Fine, Let's Pretend This Summer League Loss That Will Haunt Me Forever Never Happened
I'm pretty sure nobody on the planet cares about it except for me, which I guess is OK.
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Due to a few hours of interstate travel and a White Lotus denouement that had to take precedence last night -- yes, I think the final shots of Quinn's airport escape were a fantasy sequence, no, I don't think HBO should bring the show back next year -- I didn't get to see the Too Good For Summer League Sixers' own season finale against the Minnesota Timberwolves until Monday morning. By that point, I figured if something really that notable happened I probably would've heard about it already, and with the TGFSLS' championship hopes already dashed, I wasn't sure what really could happen anyway. I power-watched it an hour before work, figuring I'd have already long forgotten about it by lunchtime.
I was wrong. What I watched was a basketball game that looked like it'd end up a minor feel-good win, and instead ended up an absolutely midsection-pulverizing loss which will stay heavy on my heart for all time -- or at the very least, for the next two months until the Regular Season Sixers resume action. And I'm pretty sure nobody on the planet cares about it except for me, which I guess is OK.
In case you missed it -- and I'd estimate that maybe 150 people total worldwide, including those already in the building, were still watching at this point -- the TGFSLS appeared to have their fourth game about as good as sewn up. After a back-and-forth fourth quarter, Philly had taken a two-point lead with 23 seconds to go on a rattled-in wing three from Jaden Springer (woo Jaden!), then followed that with a critical stop on the other end by forcing a five-seconds violation on the inbounding Wolves. A couple fouls later, and with neither team having any timeouts left, Rayjon Tucker went to the line to ice the game for the Sixers, presumably bringing them to a respectable 3-1 finish against the previously undefeated wolves. He hit his first free throw, but the second one bounced hard off the front rim. And that's when the nonsense started.
— NBA (@NBA) August 16, 2021
First off, the ball bounced right back to Tucker, who seemed to be in perfect position to secure the rebound and head back to the line for a second chance at putting the game away. But McKinley Wright IV (????) must've gotten a hand on the ball from behind, and it fumbled out of Tucker's grasp and into the hands of Wolves sophomore Jaden McDaniels, who took off speeding in the other direction. Luckily for the TGFSLS, their ace defender Paul Reed sized up the McDaniels drive, stayed with him every step of the way, and contested his launched pull-up three about as well as he could without fouling. The shot looked janky and off from its release. And of course, it banked right off the top of the square and in. Tie game, 2.7 seconds left, no timeouts.
And yet -- I still feel the TGFSLS should have won this game in regulation!! As Tucker took the ball out, Springer started sprinting down the sideline, and Tucker threw a close-to-perfect lead pass for him to collect at the other end of the court, with just one defender to beat and flanked by Reed for an absolutely perfect 2-on-1 opportunity. I mean, look at this freeze frame and tell me this is not as good a scoring opportunity as you could possibly ask for in this particular situation:
But Springer mistimed his stride, or maybe he got confused about how much time he had left, or maybe he got mixed up between attempting the game-winner himself or throwing it to Reed for the alley-oop, or maybe all three. He ended up jumping for the ball, and trying to both catch it and hurl it at the rim in one move, which went about as well as you would predict, especially for a player as naturally haywire as Rookie Jaden Springer. It was too high for BBall Paul to corral, and his oop (and/or putback) attempt never really had a prayer. Overtime.
In OT, the Wolves hit a couple threes -- and with Springer already having used his allotted one make and Isaiah Joe out for the remainder of the game with what would end up being a mild MCL sprain (UGH), that was more than the TGFSLS could match. They lost 99-96, dropping the once-championship contenders to a middling 2-2 for the Summer. They could take small solace in the headsmacking defeat that they had kept the Baby Wolves within eight, thus ensuring Minnesota would not qualify for tonight's Summer League championship game, but the taste left in their mouths was doubtless still too sour for even Olivia Rodrigo to find palatable.
Naturally, I headed to Sixers Twitter for some after-the-fact sharing of the bitterness. I found nothing. Some applause of Paul Reed's 27-20-4-4-4 night (talk soon Paul), some fretting about the extent of the Joe injury -- no mention at all of the supertrash finish that closed out the TGFSLS season. I checked with FOTB Jason Lipshutz, who had no idea what I was even talking about; all he knew of the game was a couple "3BALL PAUL" tweets. I talked to my mother, one of the only people who takes supposedly meaningless Process losses as hard as I do; her lone takeaway from watching the fourth was "76ers played pretty great ball!!!" My Nets fan co-worker, who traditionally never wastes a Sixers-related taunting opportunity, was totally silent on the matter until i sent him the McDaniels clip myself; even after that he was much more interested in dunking on that one dumb Ben Simmons workout tweet.
Fine. I get it. Tyrese was a DNP - Saving the Children the last two games, at which point the TGFSLS' championship hopes were basically reduced to rubble, and after getting blown out by the Summer Celtics in Game Three, I'll admit that even my enthusiasm for Game Four was... lesser. (If they had been undefeated going into Game Four, chances are pretty good my girlfriend would've had to put up with 40-plus minutes of Braxton Key and Frank Mason III before we got to find out what happened to Belinda, Armond and the Mossbachers on Sunday night.) A great number of Process Trusters were no doubt tuned out on Sunday night, and perhaps some of those watching have reflexively started turning off all Sixers-related games at the 5:00 mark in the fourth quarter just to be on the safe side; couldn't say I'd blame them if so.
That said, you will not find me diminishing the importance of a Summer League Sixers loss in this lifetime. Not one like this, anyway -- one where we should have had the feel-good win, could have had the feel-good win, and instead are left freeze-framing ten seconds' worth of offensive rebounds and inbound outlet passes and three-point launch angles trying to figure out what the fuck went wrong. I carry the Sixers' 2014 Orlando Summer League championship with me forever, and so will I carry this. Them's the rules as I see it with the Process Sixers: You're in or you're out, but if you're in, you don't get to pick and choose your triumphs and your heartbreaks. You experience them all fully at all times, throughout the past, present and future, like Doctor Manhattan in a Casper Ware jersey.
But whatever. If y'all wanna act like this one never happened, I suppose that's your call -- and after the postseason we had, if you can find the grace to spare yourself the burden, I guess that's maybe even commendable. After this, I'll try to keep my seething to an internal roil, quiet and private. It's only fair; I said I was ready to get hurt again with the Summer Sixers, and I was and I am. Only two months until we all get to open the wounds all over again.