Late-game execution again dooms Sixers

Late-game execution again dooms Sixers


CHICAGO — The Sixers blew a nine-point fourth-quarter lead as they had no answer for Nikola Mirotic and Kris Dunn down the stretch in a 117-115 loss to the Chicago Bulls on Monday night. 

Dario Saric tried to keep the 76ers in the game with 27 points and six rebounds. Ben Simmons appeared to notch his fourth triple-double of the season before having an assist taken away. He finished with 19 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists. 

Simmons had a chance to force overtime, but couldn't convert on a layup with 0.5 seconds left. 

The Sixers dropped below .500 (14-15) for the first time since Oct. 30 with the defeat, while the Bulls (9-20) extended their improbable winning streak to six games.

• Saric made a three-pointer with 39.4 seconds left to get the Sixers within two, but Simmons couldn't capitalize after a defensive stop. Saric scored 10 points in the fourth quarter.

• The Sixers were limited with Joel Embiid, Trevor Booker and Furkan Korkmaz missing the game. Korkmaz is out indefinitely with a left foot injury and Booker missed the game after spraining his left ankle on Friday.

• Simmons took a page out of the absent Embiid's book by staring down Paul Zipser after a layup to give the Sixers a 96-94 lead with 7:52 left in the fourth quarter. Simmons then blocked Justin Holiday's shot to set up a three-pointer by Jerryd Bayless, and capped it off with another layup over Bobby Portis to extend the lead to 101-94. 

Simmons also gave Portis the stare-down treatment while heading into a Chicago timeout. After a pair of Bulls free throws, Bayless converted a four-point play to give the Sixers a 105-96 lead with 5:51 left.

• After attempting only one shot in 17 minutes in the first half, Robert Covington helped sparked the Sixers in the third quarter and erased a 12-point deficit with eight points. 

• After leading, 18-10, the Sixers allowed a 20-5 Bulls run late in the first quarter. A series of defensive lapses had Brett Brown irate on the sidelines. The Sixers also had seven turnovers in the quarter, which led to 11 Chicago points. 

The Sixers gave up back-to-back fastbreak points late in the second half to Denzel Valentine and Holiday to give the Bulls a 64-54 lead. The Sixers allowed Chicago to shoot 8 of 14 from three-point range in the first half and couldn't contain Holiday, who went off for 20 points. He was 5 of 7 from three-point range. The Sixers trailed, 67-59, at the end of the first half despite shooting 50 percent.

• Brown is hoping to see Simmons go more outside of his comfort zone in games so the rookie can develop his mid-range jumper. 

“We have to start that more than we have seen it. We have to do it,” Brown said. “Because he has impacted the game so easily without having to, so like all of you, you go where you succeed.” 

Brown is putting an emphasis on Simmons to improve his jump shot during game action, which Simmons rarely did in the first half. Although, he was effective going to the rim as he scored 13 points on 6 of 11 shooting.

“He has been able to impact a game the way we've seen, kind of his whole life, at LSU, high school in Miami, the first 30 games in the NBA, but it is not real,” Brown said. “His evolution is going to be he has to grow that, and so, he works, but it's hard in the NBA. You don't have tons of practice time, so our next step is going to be promoting that through real-time games.

“Finding that balance of how you do it ends up in the fluidity of NBA life cause it is just relentless in its games. Oftentimes, that's all you have, and I'm excited."

• Embiid was a no-show in Chicago again. The center did not make the trip with the Sixers as he sat out the first game of a back-to-back set and has not played in Chicago since he was a member of the Kansas Jayhawks in a 94-83 win over Duke when he scored two points as a freshman.

Before the game, Brown was asked if NBA commissioner Adam Silver suggested teams rest their star players at home rather than on the road in back-to-back games. 

“He may have, but it has never been a mandate,” Brown said. “What we do is pay most of the attention to the team, to the individual, and I think we would all understand that there was no mandate from the league saying you have to rest them at home.” 

Embiid played a career-high 49 minutes in a triple-overtime loss to Oklahoma City on Friday. The Sixers host the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday night.

“I think what is most important is the player's health first, the organization second,” Brown said. “We fully understand the responsibility we have to the league. We fully understand the responsibility we have to the sport, but sometimes it doesn't all coexist and line up, does it? And so, with that in mind, as an organization, we make the decision based on that order of criteria and that's what we decided to do."  

• Covington and Jacob Pullen were back in their hometown. Covington starred at Proviso West and Pullen at Proviso East (see story).

Sixers have already embraced key aspects of NBA postseason

Sixers have already embraced key aspects of NBA postseason

Perhaps the Sixers have been underestimated a bit.

Outside of Joel Embiid’s health, all of the chatter going into the playoffs was about how the relatively inexperienced roster would handle the big stage. 

Sure, the team has a crop of veterans that have been there and done that. However, young impact players such as Embiid, Ben Simmons and Dario Saric were all getting their first taste of the postseason.

So how are they feeling about it to this point?

“I love it,” Embiid said at Friday’s practice. “I live for these moments. I thrive in this type of atmosphere. I think I was built for this, especially playoff basketball.”

Embiid appears particularly fond of the postseason in environments where the Sixers are short on support.

After missing the first two games of the series in Philadelphia while still recovering from orbital fracture surgery, Embiid stepped back into the starting lineup on the road in Miami.

Was getting barked at by rowdy fans in hostile territory going to be a problem? Not for the villain now known as “The Phantom of the Process.”

“I actually think I play better on the road because I just love the atmosphere,” Embiid said. “I just love looking around the arena, people booing, people going against us. That just takes my game to another level.”

The Sixers’ performance isn’t the only thing that has been taken up a notch. Their intensity level and physicality have jumped in this first-round matchup with the bruising Heat.

“I said it before, I wish it was like this all season,” said Simmons, who is averaging 20.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 9.7 assists per game in the series. “I’m enjoying it. It’s very competitive and that’s the type of basketball I want to play.”

“It’s basketball. It’s fun,” Justin Anderson said. “Playing like that is fun. Every possession matters. You can tell there’s not a lot of empty possessions. Guys are getting shots up on every possession.

“… It’s intensified. It’s just basketball. It’s the best basketball in the world, and we’re putting ourselves in a position to hopefully go and get another one in Game 4.”

Heat's Justise Winslow fined $15K for stepping on Joel Embiid's mask

Heat's Justise Winslow fined $15K for stepping on Joel Embiid's mask

The NBA dished out some swift justice on Friday night.

Heat swingman Justise Winslow was fined $15,000 by the league for unsportsmanlike conduct after intentionally stepping on and attempting to damage Joel Embiid’s mask during the Sixers’ Game 3 win in Miami (see story).

With 7:51 remaining in the second quarter, the goggles portion of Embiid’s mask fell onto the court. Winslow stepped on the goggles with his left foot before picking them up and trying to break them with his hands.

“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.”

The incident definitely didn’t stop Embiid in his postseason debut. The big man returned from orbital surgery to put up 23 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three blocks in the Sixers’ 128-108 victory.

“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.”