubre said after the game. “We have a really good team that we’re playing so we just gotta use that as a confidence booster, come out and actually compete and play the right way for 48 minutes and then see where we’re at. But at the end of the day, we definitely are hungry and I hope that guys wake up tomorrow ready to play.”

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