Oh right, The Sixers: Toronto brings Philly to 0-3 with old-school clobbering

Oh right, The Sixers: Toronto brings Philly to 0-3 with old-school clobbering

Well, what a fun trip down memory lane that was. Just as they have seemingly spent much of the past four years doing, the Philadelphia 76ers traveled to Toronto last night on the second night of a back-to-back -- without Joel Embiid, natch -- and got minced. The Sixers got outpaced 36-19 in the first quarter and never recovered, eventually falling by a score of 128-94. 

It was another game where the things our rookies were good at, they were really good at, but the other stuff killed us. Ben Simmons ended with an impressive 18-10-8 -- even hitting a couple quasi-jumpers in the process -- but the way that the Raptors were able to shrink the floor against him and his ultra-limited range more or less strangled our half-court offense. The Sixers were -20 with him on the floor, and the cramped spacing partly led to a down night for our normally reliable shooters. (Robert Covington and J.J. Redick -- the former plagued by foul trouble -- couldn't even get their shots off, going a combined 1-3 from deep.) 

And Markelle Fultz's presence only exacerbated things, as he kept refusing to shoot from the perimeter, driving no matter how open he was. He made some nice plays and got to the line eight times, but his increasingly miserable FT form -- he shot the last one seemingly one-handed, with his other arm blocking his eyes -- shows why that's about all he's capable of at the moment. As suggested by Spike Eskin on a recent Rights to Ricky Sanchez pod, shutting him down until he can relearn how to shoot might be the move for our No. 1 overall pick at this point. He's not helping himself or the team playing like this at the moment. 

Of course, the biggest reason for the drubbing was the lack of Embiid. The team has no one to really hold down the middle without him at the moment -- Amir Johnson is our most reliable backup but he's something of a black hole on offense at the moment, and Jahlil Okafor (who got his first game action of the season) is still brutal when it comes to defensive decision-making. The team actually might look best at the moment sans Embiid with Simmons at the five, though that's not sustainable for long periods, especially when DeMar DeRozan is carving up our defense for 30 points on 8-12 (!!) shooting. 

Terrible throwback performance by the Sixers, and given that it's their third loss in a row to start the season, it may lead to a lot of understandable Same Old Sixers chatter. But don't forget how good that opening-night performance was against the Wizards, how much of the game against Boston we were leading for, and how tough a three-game stretch to start the season this was in general. I thought we'd go 0-3 and we went 0-3 -- next up is the Pistons on Monday, and in the couple weeks that follow, we play the Mavs, Hawks and Pacers. We wont' be winless for long -- though the sooner we can put one in the W column and avoid this team getting stuck in a peak-Process vortex, the better.

Home Opening, Home Closing: Sixers lose brutal game to Celtics in home opener

Home Opening, Home Closing: Sixers lose brutal game to Celtics in home opener

At least the national anthem was awesome. After that, some good things must have happened to the Sixers last night, but it's hard to remember what they are. Instead, there were a lot of turnovers, a lot of misses, and enough fouls to inspire a Flyers month's worth of "REF YOU SUCK" chants. The Sixers lost, 102-92. That score feels neither accurate nor inaccurate. It's hard to remember anyone scoring anything last night, to be honest.

Watching this game felt like getting stuck in traffic for two and a half hours. Just a lot of stop-starts, a lot of honking, and endless amounts of frustration. Joel Embiid went 4 of 16. Dario Saric turned the ball over six times, including twice on consecutive offensive foul clear-outs. Ben Simmons — well, he had 11 and 11, making him the only Sixers rookie start off his career with two double-doubles. Cool, but not enough to provide the team any sort of fluidity or consistency on offense. This one got nasty early and stayed that way, as unpleasurable a contest as the Sixers are likely to ever play at (close to) full health.

Hard to pinpoint exactly what went wrong, either. The spacing seemed cramped all night, and far too often, JoJo was getting the ball behind the three-point line. His pump-fake wasn't fooling the Celtics' bigs, and his shot from range has eluded him thus far this season (0-6 last night, now 0-15 total since his preseason debut). Jerryd Bayless, J.J. Redick and Robert Covington did their part — 10 combined threes on 19 attempts — but the Sixers just didn't seem to get many clean looks, especially around the basket. And the bench, a combined 8 of 27 (0 of 7 from deep), was no help.

But the story from this one was the refs. I'm not sure if I'd even say how poorly the game was officiated, the more striking thing was just how relentlessly the game was officiated. The Sixers got whistled for 30 fouls — 24 for Boston — and the stoppages made the game so choppy that the game flowed about as well as a 23-track DJ Khaled album. A sellout home crowd was absolutely raring to go all night, but never got to build up any kind of momentum (except against the refs), with their only opportunities for extended cheering coming at the free-throw line. The Cetlics' didn't fare much better flow-wise, with only 16 assists on the night — fewer than they had in any game last year — but they had Kyrie Irving, and that was enough to make the difference down the stretch.

The Sixers will continue looking for their first win tonight, in Toronto. Doesn't seem likely they'll find it, with JoJo sitting and the Raps returning most of their playoff core, but hopefully they can at least wash the taste of this one out a little, and get some of their guys — Dario especially, who's now 5 for 15 (0 for 6 from three) for the season — into a little bit of a groove. We should also be seeing Vegan Jah for the first time this season, so hopefully he can provide a little of the offensive spark off the bench we were missing in this one. In any event, 40 home games to go this season – there'll be losses worth than this, but hopefully none quite so uniquely frustrating.

76ers Season Opener: One more moral victory before they start winning for real

76ers Season Opener: One more moral victory before they start winning for real

We've all been so excited about the start of the Philadelphia 76ers' season that it feels like nobody even bothered to look at the first three games on the schedule this year: at Washington, home for Boston, at Toronto. The Sixers may be the fifth-best team in the Eastern Conference when healthy this season — Jeff Van Gundy thinks so, at least, as he kept gushing last night on the ESPN (!!) broadcast of 76ers-Wizards — but they play three of the four teams ahead of them to kick off the season, their first after the supposed summation of The Process. It's a pretty cold way to welcome the Sixers to the land of the NBA living, really. 

So yeah, the Sixers lost last night in their season opener for the fourth time in four seasons — and forever shoutout to Michael Carter-Williams, Spencer Hawes, Evan Turner and the rest of the squad that pulled off arguably the greatest regular-season upset in franchise history against LeBron and the Heatles on opening night 2013. But the Sixers lost last night merely because they were playing in D.C. against the Wizards, arguably the second-best team in the East last season, and only stronger in the new year. And they still came a couple late-game deflections away from walking away with more wins than losses on their docket for the first time since ... hey, don't forget James Anderson and Tony Wroten on that '13-'14 squad, either. Remember James Anderson? 

No, you don't, of course, because the Sixers don't have any James Andersons anymore — they have 10 professional basketball players, and arguably even more on the bench who might not crack the rotation this year until things go very south. (I'd take Furkan Korkmaz over all but maybe three players on the '15-'16 squad; we might not even see him on the court until we reach the deepest recesses of December garbage time.) And all of 'em looked good last night — except for Amir Johnson, who went 2 for 27 from within three feet of the basket and somehow fouled out in 15 minutes. Even he should have nothing on the infuriating Sixers of years past. Brandon Davies ain't walking through that door anytime soon.

Everyone else was beautiful. Ben Simmons had a sparkling debut, posting an 18-10-5 with just one turnover, with shocking efficiency for a ball-handler who didn't attempt a shot outside six feet. Markelle Fultz was really impressive making plays for himself and others around the basket — though he similarly balked at shooting from any kind of range, and his free-throw motion still looks disturbingly close to my fourth-grade form — and fought on defense, generally showing that he can be a positive contributor even while he works on fixing his busted jumper. And we probably should've known that Joel Embiid's minutes limit was just a red herring. He played 27, posted 18 and 13, and got the crowd chanting "Trust the Process" like Capital One Arena (formerly the Verizon Center) was just an oversized Chickie's and Pete's. Dario Saric played unexceptionally — 3 points on 1 for 5 shooting — but he's Dario, so he's beautiful by default. 

But the real difference was in the wings. Robert Covington and JJ Redick combined for an absolutely staggering 11 triples on 19 attempts. The Sixers routinely went entire months at the beginning of the Process without making double-digit threes in a single game. Now we have two guys doing it entirely on their own. Covington was, of course, the real superstar, accounting for seven of those triples on his way to a game-high 29 points with typically exceptional D. But man, when Redick pulls up into a quick-trigger three off the dribble ... it's like, you didn't even know players were allowed to do that. Not Sixers players, anyway. 

And even with all that, the Sixers still lost, 120-115. Oh well. If Jerryd Bayless can get the ball to an open Simmons under the basket in the final minute, or if Covington can swing a pass to an open Bayless in the corner a possession later — both passes were deflected and stolen — the game may have ended very differently. But it also may not have — the Wizards have John Wall, they have late-game experience, and they have organizational consistency. In other words, they should win games like this, even against a team as improved (but still as green) as the Sixers. It's fine. It's great, honestly.

Of course, Redick and Covington won't always combine for 11 three-pointers, Embiid won't always be available for 27 minutes a night, and Simmons won't maintain a 5:1 assist-to-turnover ratio for the entire season. But it's not like any of that won't ever happen again, either. This is just a good team of good players now, and there will be games where they hang in against teams they shouldn't be hanging in against, and even escaping with the win on occasion. 

Will it happen in any of the team's first three? Maybe, maybe not — it's a little frustrating that the Ballers might not get to demonstrate how improved they are in their W-L record for the season's first stretch, and you have to hope the team (and fanbase) don't fall into some Same Old Sixers malaise as they scrap against the conference elite. But watching the team last night in Washington, the feeling couldn't have been more different than even last year, when they nearly scraped together an opening-night win against an undermanned OKC team. It's not gonna be long before the Philadelphia 76ers are the team that makes the rest of the East go, "Oh crap, we have to play them on opening night?"