76ers

Sixers close out 2017 calendar year in fashion

Sixers close out 2017 calendar year in fashion

BOX SCORE

PHOENIX — The Sixers jumped on the third quarter roller coaster Sunday night in Phoenix, and held on for a 123-110 win over the Suns, a score that doesn't reflect how close the second half was.

An 18-point lead dwindled away over 10 minutes in the third until the Sixers were hanging on to a three-point advantage heading into the fourth.

Like the Sixers did to the Nuggets the night before, the Suns staged a comeback with a 28-10 run in the third to change the tone of the game and turn the fourth into a battle.

The Sixers held the Suns scoreless in the final 1:31 to prevail with their second win of this three-game road trip. With this victory, the Sixers won back-to-back games for the first time since Nov. 20-25. 

• Joel Embiid took a hard fall late in the third and came up grabbing his right hand. He stayed in the game, tallying 22 points, nine rebounds and five assists on the night. Embiid said his hand is not broken and thinks it is a strain (see story).

• The Suns were active fouling Ben Simmons in the fourth. He shot 5 of 9 from the line in the final quarter. Simmons posted 21 points, nine rebounds, six dimes, three steals and three blocks.

"I know coach needs me to be more aggressive offensively, so I definitely had to do that this game," he said. 

• Dario Saric led the Sixers with another strong offensive outing, with 27 points off 4 for 5 three-point shooting. He is averaging 24.0 points in his last three games.

"I need to stay focused and believing in myself, believing in what I am doing on the court," Saric said. "The last couple of games I've had some good games." 

JJ Redick added 22 points.

• Devin Booker, who dominated the Sixers with 46 points in their previous game, still did damage. He scored 32 points after only four in the first half. While the focus is on Booker, TJ Warren posed problems with 28 points (11 in the first quarter).

"It had to be a team effort," Brett Brown said of defending Booker. "I think we did a really good job. He's really hard to guard. If you weren't coaching against him, he's somebody you would pay to go see. He's got a real balance and a real ability to put points on the board."

• Yet again, turnovers came into play. The Sixers committed seven of their 21 in the third.

• Tempo was a focal point of this game. Players and coach alike could be heard from the court yelling to push the ball and get back on defense.

• In a matchup reminiscent of practices of the past, T.J. McConnell and Isaiah Canaan were matched up at point guard. All that was missing was a guest appearance by JaKarr Sampson. The Suns signed Canaan in mid-December as a backup.

• Markelle Fultz continued on with the team to Phoenix. He was working with coaches on individuals drills before the game.

• There was a strong cheering section for former University of Arizona players Jerryd Bayless and McConnell. Bayless saw a bump in minutes (25) after Saturday’s 14-point performance.

• Justin Anderson (shin splints) was inactive for the second straight game.

Sixers officially list Joel Embiid as doubtful for Game 3

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Sixers officially list Joel Embiid as doubtful for Game 3

MIAMI — Just over 24 hours before the Sixers face off against the Heat in Game 3, Joel Embiid was listed as doubtful because of a left orbital fracture, or a 75 percent he will not play. That doesn’t mean, though, that status won’t change.

Embiid went through his second straight day of light practice Wednesday shortly after the team arrived in Miami. The Sixers will hold morning shootaround Thursday and could evaluate him again in pregame warmups before he is ruled in or out. 

Embiid was knocking down threes prior to the start of practice. 

Brett Brown said Embiid did a “little bit” of contact work Tuesday and handled it “quite well.” Conditioning is also a big part of his return. Embiid has not played in a game since March 28 when he suffered the fracture and a concussion. 

“It’s going to take time getting hit fitness up,” Brown said. “I think because he is an athlete, whenever the time comes where he does play, I think it’ll move in a more rapid way. I think his body looks great … I feel like it’ll kick in quicker than most.”

Embiid expressed his frustrations of being sidelined with an Instagram post shortly after the Sixers lost Game 2. They had previously won nine straight without him, which helped with his patience. 

“His spirit was very high,” Robert Covington said of his first practice. “Overall, he felt really good and we felt really good to have him out there with us.”

Embiid will have to shake off some rust when he does return. He thrives on consistent action to stay in game shape, and he’s been out for three weeks. If he’s not at 100 percent when he plays, Brown could see him still making an impact. 

“Defensively, he immediately comes in and changes the landscape,” Brown said. “The game is being played so fast right now and he has not been with us for a while, so I think the adjustment offensively might be a little more noticeable than defensively initially. He’s so gifted and he’s intelligent. He really is as smart and as instinctive a player as I’ve coached. He can look at something without doing it and then go do it.”

The Sixers are expecting another physical matchup with the Heat, especially with the next two games being in Miami. Embiid’s tough play would help them in that aspect as they try to take another series lead. The team has an approach, though, even if he cannot battle on the court. 

“It doesn’t have to be macho versus macho,” Brown said. “That’s not how we want to play. We want to have an intellectual response to physicality." 

The Sixers are looking for their first win of the season in Miami. 

Sixers ready to embrace Heat's increased physicality on defense

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Sixers ready to embrace Heat's increased physicality on defense

The Heat’s physicality in Game 2 didn’t bother every Sixers player.

“I think this is the first time where it’s been let go a little bit more, which has been good. I enjoy it,” said Ben Simmons, who recorded 24 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in the Sixers’ 113-103 loss. “I love competing against guys like that, who you know want to hit each other and knock each other down, which is good.”

When you’re a 6-10, 230-pound bruising version of a point guard, that type of play would definitely appear to fit your style. 

Chalk Simmons up as the exception and not the rule for the Sixers, although the entire team knew the Heat were going to punch back after a lopsided Game 1.

“Obviously, they were very physical,” Markelle Fultz said after Tuesday’s practice. “I don’t think that was like something we were shocked by. We knew they were going to come out more physical. That was one of the emphasis they had coming in.”

“Honestly, it was what we expected them to do,” JJ Redick said. “We didn’t expect things to be as easy as that second half was in Game 1. They’re a championship organization with a lot of pride. That was expected. So we have to kind of move on and go under the assumption that that’s how it’s going to be the rest of the series.”

If that’s the case, this Sixers team with limited playoff experience outside of a few veterans better get adjusted in a hurry.

The Sixers were clearly affected by Miami’s increased defensive intensity on Monday night. They shot just 41.7 percent from the field (19.4 percent from three-point range) and committed 15 turnovers. More importantly, they allowed the Heat to knock their entire offense out of rhythm.

“I think, too, it wasn’t just about physicality,” Redick said. “I think a byproduct of that, and probably part of their strategy, was if you’re physical you’re going to foul. The game becomes choppy and the game is played at their pace. We have to figure out a way to play the game at our pace.”

The Sixers know getting the game on their terms means being stronger with the ball, setting better screens and cutting harder to the basket. However, perhaps the best way to counter the Heat’s extra physicality is by simply embracing the defensive pressure.

“Honestly, I think it can help us a lot because with team pressure we can just be able to attack,” Fultz said. “If we get to the rim, we have great athletes and we have great shooters. So get to the rim.”