Sixers-Rockets observations: Collapse on D ends with buzzer-beater

Sixers-Rockets observations: Collapse on D ends with buzzer-beater


When the buzzer sounded, all of the Sixers’ efforts leading up to the last five seconds of the game had been erased. 

The Rockets stole a 105-104 victory Wednesday off a three by Eric Gordon as time expired. The Sixers had been poised to snap their seven-game winless streak against the Rockets but blundered their lead by giving up the last nine points to Houston and going scoreless in the final 3:05.

Even though the Rockets were chipping away, the Sixers still looked on the verge of pulling off the upset. They led by five with 30.0 seconds remaining and then it all changed after a tumble at the basket.

James Harden was fouled by JJ Redick on a layup attempt. Joel Embiid was playing so aggressively that he blocked the shot and fell to the floor on top of Harden.

After an official review, Embiid was called for goaltending to count the basket. Harden nailed the free throw to cut the Sixers’ lead to two with a half minute left. 

The Sixers failed to get a shot off on the next possession, which set it up for Gordon and the Rockets to steal a win with five seconds remaining in front of a stunned Wells Fargo Center crowd. The Rockets celebrated at half court while the roar of the arena was quieted. 

• Embiid had played his last game of the previous season on Jan. 27 ... against the Rockets. He showed that injury-stricken period of his career is behind him with 21 points, six rebounds, three assists and two blocks in 25 minutes (see highlights). Even though Embiid looked tired at points in the third quarter, he was in the game at the end. He also put together a series of highlight moments (see below). 

• Gordon hit the game-winner but this game was not without the fingerprints of Harden on it. Harden did what he does and made another double-double look easy. The Rockets' backcourt duo of Harden and Gordon combined for 56 points.

• Ben Simmons fell one dime shy of his fifth straight double-double (14 points, seven rebounds, nine assists) (see highlights). He went 1-on-1 against Clint Capela and drove by the 6-foot-10 center like there was no one standing in his way. 

• How do you make the Wells Fargo Center erupt in cheers? Well, Embiid has mastered a few ways. First, he brought the arena to its feet with a surging dunk from T.J. McConnell. As the crowd began to chant “Trust the Process” in the third, Embiid waved while he stepped to the line. He missed the first and raised his arms again to elicit more noise from the fans. He made the second shot. And then there’s pulling up for a three over Harden and banking it in. That’s always a crowd pleaser. 

• McConnell has made an NBA career out of staying ready. He will be on the receiving end of the majority of Markelle Fultz’s minutes now that the rookie is sidelined with a sore shoulder (see story). Just as he has done in the past, McConnell is prepared to step up in the place of an injured teammate. He said a key to success in this situation is staying consistent, not changing what got him to this point … and making plays like this don’t hurt, either. 

• You know the saying, “If at first you don’t succeed …” Amir Johnson missed a driving slam in the third quarter and fell out of bounds. McConnell stole the ball seconds later and dished it to Johnson as he ran back into play. This time, a smiling Johnson made the dunk.

• Former Sixer Isaiah Canaan got a rude welcome back to Philadelphia when Johnson stuffed him at the basket during a first-quarter drive. The Rockets signed Canaan this week amid the injury to Chris Paul.

Markelle Fultz progressing, but not ready to return to Sixers yet

Markelle Fultz progressing, but not ready to return to Sixers yet

Updated: 2:45 p.m.

CAMDEN, N.J. -- Markelle Fultz isn't cleared to play just yet.

The Sixers rookie was reevaluated Sunday for right shoulder soreness and scapular muscle imbalance and will be reevaluated again in approximately 2-3 weeks, the team announced. 

His return date will be based on how he handles training and practices. An examination by Dr. Ben Kibler, Medical Director of the Shoulder Center of Kentucky at the Lexington Clinic, showed Fultz's soreness and muscle balance is improving. Fultz met with Kibler on Oct. 29 and has seen multiple shoulder specialists. 

The rehab plan is for Fultz to continue with physiotherapy treatment.

"Just the fact we expect to get back into full basketball activity soon," Brett Brown said after practice Sunday, "I don't know the exact timeframe of that, but the news is good in relation to the improvement of his shoulder, enough for us to put out a press release saying what I just said and look forward to bringing him into the team and playing basketball again."

The No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA draft has appeared in only four games this season, averaging 6.0 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists off the bench. He has been battling the shoulder discomfort since training camp, and his shot was visibly affected by it.

Fultz has been traveling with the Sixers. He is staying engaged with the team during his own pregame warmups, assisting with rebounding after practices and staying incorporated with teammates off the court. 

Bayless to return
The Sixers anticipate getting one player back from injury Monday.

Brown expects Jerryd Bayless (left wrist) will play against the Jazz. Bayless went through practice Sunday. Brown looks forward to having Bayless' veteran experience, playmaking, and on-ball defense back in the mix. Bayless has missed the last six games and doesn't plan to have any minute restrictions on his return. 

"It's feeling OK," Bayless said of his wrist. "It's feeling like it's ready to go. I'm excited to play and be back out there." 

Justin Anderson (left leg) and Nik Stauskas (right ankle) remain sidelined. As a result of all the injuries, guards T.J. McConnell and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot have seen a bump in minutes. 

Young Sixers learn crucial lessons from 2 losses to NBA elite Warriors

Young Sixers learn crucial lessons from 2 losses to NBA elite Warriors


The Sixers received a crash course in top-caliber NBA basketball from the Warriors with two games in eight nights against the defending champions. 

Both were winnable games for the Sixers in the first half. Both were blown open by the Warriors in the third quarter. Both resulted in a Sixers loss.

This time, it was a 124-116 loss Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center (see observations).

Instead of taking silver linings and pats on the back, the Sixers are absorbing lessons, tried-and-true experience-based lessons from competing against the best in the league and watching it slip away. 

“They didn’t flip a switch,” Joel Embiid said Saturday. “We were just bad in the third quarter. But you’ve got to give them a lot of credit. They were aggressive and they were physical with us, especially in the second half. They did what they had to do, and they got a win.”

Protect the third quarter
On Saturday, the Sixers scored a scorching 47 points in the first quarter and led the Warriors 74-52 at halftime. That edge far surpassed their one-point deficit in last weekend’s game and put them on a commanding path at home.

The Warriors quickly dashed any hopes of an upset by outscoring the Sixers, 47-15, in the third. Steph Curry scored 20 of those points. That quarter set the tone for a Warriors' comeback win. Similarly, the Warriors outscored the Sixers by 15 points in the third during their 135-114 victory on Nov. 11.

“After coming out of halftime, we knew what we were getting into,” Embiid said. “We knew that the first game, we knew that tonight, that needed to stay locked in. We didn’t do a good job the first time and then the second time we definitely didn’t do a good job.”

Play aggressive and smart at same time
The Sixers committed seven of their 12 turnovers in the third, which led to 14 of the Warriors’ 47 points. Ben Simmons echoed Embiid’s opinion of needing to be more focused. The rookie point guard also noted the Sixers should have been better with defensive assignments and played more aggressively. The Sixers shot 1 for 7 from long-range and didn’t get to the foul line once in the third.

Simmons only attempted one field goal in the quarter. Brett Brown noted he played Simmons the entire second quarter and the first eight minutes in the third. The combination of a shorthanded eight-man rotation and the effects of coming off a West Coast road trip factored in. 

The Warriors, meanwhile, stayed cool and collected in the face of a 22-point halftime deficit. They bounced back to shoot 62.2 percent from the field in the second half. The Sixers noticed the Warriors’ unwavering self-assurance even as they fell further and further behind in the first half.

“There’s a confidence that they have in what they do and who they are that over the course of a full game," JJ Redick said, "if they play the right way, they’re going to have a chance to win."

Breaking the double team
The Warriors stifled Embiid in their first matchup (12 points). After watching his 46-point performance against the Lakers, which head coach Steve Kerr deemed “terrifying,” the Warriors knew they had to be extra cognizant of the big man, especially on his home court.

They once again swarmed Embiid with a double team, a defensive look he’s still adjusting to. Embiid felt the pressure. He committed three turnovers in the game-changing third quarter (five on the night). 

“I’m more impressed by what they do defensively,” Embiid said. “Especially for me, they really had me guessing. They double-teamed me the whole night, from the top, from the baseline, from the post fader. They really had me guessing.”

Remember what caused the loss
The Sixers had chances to hand the Warriors a loss, both at home and on the road. When they plan for the rest of the season, the months and months ahead, they can point to what they did right and just as importantly what went wrong in competing against a team as dangerous as the Warriors. 

"We feel good about how we played for large majorities of the game and then you just blink and you get hit in the mouth," Brown said. "The repetition of playing the NBA champs and feeling like you're there and then all of a sudden to zoom in and say why aren't we? Why weren't we? Where did the game change? And understand that better and try to fix it, try to arrest it. That's the benefit to playing them in close proximity."