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Home Opening, Home Closing: Sixers lose brutal game to Celtics in home opener

Home Opening, Home Closing: Sixers lose brutal game to Celtics in home opener

At least the national anthem was awesome. After that, some good things must have happened to the Sixers last night, but it's hard to remember what they are. Instead, there were a lot of turnovers, a lot of misses, and enough fouls to inspire a Flyers month's worth of "REF YOU SUCK" chants. The Sixers lost, 102-92. That score feels neither accurate nor inaccurate. It's hard to remember anyone scoring anything last night, to be honest.

Watching this game felt like getting stuck in traffic for two and a half hours. Just a lot of stop-starts, a lot of honking, and endless amounts of frustration. Joel Embiid went 4 of 16. Dario Saric turned the ball over six times, including twice on consecutive offensive foul clear-outs. Ben Simmons — well, he had 11 and 11, making him the only Sixers rookie start off his career with two double-doubles. Cool, but not enough to provide the team any sort of fluidity or consistency on offense. This one got nasty early and stayed that way, as unpleasurable a contest as the Sixers are likely to ever play at (close to) full health.

Hard to pinpoint exactly what went wrong, either. The spacing seemed cramped all night, and far too often, JoJo was getting the ball behind the three-point line. His pump-fake wasn't fooling the Celtics' bigs, and his shot from range has eluded him thus far this season (0-6 last night, now 0-15 total since his preseason debut). Jerryd Bayless, J.J. Redick and Robert Covington did their part — 10 combined threes on 19 attempts — but the Sixers just didn't seem to get many clean looks, especially around the basket. And the bench, a combined 8 of 27 (0 of 7 from deep), was no help.

But the story from this one was the refs. I'm not sure if I'd even say how poorly the game was officiated, the more striking thing was just how relentlessly the game was officiated. The Sixers got whistled for 30 fouls — 24 for Boston — and the stoppages made the game so choppy that the game flowed about as well as a 23-track DJ Khaled album. A sellout home crowd was absolutely raring to go all night, but never got to build up any kind of momentum (except against the refs), with their only opportunities for extended cheering coming at the free-throw line. The Cetlics' didn't fare much better flow-wise, with only 16 assists on the night — fewer than they had in any game last year — but they had Kyrie Irving, and that was enough to make the difference down the stretch.

The Sixers will continue looking for their first win tonight, in Toronto. Doesn't seem likely they'll find it, with JoJo sitting and the Raps returning most of their playoff core, but hopefully they can at least wash the taste of this one out a little, and get some of their guys — Dario especially, who's now 5 for 15 (0 for 6 from three) for the season — into a little bit of a groove. We should also be seeing Vegan Jah for the first time this season, so hopefully he can provide a little of the offensive spark off the bench we were missing in this one. In any event, 40 home games to go this season – there'll be losses worth than this, but hopefully none quite so uniquely frustrating.

Imagine how good Sixers can be once this trio gets rolling

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Imagine how good Sixers can be once this trio gets rolling

As we collectively bask in the glow of the Southern California smackdown the Sixers administered to the Clippers and the Lakers to close out their road trip at 3-2, let’s take a little inventory of just what they’ve accomplished overall this season.

Through 14 games, they are 8-6. That’s two wins shy of their total amount of victories just two seasons ago and we’re still in November. The times they have a changed in Sixer-land.

The team has not one, but two transcendent stars who are capable of taking over games.

Joel Embiid’s last two performances have been pure dominance. 78 points, 31 rebounds, eight blocks and nine assists, while shooting 25 of 40 from the floor and averaging 35 minutes. He’s made whomever is guarding him look foolish, including one of the better defenders in the game, DeAndre Jordan.

From game one Ben Simmons has looked like a 10-year veteran. His poise belies his years. Simmons is a double-double machine and a triple-double threat every night. He’s posting gaudy early numbers of 20.3 points per game, 9.2 rebounds and 7.7 assists. Despite not being a threat beyond 12 feet, Simmons' ability to get to the rack and finish with either hand more than compensates for his outside shortcomings. That duo has been awesome.

Not to be overlooked is Robert Covington. The 26-year-old, who transformed himself into a top-10 defender in the league, is putting up monster offensive stats after an inconsistent season from the floor last year. Covington is scoring 18.3 points, while shooting 50 percent from the field and nearly 50 percent from three-point land. Couple that offensive production with his defensive prowess and the Sixers got a pretty good bargain for a reported four years, $62 million.  

But what’s even more remarkable when considering the Sixers' good start is who they are doing it without. First overall draft pick Markelle Fultz has yet to play a game this season as he continues to battle a shoulder issue. Take a look at the contribution the NBA’s best team thus far, the Celtics, have gotten from third overall pick, Jayson Tatum. The 19-year-old is scoring nearly 14 points per game and pulling down more than 5.5 rebounds, while shooting close to 50 percent from the field and 48 percent from three. He’s been an integral piece in their 14-game winning streak. The Sixers have not had that luxury.

Beyond Fultz, Dario Saric has not been able to find a rhythm all season. Saric averaged 15.8 points per game over the final three months of last season. He hasn’t rebounded or shot it as well this season either. No doubt there were going to adjustments and growing pains incorporating with Simmons and with more availability from Embiid, but as the season progresses they will need more from Saric.

The other crazy thing about the wins against the Clippers and Lakers was the manner in which JJ Redick struggled. He shot 7 of 25 from the floor and 1 for 15 from three-point land. He did make some late buckets inside in the Lakers game, but he’s here to knock down shots.

I believe Brett Brown will figure out a way to get more out of Saric. The Croatian works way too hard and cares far too much to not get going. With Redick, shooters can be streaky, it happens. And even when he is not making shots, he provides a lot in terms of leadership and example. How Fultz will fit in and what his shooting form will look like is anybody’s guess but they didn’t give up a lot to move up two spots for nothing. He wasn’t the consensus first overall pick by accident. My sense is in addition to the shoulder issue, he is struggling mightily with his confidence. So it could be a process with him when he’s ready to return.

To be winning without much of a contribution from these players, speaks volumes about how good the Sixers big three (Embiid, Simmons, Covington) have been. And it’s been noticed nationally. The Laker win was a coming party of sorts for those on the fringes. They are coming to the realization that we’ve known in this city for some time now.

This team is a playoff contender now. The question is how much better will they be at full compliment?

Best of NBA: Celtics surge past Warriors for 14th straight win

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Best of NBA: Celtics surge past Warriors for 14th straight win

BOSTON -- Kyrie Irving had 11 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter, including two free throws that put Boston ahead in the closing seconds, and the Celtics beat the Golden State Warriors 92-88 on Thursday night for their 14th straight victory.

Jaylen Brown had 22 points and seven rebounds, and Al Horford added 18 points and 11 rebounds.

Kevin Durant has 24 points for Golden State. The defending champion Warriors had won seven in a row.

Playing his second game since suffering a facial fracture, Irving shed his protective mask in the second quarter. Then, with the game tied at 88, he was fouled on his layup attempt and calmly made a pair of free throws. Durant then came up empty on his jumper on the other end.

Golden State led by as many as 17, but had to lean heavily on its reserves as its trio of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Durant struggled offensively.

Curry, who returned to action after missing a game with a bruised right thigh, was the most ineffective. He was 3 of 14 from the field -- 2 of 9 from the 3-point line -- and had nine points (see full recap).

Harden’s 48 points ignite Rockets’ rout of Suns
PHOENIX -- James Harden had 23 of his 48 points in the second quarter while the Houston Rockets scored 90 points in the first half en route to a 142-116 win over the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night.

Houston dominated with Chris Paul back in the lineup after missing 14 games with a knee injury. The Rockets made 61 percent of their first-half shots to get the second-most points in a first half in NBA history.

Houston came up 14 points shy of the franchise record for points in a game. The Rockets knocked down 21 of 44 3-point attempts, and Harden made all 18 of his free throws (see full recap).

Harden, the NBA's leading scorer, had 33 points at halftime. Houston used a 13-1 over the final 3:08 of the first quarter to take control and was never threatened after that, leading 45-23 going into the second.

Paul, who hadn't played since the season opener, got the start and didn't miss a beat, scoring 11 points and handing out 10 assists in limited action.

Coach Mike D'Antoni said before the game that getting the two stars, Harden and Paul, in sync will "take care of itself over the next week or so." D'Antoni planned to play Paul for 20 minutes; Paul saw 21 minutes of action and sat out most of the fourth quarter.

Ryan Anderson added 24 points for the Rockets, who have won seven of eight (see full recap).