Sixers-Celtics observations: Too much Kyrie Irving

Sixers-Celtics observations: Too much Kyrie Irving


BOSTON — No Joel Embiid. No T.J. McConnell. No day off in between games. No home-court advantage.

With all those factors against them Thursday, the Sixers still made their matchup against the NBA-best Celtics competitive even if the 108-97 final score doesn’t reflect that fact.

The Sixers overcame a 10-point halftime deficit as they opened the second half on a 22-10 burst to lead by two. However, they still ended up trailing, 76-71, after three quarters. Despite several pushes by the Sixers, the Celtics were able to turn their advantage back into a double-digit lead to put the game away.

The Sixers dropped to 12-9 on the season and 1-2 without Embiid, while Boston improved to 19-4.

• Let’s get to the hot topic: would there be Round 2 of Hack-a-Ben? Ben Simmons actually attempted just four free throws (3 for 4). The Celtics, unlike the Wizards, weren’t in a position where they needed to stall the Sixers’ offense to dig out of a 20-point hole. Simmons posted 15 points, six assists and seven rebounds in another 40-minute night. 

• Dario Saric thrives when he gets the opportunity for more touches. That’s the case without Embiid. Saric recorded an 18-point, 10-rebound double-double, and added four assists in 35 minutes. 

• Robert Covington struggled to find an offensive groove. He went 3 for 10 from long range with two of those makes not coming until the final 6:05 of play. JJ Redick, on the other hand, was an efficient 4 for 6 from long range (17 points). 

• Kyrie Irving got the job done for the Celtics all over the court. Of his 36 points, 15 were on threes and seven were at the line. Al Horford poured in another 21 points. Jayson Tatum, who will be linked to the Sixers because of the No. 1 pick swap, added 15 points. The rookie has settled in nicely with the Celtics’ starting five. 

• Brett Brown started Amir Johnson in place of Embiid. He went with the veteran over Richaun Holmes because Johnson has been the backup center for most of the season. Johnson had six points, six rebounds and four assists. 

• Holmes was focused on using his athleticism to bring energy off the bench. He connected on hustle plays fighting at the basket and finished with nine points and seven boards. Holmes did not play in the previous game against the Wizards. 

• Johnson took a loud spill and stayed down on the ground in the second quarter. The veteran got up and stayed in the game. Later, Johnson came up walking gingerly after getting tripped up and fouled by Daniel Theis while running the break off his own steal. The Sixers can count on Johnson to battle through whatever he can. He came into the league on the Pistons with tough-minded players like Rasheed Wallace and Ben Wallace to show him the NBA ropes. 

• The Sixers traveled light to Boston. Four players were not with the team. Markelle Fultz (right shoulder) is in Kentucky for physical therapy. Embiid stayed back as part of his back-to-back restriction. McConnell, who suffered a sprained AC joint in his left shoulder on Wednesday, expectedly remained in Philadelphia. Jahlil Okafor did not make the trip either, listed as individualized training. 

• Simmons looked like he was trying out for the Sixers’ Dunk Squad with this move:

• Injury updates: In addition to those noted above, Justin Anderson remains out (left leg). Boston’s Gordon Hayward (left ankle) has been out since opening night. 

• Former Sixer (and former Celtic) Dana Barros was in attendance. Barros is a community relations consultant for the Celtics. 

These players could come 'out of left field' for Sixers

These players could come 'out of left field' for Sixers

Brett Brown’s witnessed many playoff battles during his days as an assistant with the San Antonio Spurs.

That’s when the stars shine brightest in an attempt to help their team hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy. It’s also when role players get an opportunity to change the course of a series and leave an imprint that lasts a lifetime.

Think Kenny Smith’s seven three-pointers in Game 1 of the 1995 NBA Finals, Steve Kerr’s series-sealing jumper in Game 6 of the 1997 NBA Finals and Robert Horry in, well, too many games to count.

“Every one of my years with San Antonio, 12 of them, somebody came out of left field in one of the games for six minutes, maybe more, and had a significant impact on a win,” Brown said last week.

Sure, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are going to do the heavy lifting. But the real question is who else will make a significant contribution during those crucial postseason moments?

Robert Covington is certainly not planning to shy away from the big stage.

After three months of sliding production, the swingman has regained his shooting form at just the right time as the Sixers appear headed for their first postseason berth since 2011-12. Covington is shooting 47.3 percent from the field and 42.4 percent from three-point range with an offensive rating of 128 in March.

“My teammates have been pretty much finding me the same shots, but I just changed up a little bit of my workout, switched it up,” Covington said after scoring 18 points (6 for 12 shooting) in the Sixers’ 108-94 win over the Hornets on Monday. “That’s what allowed me to get where I’m at now. My teammates have been finding me open spots. We’ve been moving the ball really well.

“That’s just doing the right things and waiting on that moment.”

Marco Belinelli knows all about seizing that moment. He’s played — and played very well at times — over the course of 48 career playoff games.

The Sixers got a taste against the Hornets of just how much of a boost Belinelli can give a team when he’s on target. The 10-year veteran scored 21 points off the bench and contributed five of the Sixers’ 18 threes as he sharpens his game for the major challenge on the horizon.

“It’s huge,” Simmons said of finding shooters such as Belinelli and Covington in addition to JJ Redick in close games. “It’s just the way we’ve been playing all year.”

With Justin Anderson now back in the rotation and contributing, it could be the performance of secondary guys that keep the Sixers playing longer than anyone expected before the season started.

Ben Simmons shrugs off mental fatigue with another triple-double

Ben Simmons shrugs off mental fatigue with another triple-double


Around 6 p.m., Ben Simmons spoke about mental fatigue and the frustrations it can cause. 

An hour later, he hit the court and posted an 11-point, 12-rebound, 15-assist triple-double … with zero turnovers.

“I wish he was more mentally fatigued in the future,” Brett Brown said with a laugh. 

The 21-year-old rookie may be feeling the weight of his first NBA season, but he certainly didn’t show it Monday in the Sixers’ 108-94 win over the Hornets (see observations)

Simmons recorded his third triple-double in the last four games. He exhibited disciplined court vision by finding his teammates with a high level of ease and chemistry that’s been developing over the season (see highlights).

“I was trusting them to knock down shots,” Simmons simply put it. “They make it easy for me.”

Simmons became the first rookie in the NBA to record a triple-double with 15 assists and no turnovers. Only David Robinson and Andre Iguodala had reached a triple-double without an error as rookies. 

Simmons considers his assists and turnovers to be the most meaningful stats of the triple-double, noting his turnovers usually are caused by mental errors. 

"That’s amazing," Joel Embiid said. "To be able to make the right reads and not turn the ball over, there’s a few guys in the league that can do that ... that just shows you that he can be a great point guard."

The 6-foot-10 point guard is averaging 16.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 7.9 assists and 1.7 steals per game over 34 minutes. With each game that passes, Simmons continues to be linked with the feats of Hall of Famers. From joining in the same company as Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson to moving ahead of Allen Iverson for most 10-assist games by a Sixers rookie, his performances are often tied back to historical markers. 

“I think people get caught up in how many points I score every game,” Simmons said. “It’s not about that. It’s a matter of points that we’re getting as a team and how many stops we get … 

"People are always going to say I need to do certain things but I know what I’m capable of and I know what I’m really good at.”