Boston Celtics

Jahlil Okafor, Markelle Fultz miss Sixers' trip to Boston

Jahlil Okafor, Markelle Fultz miss Sixers' trip to Boston

BOSTON — Jahlil Okafor was one of the players who did not travel with the Sixers to Boston. Unlike Joel Embiid, Markelle Fultz and T.J. McConnell, the reason was not related to injuries or rest.

Okafor is out of the rotation. Rather than sit on the bench in TD Garden, Okafor could use the time on the practice court in Camden, New Jersey. He stayed back Thursday during the one-game road trip for individualized training.

“[We are] trying to get him in a place that we can do whatever we can do to help him move forward, to move his career forward,” Brett Brown said. “If it’s not going to be in Philly, to make sure that we create an environment that he knows he’s cared for, that we are doing everything we can to keep his body right and his mind right and his fitness up.” 

Okafor has played a total of 25 minutes over two games this season, his third in the league. He made it known after the Sixers did not pick up his contract option that he would like to be bought out or traded. Neither scenario has been reached in the month since then. 

It seems likely the Sixers will make a deal before the deadline as they look to get something in return for the former No. 3 overall pick. Brown wants Okafor to be prepared to play in that case. 

“At any point, somebody could tell him he’s traded,” Brown said. “He’ll be on a plane and he’s going to roll into a city and expect to be able to perform. When that moment, if that moment happens, we want to do everything we can to help him.”

It has yet to be determined if the Sixers will implement the same approach for their next road trip, starting Dec. 9 in Cleveland. Okafor also was inactive for the Sixers’ home game on Wednesday while Nik Stauskas (ankle) was taken off the inactive list and cleared to play. 

Fultz in Kentucky
Brown reiterated the Sixers are not pushing Fultz, who is dealing with right shoulder soreness and scapular muscle imbalance, back on the court. 

Fultz is in Kentucky receiving physical therapy on his shoulder with Dr. Ben Kibler, Medical Director of the Shoulder Center of Kentucky at the Lexington Clinic. The Sixers announced on Nov. 19 Fultz would be reevaluated in “approximately two to three weeks,” which hasn’t happened yet.

“I think the defining moment is probably going to end up being, we’re going to look at his shot,” Brown said. “He’s going to go to the free throw line and we’re all going to say, does it pass the eye test? 

“He’s not there yet. He’s just not there yet. Everything is moving forward, but it’s not anything that we’re going to rush. There needs to be a tremendous confidence level that he has and a health-related confidence that our medical people have. As far as a timeline of what that all means, we don’t know. But I can tell you his heart is in the right place. His work ethic is great.” 

Sixers miss Joel Embiid's presence in 2nd night of back-to-back set

Sixers miss Joel Embiid's presence in 2nd night of back-to-back set

BOX SCORE

BOSTON — Joel Embiid hopes to be cleared for back-to-backs sooner rather than later this season. But he’s not there yet, and so the Sixers have to continue to learn to play without him.

Each one of their three games minus the big man has taught them lessons. Thursday’s loss to the league-leading Celtics shined light on ways to improve on both ends.

“It’s tough because you get into a rhythm and then he’s not there,” Ben Simmons said after the Sixers’ 108-97 loss (see observations)

The Sixers are 1-2 without Embiid this season. The most glaring void is his offensive production, a team-high 22.9 points. It’s not just that Embiid can score; he can create his own opportunities to do so down low. Amir Johnson (six points, six rebounds, four assists) got the nod to start, but his game is more defensive-minded than Embiid’s versatile shot arsenal.

“We miss him in the sense that when our offense gets stagnant, we can always kind of throw him the ball and get a bucket,” JJ Redick (17 points, five assists) said. “Tonight, I thought we moved the ball well, we shot the ball well from three, but we could have for sure used him at times — obviously, all the time — but at times just to kind of calm us down, throw it in the post, and play off that.”

The Sixers were supplemented by a team-high 18 points from Dario Saric, who maximized receiving more touches (see highlights). He also scored 25 in the previous game against the Jazz without Embiid. Brett Brown has been able to turn to Saric in a small-center scenario. 

“Tonight, Dario was playing well, so it’s easy to feed him,” Simmons, who posted 15 points, six rebounds, seven assists and five steals, said (see highlights). “But not having Jo there, a lot of the focus is taken away from that player so they’re working on somebody else. He’s a big part of this team but we’ve got to find ways to win without him.”

The hit the Sixers take on defense when Embiid is not in the game has been well-documented. The Sixers lead the league in rebounds (48.9) and out-rebounded the Celtics, 45-40. Saric pulled down 10 and Richaun Holmes added seven off the bench. Still, they were outscored 44-36 in points in the paint.

“You take away a rim defender like Joel and it’s a lot different,” Simmons said. 

Brown and the players acknowledged the strong effort despite being shorthanded against the 19-4 Celtics. The Sixers led in the third quarter and trailed by only three in the fourth while missing Embiid and backup point guard T.J. McConnell (shoulder). Their next pair of back-to-back games is coming up Dec. 9 and 10 in Cleveland and New Orleans.  

“Hopefully we don’t have to play without him too often,” Redick said. 

Sixers-Celtics observations: Too much Kyrie Irving

Sixers-Celtics observations: Too much Kyrie Irving

BOX SCORE

BOSTON — No Joel Embiid. No T.J. McConnell. No day off in between games. No home-court advantage.

With all those factors against them Thursday, the Sixers still made their matchup against the NBA-best Celtics competitive even if the 108-97 final score doesn’t reflect that fact.

The Sixers overcame a 10-point halftime deficit as they opened the second half on a 22-10 burst to lead by two. However, they still ended up trailing, 76-71, after three quarters. Despite several pushes by the Sixers, the Celtics were able to turn their advantage back into a double-digit lead to put the game away.

The Sixers dropped to 12-9 on the season and 1-2 without Embiid, while Boston improved to 19-4.

• Let’s get to the hot topic: would there be Round 2 of Hack-a-Ben? Ben Simmons actually attempted just four free throws (3 for 4). The Celtics, unlike the Wizards, weren’t in a position where they needed to stall the Sixers’ offense to dig out of a 20-point hole. Simmons posted 15 points, six assists and seven rebounds in another 40-minute night. 

• Dario Saric thrives when he gets the opportunity for more touches. That’s the case without Embiid. Saric recorded an 18-point, 10-rebound double-double, and added four assists in 35 minutes. 

• Robert Covington struggled to find an offensive groove. He went 3 for 10 from long range with two of those makes not coming until the final 6:05 of play. JJ Redick, on the other hand, was an efficient 4 for 6 from long range (17 points). 

• Kyrie Irving got the job done for the Celtics all over the court. Of his 36 points, 15 were on threes and seven were at the line. Al Horford poured in another 21 points. Jayson Tatum, who will be linked to the Sixers because of the No. 1 pick swap, added 15 points. The rookie has settled in nicely with the Celtics’ starting five. 

• Brett Brown started Amir Johnson in place of Embiid. He went with the veteran over Richaun Holmes because Johnson has been the backup center for most of the season. Johnson had six points, six rebounds and four assists. 

• Holmes was focused on using his athleticism to bring energy off the bench. He connected on hustle plays fighting at the basket and finished with nine points and seven boards. Holmes did not play in the previous game against the Wizards. 

• Johnson took a loud spill and stayed down on the ground in the second quarter. The veteran got up and stayed in the game. Later, Johnson came up walking gingerly after getting tripped up and fouled by Daniel Theis while running the break off his own steal. The Sixers can count on Johnson to battle through whatever he can. He came into the league on the Pistons with tough-minded players like Rasheed Wallace and Ben Wallace to show him the NBA ropes. 

• The Sixers traveled light to Boston. Four players were not with the team. Markelle Fultz (right shoulder) is in Kentucky for physical therapy. Embiid stayed back as part of his back-to-back restriction. McConnell, who suffered a sprained AC joint in his left shoulder on Wednesday, expectedly remained in Philadelphia. Jahlil Okafor did not make the trip either, listed as individualized training. 

• Simmons looked like he was trying out for the Sixers’ Dunk Squad with this move:

• Injury updates: In addition to those noted above, Justin Anderson remains out (left leg). Boston’s Gordon Hayward (left ankle) has been out since opening night. 

• Former Sixer (and former Celtic) Dana Barros was in attendance. Barros is a community relations consultant for the Celtics.