Brett Brown

Sixers-Celtics in London should be good to last drop

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Sixers-Celtics in London should be good to last drop

There will be unique performances, rousing introductions, celebrity sightings and much more.

You can expect a little bit of everything during the start as the Sixers tip off Thursday against the Boston Celtics at London’s O2 Arena.

And while there will be plenty of scenes to soak up at the outset of the matchup, things will likely come down to the very end on the court.

In the two prior Sixers-Celtics meetings this season, the games have been decided in the fourth quarter. Boston has won that battle — and the game — in both instances.

“It's go time, man,” Kyrie Irving said of his mindset in the fourth quarter after the Celtics’ 108-97 win over the Sixers on Nov. 30. “Especially when the game is in the balance. It's the best time to play. It's just ultimate freedom.”

That’s a freedom that apparently hasn’t been extended to the Sixers’ side. 

The Sixers were outscored 32-26 by the C’s during the final frame of that loss on Nov. 30 and a whopping 33-20 in the fourth quarter of a 102-92 defeat in their home opener back on Oct. 20.

Outside of missing Joel Embiid in the most recent clash, the normal problems plagued the Sixers in those troublesome fourth periods — missed shots and turnovers. They shot a combined 38.4 percent and committed nine total turnovers in the two fourth quarters against the Celtics this season.

That falls in line with the Sixers’ inability to finish games for most of the season … until now. The team has won four straight and found what it hopes is a closer in rookie sensation Ben Simmons.

“It’s always stuff that keeps coaches up at night,” head coach Brett Brown said of finishing games after the Sixers’ 123-110 win over the Phoenix Suns on New Year’s Eve. “We spend countless hours, like all coaching staffs do, on figuring out the best way to close out a game — offensively, defensively.”

We'll see if the Sixers have benefited from any of that homework when the clock starts ticking down in London.

London 'business trip' a family affair for Sixers

London 'business trip' a family affair for Sixers

CAMDEN, N.J. — JJ Redick is the consummate veteran. For him, the Sixers’ journey to London is strictly about beating the Celtics. It’s “a business trip.”

Joel Embiid wants to win, too, but he wouldn’t mind having a little fun while he’s across the pond.

Embiid spent some time in London this summer, and he’s looking forward to returning.

“Last time I was there, I just fell in love with the city in general,” Embiid said Monday. “Just walking around, it was beautiful. Beautiful women … so, I had a great time. I’m just excited to be going there. Obviously want to get a win, and if I get a chance to catch a soccer game, I’m going to do that, too.”

The Sixers fly out from Philadelphia Monday night and play at London’s O2 Arena Thursday at 8 p.m. local time, 3 p.m. on the East Coast. In between, their itinerary will be full with NBA events as the league looks to promote the sport in Britain. According to coach Brett Brown, the team will stay on Philadelphia time to mitigate any possible jetlag when it returns.

Brown noted the trip is a good opportunity for players to spend quality time with their families, though the schedule will be packed.

“We’re going to walk that line of making it a family thing, a very collective, enjoyable trip, while still having the mindset that we’re going to beat the Boston Celtics. I feel like the itinerary is well-mapped out to allow us to do that.”

He said Dario Saric’s father, Predrag Saric, a former professional basketball player in Croatia, will get to watch his son play live for the Sixers for the first time.

Redick’s wife will be traveling with him, but he’s treating the game like any other. He’s been to London twice before, once during his freshman year at Duke, when the Blue Devils played several exhibition games against the London Towers, and after his junior year, when Redick and a friend watched a Premier League soccer game between Arsenal and Fulham.

He’s been abroad three times during his NBA career, twice on preseason trips to China and once during the preseason to Mexico City. He said this game will be very different from those preseason contests.

“This is a regular-season game. We’re not going over there to try to put on a show, and the Celtics aren’t going over there to try to put on a show and entertain the British crowd,” Redick said. “We’re going over there to try to play a great game. In that sense, it is a business trip. It’s more of a wins and losses thing for us.”

“There’s no free time. It’s going to be a business trip with the intent of trying to win a basketball game.”

Try telling that to Joel Embiid.

Joel Embiid practices, and Brett Brown is thrilled

NBC Sports Philadelphia

Joel Embiid practices, and Brett Brown is thrilled

CAMDEN, N.J. — Joel Embiid’s right hand looks like it hurts. It’s still puffy and swollen over a week after he originally injured it in the Sixers’ win on New Year’s Eve over the Suns.

But Embiid practiced on Monday, and for coach Brett Brown, that’s cause for celebration.

“Joel practicing today makes it one of my happiest days,” Brown said.

“His hand’s still sore. But any time we can get him to practice, to improve his conditioning and more importantly, let him interact with his teammates when it’s not only in front of 20,000 people in an NBA game, that stuff is more important to me than the side note of him going up and down and getting his cardio.”

According to Embiid, his hand is more than just sore. He said it’s “still bothering me a lot,” still “really painful,” just not enough to sideline him.

“I want to be on the court, and if I miss a game, that means something is hurting really bad,” Embiid said. “The other night, obviously I was doubtful, but I felt like I could help the team win, so I went out there. I was kind of scared because if someone hits you, that’s when it hurts more, so I've just got to be careful. But I want to be on the court, I want to play, so if it’s not the type of pain that really bothers me, I’m going to be out there.”

Despite not being pain-free, Embiid is optimistic about eventually being cleared to play in back-to-back games, though he acknowledges the medical staff has the final say.

“I think the main thing is for me to keep practicing," Embiid said. "And after games, the next day to practice and see how my body feels. And that’s on them, that’s their decision. Obviously I want to play, but that’s their decision, and if they feel like I can sustain the intensity of game, practice, game, then I think by the beginning of February I should be playing back-to-backs.”

The team’s first back-to-back set next month is Feb. 2 vs. Miami and Feb. 3 at Indiana.

The other major development on the injury front for the Sixers is Markelle Fultz playing full contact 5-on-5, which he did for the first time Sunday (see story). After Monday’s practice, JJ Redick said he was impressed with the rookie’s progress.

“He looked great, truthfully. He looked great,” Redick said. “I’ve been really, really impressed with him. Especially for how long he’s had off and away from playing 5-on-5, I thought he’s looked really good.”

Brown said the main barometer for when Fultz will return is “the discomfort in his shoulder as it affects his shot.” He acknowledged that Sixers fans are eager for Fultz’s return, and empathized with those closely studying the short video snippets of Fultz’s jumper at practice, desperate for some sort of definitive timeline.

“I think it’s such a snapshot into Philadelphia fans, that they are dying, they are crying for success,” Brown said. “They’re curious about what’s going on with Markelle. The things our fans have had to endure with the history of our high draft picks either being out for a long time or missing the year, and now wondering what’s going on with Markelle, we understand the whole thing. And I think the excitement is just a snapshot in a positive way of Philadelphia fans and the genuine interest they have in the growth of our program.”