76ers

You have to hand it to Joel Embiid

You have to hand it to Joel Embiid

BOX SCORE

Joel Embiid was listed as “out” against the Spurs an hour before the game. He had other plans.

Embiid’s sprained right hand was tight and swollen so badly it had been preventing him from shooting. But as he went through pregame warmups, and still experienced discomfort, he decided he would play. 

Not just because he dislikes being sidelined. Because he wanted to get this victory specifically for Brett Brown. 

“I love my team,” Embiid said after the Sixers’ 112-106 win Wednesday (see observations). “I want to be right there with them. I don't want to quit on them. Then, also, I wanted to give Coach his first win against his former team and we did that for him.”

Brown spent 11-plus seasons on the Spurs’ coaching staff with Gregg Popovich. He had not defeated them since coming to Philadelphia in 2013. In fact, the Sixers’ struggles began before he arrived. They entered Wednesday with a 12-game losing streak against the Spurs, with their last win on Feb. 11, 2011. 

There was a clear opportunity for the Sixers to snap this skid. Rudy Gay (right heel bursitis), Manu Ginobili (rest), Danny Green (left groin tightness), Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker (both return from injury management) were all sitting out on the second night of a back-to-back. The Sixers would still have to deal with starter LaMarcus Aldridge, who ended up with a 24-point, 14-rebound double-double, and a well-coached squad, but the odds were greater with a shorthanded lineup. 

So Embiid played through the pain of the injury he suffered Sunday during a fall against the Suns. He battled for rebounds and blocked shots that “kind of hurt” him while hitting baskets with more ease than expected. 

He started off the game with six points, six rebounds, four blocks and three assists in the first quarter alone. Embiid finished with 21 points, 11 boards, four dimes and four blocks in over 35 minutes.

“To Joel Embiid’s complete credit, he came in and he surprised me — he actually made some shots,” Brown said. “If you saw the swelling in his hand, you wouldn’t have thought that would have been the impact. He would’ve blocked shots, he would’ve rebounded, he would’ve been physical defensively. But he actually still had some finesse and touch to his shot with a swollen right hand.”

Brown and the Sixers had been preparing throughout the day to play without Embiid, a situation they have found themselves in several times this season between injuries and medical restrictions. Embiid had been ruled “doubtful” at morning shootaround. Less than two hours before game time, Brown said Embiid was “very doubtful.” Prior to warmups, even Embiid himself said of his hand, “I can’t really use it.” 

The final determination period was those warmups, though, when Embiid made the eyebrow-raising decision to play. Brown was informed of the news during the team’s pregame meeting, about 35 minutes before tipoff. 

“It happened quick,” Brown said. “It was completely unexpected. I give him a lot of credit for playing through complete pain and trying to play in front of the Philadelphia fans and help his teammates. That’s a gutsy effort.”

The Sixers won their third straight game to improve to 18-19. Embiid was front and center when the team insisted Brown have the honor of the celebratory bell, a symbol of winning, in the locker room after the game. And with each ring, Embiid smiled at his mission accomplished (see story).

“It’s a team that didn’t have their full-strength roster, but in my eyes, it’s still the San Antonio Spurs,” Brown said. “You can put in whoever you want, they’re still going to play and compete and be organized. From that perspective, the win is satisfying.”

Former Sixers guard named HOF finalist

usa-maurice-cheeks.jpg
USA Today Images

Former Sixers guard named HOF finalist

Former Sixers player and head coach Maurice Cheeks on Saturday was named a finalist for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Other candidates include Grant Hill, Steve Nash, Jason Kidd and former Sixers Chris Webber.

Cheeks, a four-time All-Star point guard and member of the 1982-83 championship team, spent 10 seasons with the Sixers before stints with the San Antonio Spurs, New York Knicks, Atlanta Hawks and New Jersey Nets. He averaged 12.2 points, 7.3 assists and 2.3 steals a night in 853 career games. Cheeks ranks in the top-five in NBA history in both assists (7,392) and steals (2,310). He was also voted to the NBA All-Defensive team five times.

Currently an assistant with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Cheeks was the Sixers head coach from 2005-2008, but was fired after a slow start to the 2008-09 season. He was also the head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers and Detroit Pistons. He has a 305-315 career record and has made the postseason three times in nine seasons.

Sixers show they're ready to take over the world

Sixers show they're ready to take over the world

LOS ANGELES — The Sixers made their mark among the NBA’s top young talent on a global scale.

Joel Embiid (Cameroon), Ben Simmons (Australia) and Dario Saric (Croatia) all started for Team World Friday in the Mtn Dew Kickstart Rising Stars game. They helped kick off All-Star weekend with a 155-124 victory over Team USA. 

Simmons recorded a double-double, which is becoming clockwork for the point guard (22 in the regular season, six triple-doubles). He posted 11 points off a perfect 5 for 5 from the field and 1 for 1 from the line. Simmons added 13 assists, six boards and four steals. 

This game was, in a way, a double statement for Simmons. It was an an opportunity to make a case for Rookie of the Year, with fellow contender Donovan Mitchell competing on Team USA. Mitchell notched seven points (3 for 10 from the field, 1 for 6 from three), seven assists, two rebounds, five steals and two blocks.

The Rising Stars contest also was a chance for Simmons to start an early bid for the 2019 All-Star team. He was popular among the fan votes but was not selected as one of four replacements required because of injuries. 

Simmons projects he will be playing in the All-Star Game “hopefully next year.” When it came down to why he was not on this season’s list, Simmons replied, “I think just votes.” 

Saric continued his offensive momentum with 18 points, including 4 for 7 shooting from three. He has scored in double digits in his last 35 games leading into the All-Star break. Saric also grabbed three rebounds and dished five assists. 

“I’ve always got the wish or dream in my life one day to be part of something big like this, even if it’s the Rising Stars game,” Saric said of participating in All-Star weekend. “I think it makes my family proud, my friends from my hometown, or all the people who were around me during my [growth as] a basketball player.”

Embiid logged the least playing time of the Sixers’ trio as he prepares to compete in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge Saturday and start in the All-Star Game Sunday. He missed the Sixers’ last game on Wednesday because of right ankle soreness. Embiid scored five points and two rebounds in less than nine minutes. 

“On Sunday, I expect to go harder,” Embiid said (see story). “I’m going for that MVP. Guys better make sure they find me because I’m looking to have a good game.”

Not listed on the box score: Embiid and Simmons going 2 for 2 as roving reporters. Check out their journalistic skills when they got the mic Friday to interview each other (see video).