Losses like this are becoming all too familiar for Collins' team, where they will play well enough to win, only to transform in the final moments of games into some sort of different team and ultimately give away a victory.
"We couldn't get a basket in the last 5 minutes," said Collins, whose team fell to 5-14. "We tried to put the ball in some guys' hands, but we just couldn't get a basket. And that's been my concern the whole year long is in a close game finding a basket. Our defense was good enough to win . . . It's pretty disheartening for the guys."
And perplexing to everyone how a team can fall apart so rapidly late in games. They held an 18-point lead in the first half, and got it up to as high as 17 in the second half. They still led by 12 with under 9 minutes to go in the game. Then the wheels fell off. More precisely, the wheels came off, the engine seized, the transmission dropped and the oil leaked.
With the familiar bad, late-game play lurking, Lou Williams missed a wide-open dunk on a two-on-one fastbreak that would have built the lead to 11 with 4:53 to play. After that, Atlanta scored 15 of the game's final 18 points to surprisingly put the game away.
But Williams' miss wasn't the only befuddling misadventure late. Atlanta got its first lead when Al Horford was allowed to waltz effortlessly down the lane and deposit a layup and subsequent foul shot with 31.1 seconds left for the Hawks' first lead at 89-88.
Then, with 18 seconds left, Jamal Crawford missed two foul shots. But Zaza Pachulia somehow knocked the offensive rebound away from Andre Iguodala and Crawford deposited two foul shots for a 91-88 lead with 12.3 left.
The Sixers had a chance to tie, but Meeks, who started his first NBA game, let the ball go through his hands, and as that happened, the game slipped away also.
"I don't think we play any different [at the end], I think we just need to do a better job executing," said Meeks, who finished with nine points. "I really don't have an excuse for it. We just need to do a better job. I guess you could say [they're playing tight], but, at the same time, in pressure situations we're more than able to execute, we just have to do it."
Early on, with the new lineup, things were working out very well for the Sixers. Meeks did his job, hitting long-range shots and making the defense extend. Spencer Hawes was as active as he's been all season, going for nine points, five rebounds and three assists in the first quarter (he finished with nine points, eight rebounds and four assists). And when Turner did get into the game, he appeared much more comfortable than in the previous four games, taking the ball to the basket and hitting open shots. He finished with 11 points and four boards.
But the monster in the closet was lurking. In that devastating final quarter, the Sixers shot 4-for-20 from the floor and turned the ball over five times.
"That's where our youth shows," said Collins, whose team was led by Elton Brand's 16 points and 14 boards. "You're talking about very young guys. That's when it rears its head is in pressure situations, especially on the road. That's usually when you see mistakes being made and that's usually what we have done. We missed a golden opportunity tonight to beat a very good team on the road. You can't speed up growth. As much as you'd like to, you just can't. Growth has to go through the fire."
And, again last night, the Sixers got burned.
Word of colleague Phil Jasner's passing (obituary on Page 42) last night was felt in the Sixers' locker room.
"It's sad to hear," said Elton Brand. "He was a great reporter, a throwback to the industry. I got to know him and I reached out to him when he was in the hospital. He was a fighter."
Assistant coach Aaron McKie, like Jasner, a Temple graduate, said: "He was just a great guy. He was really into his craft. He was a Philadelphia guy and I just enjoyed talking to him and sharing stories.
"One thing about Phil, he was able to follow me throughout my career - in high school [Simon Gratz] and college [Temple]. We shared some basketball memories and we talked baseball and football. The relationship was a little bit different in that aspect.
"I had a great deal of respect for the way he approached his craft."
Allen Iverson, playing in Turkey, thought enough of Jasner to post this on his Twitter account: "I am deeply saddened by the news of the passing of Phil Jasner," Iverson said. "The world has truly lost a 'great man', who will be surely missed . . . My condolences go out tonight to his family." *
For more Sixers coverage, read the
Daily News' Sixers blog, Sixerville, at
Follow him on Twitter at