Sixers say they learned their lesson after closing out Rockets

Sixers say they learned their lesson after closing out Rockets


HOUSTON — No, not again. 

The Sixers weren’t going to let the Rockets steal another game down the stretch for the second time in less than a week. 

The lessons learned from last Wednesday’s loss were on the Sixers’ minds as they came to Houston eager to avenge Eric Gordon’s buzzer-beating three. They were ready this time, even when the Rockets threatened a comeback and got within one with three minutes to play. 

“I think we stayed on them a lot more defensively,” Ben Simmons said after the 115-107 win Monday (see observations). “Communication was better. But there were still times when they were just the Rockets, a great team, a great scoring team.”

After the Rockets got within striking distance, 106-105 with 3:06 to go, the Sixers held them scoreless for the next 2:48 during a 7-0 run. The Rockets did not hit a three after Gordon’s bucket with 3:28 remaining. 

“In the fourth quarter, we got stops defensively and the ball was moving,” Joel Embiid said. “Everybody was touching it … T.J. (McConnell) made a couple big shots. I thought we just learned our lesson and we did a better job.”

The Sixers overcame seven turnovers in the fourth, including another late-game 24-second violation. 

“I thought we showed a toughness,” Brett Brown said. “I thought we showed an awareness of a defensive game plan. There’s still areas that we all want, closing out games, the execution of how to walk down a game. I felt our defense did that more than our offense did.”

The Sixers split the season series with the Rockets and picked up their first win in Houston since 2011. 

“That is a team that plays hard,” Ryan Anderson said. “They’ve got a lot of young, hungry players. We knew that was how they were going to play.”

Embiid involved in crunch time
One of the most glaring issues in the Sixers’ loss to the Rockets last week was Embiid’s lack of involvement down the stretch. On Monday, he scored a basket and pulled down three rebounds over the final 2:30 of the win. 

“I thought Jo rebounding was key toward the end,” Simmons said. “We went to Jo a lot in the post and he did what he was supposed to do, be a beast down there.”

Embiid had four points, six rebounds, one assist, one steal and one block overall in the fourth (see highlights). With a total of 22 points, nine rebounds, five dimes and two steals, he became only the third player since the 1983-84 season to post those numbers in 25 minutes or less. Embiid joined Fat Lever (1990) and Pau Gasol (2015). 

Still, he’s wants to do more. 

“I thought I did an OK job,” Embiid said. “I don’t think I’m back to being what I was last year defensively, but I thought this game I made some progress.” 

Simmons feeling comfortable away from rim
Simmons has been producing the majority of his offense in the paint. He changed it up by knocking down three jumpers, 16 and 17 feet from the basket (see video). Simmons had attempted (and missed) only two shots from the 16- to 24-foot range entering the game. 

“I’m comfortable taking them, so I’ve got to start doing that more often,” said Simmons, who finished with 24 points, seven rebounds and nine assists (see highlights). “I just need to get prepared before games, make sure I go through my routine.”

Simmons incorporated jumpers into his pregame drills while working with the Sixers’ shooting coach. Brown isn’t forcing the issue, but is noticing more confidence from the rookie with those shots.

“It’s just a whole other situation that a team has to figure out. How do we game plan that?” Brown said. “I think it’s going to happen sooner than others think. If he can reliably rise up and hit some 15-, 17-foot jump shots, it just makes the other parts of his game more explosive and he becomes more complete.” 

Brown staying optimistic about Fultz
Brown reiterated his positive outlook on Markelle Fultz now that the rookie has been ruled out indefinitely with right shoulder scapular muscle imbalance.

Brown, who is well-versed in rookie injuries, is looking to “reload him, re-deliver him to an NBA court where he feels good, he’s ready to go play and be Markelle Fultz again.”

“Right now, we all saw that wasn’t the case,” Brown said. “In a very sort of twisted way, I’m viewing this as a positive opportunity.”

Notes and tidbits
• The Sixers’ bench combined for 40 points between Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (17), Amir Johnson (12) and McConnell (11). Brown called the trio “excellent” and said those players were necessary to beat one of the league’s top teams (see video).

• James Harden described the Rockets’ energy as “terrible” at the start of the game. They were not aggressive on the defensive end as the Sixers scored 37 points in the first quarter alone.

• The Sixers had a 13-rebound edge on the glass. They are the only team to out-rebound the Rockets this season, and also did so in their last matchup. Johnson led the way with 10 boards while every starter grabbed at least five. 

Give and Go: What should Sixers be thankful for the most?

USA Today Images

Give and Go: What should Sixers be thankful for the most?

Each week, our resident basketball analysts will discuss some of the hottest topics involving the Sixers.

Running the Give and Go are NBC Sports Philadelphia anchor/reporter Marshall Harris, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com producer/reporter Paul Hudrick and NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com producer/reporter Matt Haughton.

In this edition, we examine what the Sixers should be thankful for the most on this Thanksgiving.

At first glance, you take a look at Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons and remember that they combined for 31 games last season and the impulse is to say health. However, we can’t ignore the injuries that have befallen the team outside of those two engines. The Sixers have been hurting without the likes of Markelle Fultz, Jerryd Bayless, Nik Stauskas and Justin Anderson at their full disposal of late. So health hasn’t been their thing, really.
What the Sixers should be thankful for is that despite being shorthanded, they made it through 17 games of the season with a winning record. That’s in spite of 10 of those games being on the road and two games each against Golden State and Houston already in the books. 

Since a 1-4 start, the Sixers have lost just three times in their last 12 games, and two of those losses were to arguably one of the greatest teams in history in the Warriors. Suddenly everyone is reaching for their abacus or calculator, and they should be. Who had the Sixers with a winning record at Thanksgiving?
Here’s the thing, two weeks ago Jim Lynam told me the Sixers would be a top four seed in the East. I wasn’t ready to embrace that idea. I’m ready to admit my 39-win prediction may not be up to the task. Perhaps we all need to recognize that the Sixers, youth and all, are up to the challenge of not just squeaking into the playoffs. At their current rate of growth, they look like a team that could get the 45 wins they’re already on pace to achieve and maybe even more.

Health is the obvious thing to be most thankful for, but I'll take it a step further. The Sixers should be thankful that the best is yet to come.

Any other season during The Process, Markelle Fultz's situation — being the No. 1 overall pick that the team traded up to acquire that suffered a weird injury the team appeared to mishandle — would be considered a catastrophe. To say Fultz has become an afterthought would be a stretch, but his situation has certainly taken a backseat to Embiid, Simmons and the Sixers' success.

We won't know the full extent of Fultz's impact and role for quite some time. But the thought of Embiid, Simmons and Fultz on the court together should still tantalize Sixers fans. I'm still dying to see what Fultz can do in pick-and-roll situations with Embiid and even Simmons.

Am I worried about the jumper? Yeah, a little. But this is a guy who took five threes a night in college and shot 41 percent from distance. He then went on to shot 38 percent on five treys a contest during three summer league games. I still believe the shot is there. He just needs to get his confidence back and his shoulder healthy.

And don't listen to the doubters. Markelle Fultz is an excellent basketball player and was the top pick in the draft for a reason. He's not Anthony Bennett or Andrea Bargnani. This kid can play.

And the Sixers should be thankful when looking at his future.

While Embiid already shared what he’s thankful for on this holiday, the Sixers can only look back on how they landed the budding big man and smile.

Let’s rewind a bit. Embiid was well on his way to being the No. 1 overall pick in 2014 as he averaged 11.2 points on an insane 62.6 percent shooting, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game during his lone season at Kansas. That was until he suffered a stress fracture in his back late in the season that sidelined him for the Big 12 and NCAA Tournaments.

Even after the back injury, Embiid appeared on his way to locking up the top spot in the draft … until the next setback. This time it was a broken foot suffered just before the draft that cast serious doubt about his long-term health.

As Sixers fans know all too well, that troublesome foot caused Embiid to miss his first two NBA seasons. However, what they’ve witnessed since has been nothing short of spectacular. In just 46 career games, Embiid has averaged 21.0 points (48.2 percent shooting), 8.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.3 blocks. His superstar ability has captured the hearts of the team’s faithful, and his huge social media presence has only made them love him even more.

As for the two players taken before Embiid, their careers don’t exactly appear to be trending in the same direction. No. 1 overall selection and Embiid’s Kansas teammate, Andrew Wiggins, has shown flashes of brilliance. However, his production with the revamped Minnesota Timberwolves is down this season after signing a massive extension of his own, and questions remain about whether he can go from being a very good player to great. As for No. 2 pick Jabari Parker, he’s been a stud on the court for the Milwaukee Bucks but is recovering from a second left ACL tear since 2014.

All in all, Embiid is the prize of the crop and fell into the Sixers’ laps. So this Thanksgiving the Sixers should take a moment to reminisce about the process that brought them “The Process.”

Joel Embiid has plenty of reasons to be thankful

USA Today Images

Joel Embiid has plenty of reasons to be thankful

Joel Embiid is very appreciative. He is healthy, signed a mega-contract and has become the face of a franchise on the rise. 

The night before Thanksgiving, following a 20-point win over the Trail Blazers, Embiid reflected on why he is thankful.

“I’m thankful for my family,” Embiid, who grew up in Cameroon, said. “I live by myself, they don’t live here. But my mom is actually here.”

Embiid’s mother took in Wednesday’s action from courtside at the Wells Fargo Center and was all smiles as her son put up 28 points (11 for 19 shooting), 12 rebounds and two blocks in the 101-81 victory (see game recap).

Embiid also recognized the Sixers’ faithful, who have pulled for him during injury after injury and never wavered from their trust in the process.

“I’m thankful for the city of Philadelphia,” Embiid said. “This has become my home and I hope to be here for the rest of my career. I’m just thankful for the fans and just everybody around me, people that have been supporting me.” 

Embiid even gave a shoutout to the media, which doesn’t always happen, especially after a team struggled for so long.

“You guys hype me up so much,” he said. “So thank you.”

And last but not least, the player with 1.02 million followers on Twitter and another 1.4 million on Instagram, Embiid is grateful for every like and retweet. 

“I’m thankful for social media,” he said. 

#Fitting. #Thankful. #HappyThanksgiving