Embiid's return not a magic pill for Sixers

Embiid's return not a magic pill for Sixers


TORONTO — Though Joel Embiid returned Saturday night from a three-game absence in the Sixers’ loss in Toronto, he alone couldn’t solve their persistent turnover problems.

The center did made a difference early, reeling off the Sixers’ first eight points after being listed as questionable with tightness in his back.

Yet the Sixers ultimately lost to the Raptors for the second time in three days, 102-86 (see observations)

They turned the ball over 23 times Saturday, leading to 28 points. The Sixers’ 24 turnovers Thursday led to 32 points in their 114-109 loss to Toronto. 

The Sixers have lost a season-high five in a row and have dropped nine of their past 10. Amir Johnson, a former Raptor who had 12 points Saturday, said the Sixers need to cut down on turnovers to end the drought.

“Take care of the ball,” he said. “I think that’s when we’ll start winning. I think it really is just our turnovers. It’s tough when you are in transition or in mid-play, throw lob passes and then we’re scrambling back in transition. We do play at a fast pace, but we just have to take care of the ball. We don’t win anything if we don’t care of the ball.”

“You just have to make it a point of emphasis, or you just have to do it,” said Ben Simmons, who had 10 points, five rebounds and six assists. “You can’t talk about it, you just have to go out there and take care of the ball and focus, and make the right decision.”

While Sixers coach Brett Brown was pleased with his team’s improvement in some areas, he was still disappointed with the turnover problems. 

“I thought we did a better job of not blatantly hacking them, fouling them like we did at home,” Brown said. “We did a little bit better job of offensive rebounding. I think the turnovers, especially in the first half, continue to hurt us. I leave mostly thinking that this is a really good team. I think they’ve lost one game at home (12-1), I think they’ve won 12 out of the past 13 games (overall), and we feel every bit of that.” 

If turnovers are an aspect that does not seem to change during this process, nor do losses to the Raptors, as the Sixers are 1-18 against Toronto since 2013-14.

Embiid wanted to help end that trend. He said his back did not feel much better Saturday, but he wanted to play. He had 14 points and eight rebounds in 23 minutes.

He appeared to grow frustrated as the game wore on.

“I think because he wants to do so much more and he can’t,” Brown said. “He just hasn’t practiced or recently played, and so it didn’t really surprise me that what I thought was good form at the start of the game, he had his legs underneath him, his conditioning obviously at the start wasn’t challenged but as the game wore on, I think none of us should expect less.

“It’s going to take him some time to feel the game and play basketball again. You don’t just click your heels and jump into an NBA game and do what he did at the start consistently, and he got frustrated. It’s just part of really what makes him quite unique, he wants it and he wants everything now and sometimes you just can’t have that.” 

Justin Anderson downplays Game 3 scuffle with Dwyane Wade

Justin Anderson downplays Game 3 scuffle with Dwyane Wade

Amir Johnson was getting dressed at the locker next to Justin Anderson when the veteran center looked up with a calm request.

“Tell the truth,” Johnson said with a smile.

That’s because Anderson was attempting to downplay his second-quarter run-in with Heat guard Dwyane Wade during the Sixers’ 128-108 Game 3 win Thursday in Miami (see game recap).

“It’s just a common foul. I’m not tripping about it,” Anderson said.

Anderson may not have wanted to make a big deal over the incident, but the foul was anything but common.

With 10:26 on the clock in the second quarter, Anderson locked up with Wade on the defensive end. Anderson pushed off as he attempted to front Wade in the post when the three-time champion latched onto the Sixers guard’s arm and flung him out of bounds. Anderson fell down into a couple photographers before getting up to confront Wade. Both players were separated and assessed taunting technical fouls for the play.

“I don’t remember,” Anderson said. “It was just a tough play for both of us. Just continue to move on. Next play.”

The skirmish was just one example of the heightened physicality in the series. Game 3 witnessed 56 total personal fouls and six technicals.

Despite playing just two minutes in the series prior to Thursday night, Anderson knew he was walking into a battle.

“They hit us in Game 1. They were physical from the start,” said Anderson, who had six points and four rebounds during nine minutes of action in Game 3. “I try to take every opportunity that I’m given. Watching the game for the first two games from the bench, I kind of recognized that the physicality was real high. I just mentally prepared myself that if I go in I’ve got to hit first or they’re going to hit me.”

So is it safe to say Anderson is the Sixers’ new enforcer?

“Like in hockey? Nah,” he said. “I just play hard. I play hard and make sure I do whatever I can to help our team win. That’s all that really matters.”

Joel Embiid has trouble with mask, not Heat in Sixers' Game 3 win

Joel Embiid has trouble with mask, not Heat in Sixers' Game 3 win


MIAMI — "We're not here to make friends. We're here to win the series." 

With those two sentences, Joel Embiid made it known what he is all about in the playoffs.

The big man fought to return from an orbital fracture to help the Sixers win, and that’s exactly what he did in his first game since March 28. Embiid led the team with 23 points, seven rebounds, four assists, three blocks and a steal over 30 minutes in his NBA postseason debut … while wearing a mask with goggles (see story)

“I was excited,” Embiid said following the Sixers’ 128-108 victory Thursday in Game 3 (see observations). “Worked really hard for it. Promised the city that and made it happen. I was kind of sad that I couldn’t play in that first at home because we have a special connection. But I’m glad, came back today and we got a win.” 

Embiid sent a message — he is back, and not backing down. Sitting at the podium with a calm confidence, he talked about everything from his desire to return to in-game chippiness to defending his teammates. 

“I hate sitting out,” Embiid said. “I felt like it was time to come back, especially after watching how physical the game was, Game 2. I love this moment, I love being physical, I love attacking, I love contact.” 

Returning meant wearing a protective mask on his face. Though irksome in some ways, Embiid noted his game is too strong to be held back. 

“It was difficult,” Embiid said of the mask. “But to me it wasn’t really about getting used to it because at the end of the day, no matter how much it bothers me, I’ve still got to be a basketball player. If the shots aren’t falling and it gets foggy or I can’t see, there’s a lot of different stuff I can do, especially defensively because I feel like I’m the best defensive player in the league.”

There was plenty of contact in Game 3, and his mask wasn’t safe from it either. At one point, Embiid’s goggles landed on the court. Justise Winslow stepped on them, downplaying it after the game. 

“He kept throwing it on the ground, so I don’t know if he didn’t like it or what,” Winslow said. “But I was talking to JoJo, we were smack talking, trash talking, going back and forth. No love lost.”

Embiid didn’t quite see the situation as “throwing it on the ground.” He added an extra punch to the end of his recount. 

“Justise stepped on it and tried to break it with his hands,” Embiid said. “But little do they know is that I have about 50 of them. So it’s going to take much more than that to get me out of the series. 

“I’m going to be a nightmare for them, too.” 

When the game was in hand, Embiid was eager to see the Sixers finish with as large a margin of victory as possible. He thought back to Game 2 when Goran Dragic scored a layup with 1.2 seconds to play, and how Jordan Clarkson had thrown a ball at Dario Saric for scoring similarly during the regular season in Cleveland. So on Thursday, Embiid wanted them to run up the scoreboard. 

“I wish I was there in that Game 2 because I was kind of pissed about it,” Embiid said. “It’s basketball. It’s always good to blow a team out. I think we were up 18 or 20. If you could get that lead up to 22, I think it’s good. I love blowing teams out. I like the fact that we did that.” 

There's less than 48 hours until the Heat will look to bounce back in Game 4 and even up the series. Embiid knows the Sixers are in for a battle. 

And he likes that. 

“Game 4, they’re going to try to do what they did at Game 2, come out and be really, really extra aggressive and try to punch us in the mouth,” Embiid said. “We’ve got to be ready for that and I’ll for sure be ready.”