Someday the Sixers will be the other team

Someday the Sixers will be the other team

Remember that game against the Golden State Warriors earlier this season when the Philadelphia 76ers got up 20-plus in the first half, lost the lead in the third quarter and ended the game in garbage time? Transport that game across conferences and continents and you basically got a carbon copy of Thursday afternoon’s London-set "home game" loss to the Boston Celtics. 

Everything was humming in the first half. JJ Redick was coming off screens like Klay Thompson, hitting just about everything, while Ben Simmons was hitting turnaround jumpers (!!) and bullying smaller defenders. Joel Embiid wasn't even scoring — he ended the half with just six — but he was distributing, springing Redick on some killer screens, and being his usual game-changing self on the defensive end. The Celtics were ice cold, as they blew layups and committed silly turnovers. It was beautiful, and it was 100 percent never going to last. 

The best you could've really hoped for in the second half was that the Sixers would be able to at least hang around for the rest of the game once they inevitably blew their double-digit lead (which was actually already single digits this time by the break). No such luck: The C's pulled away in the fourth, and Brett Brown tapped out with about four minutes to go, with T.J. McConnell and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot shepherding the team down the stretch. 

The Sixers lost 114-102, in a game that was both much closer and not quite as close as that score implies (see game recap). They fell to 0-3 for the season against the Celtics — with a fourth game coming up in Boston next week. 

How disappointing is this? I'd peg it at somewhere between a five and six — not heartbreaking, but not negligible. Hard to get too upset about losing to a better team because they're better, and the first half was fun enough that you could hardly call the whole experience a wash. Still, the Sixers keep getting tastes of earning that one statement, signature win that end up just being referendums on all the things wrong with them: How Brown should be fired, how all our veterans suck, how the Markelle Fultz trade was a disaster. (Jayson Tatum's third-quarter explosion certainly doesn't help a ton with that last one.) The emotional swing is tough to stomach, although Sixers fans would be playing themselves if they weren't at least a little numb to games that follow this general script at this point. 

The rough part is, as previously mentioned, that the Sixers' schedule stays challenging from here: home on MLK Monday vs. Toronto, at Boston next Thursday, home next Saturday for the first of four against Milwaukee. The Sixers basically have to hope to get out of a brutal January without falling too far behind, because the rest of their schedule from there is easy enough — loaded with multiple games each against the Nets, Hornets, Hawks, Magic and Grizzlies — that they should be able to make up some ground, if they stay healthy and aren't already miles away. 

The Sixers, who fell to 19-20 with the latest loss to the Celtics, might not get back above .500 for a little while still. Nonetheless, they remain in pretty good shape for a postseason push, and Fultz could be coming back (if not necessarily with his jumper) soon. 

Someday, maybe not even that many years from now, the Sixers will be the team that gets down early, but everyone knows is coming back to lay the smackdown in majorly embarrassing fashion. In the meantime, trust the bleedin' process. 

Things get foggy for Sixers in London

Things get foggy for Sixers in London


The Sixers are not bringing a win back from London. Instead, they will return to Philadelphia with a list of improvements needed to compete with the top talent in the Eastern Conference.

Surrendering leads is not a new issue for the Sixers. They have been prone to giving up game-changing runs, stretches in which their offense stalls and the opponents run up the scoreboard. 

On Thursday, the Sixers built a 22-point lead, but didn’t give it all up right away. The Celtics chipped away in the second quarter, then put their foot on the gas in the third to outscore the Sixers by 15. The game was out of the Sixers’ hands from there. 

"I think that's the first time we've ever let somebody back in and not done anything about it or made a push,” Ben Simmons told reporters after the Sixers’ 114-103 loss at the O2 Arena (see observations). “They just made a run and we didn't do anything about it, didn't execute plays, didn't get rebounds, didn't get stops. I think that's what it came down to.” 

What looked like it had the makings of an upset turned into a reminder of the Sixers’ to-do list. Play four quarters of basketball. Limit turnovers (two in the first quarter, 17 after that). Play team basketball. 

The Celtics have too many experienced players to let these windows of opportunities pass them by. 

“When you really go back and you say, 'Well, how do you surrender the lead? What are the common reasons that you surrender the lead?'” Brown said. “For us, there have been, at times, not a sort of disciplined way to handle adversity. Sometimes with our youth, this catches us a little off guard. I think structurally, you can point at some turnovers that creep up.”

And part of that growth is the continued development of young talent. Simmons scored 16 points and under his season average with three assists and just two rebounds (see highlights). Joel Embiid recorded a quiet double-double of 15 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. He was scoreless in the first quarter, a slow start when Embiid didn’t settle into a zone. 

"If I'm not having fun … another way for me to have fun and kick someone's ass is also talk trash — if I'm not doing that, usually I have bad games,” Embiid said. “I don't think they did anything. I was just not in a rhythm and I didn't do a good job of letting my teammates find me. I don't think they did anything special. But they double-teamed a couple times, I turned the ball over once and I shot a bad shot once, so I've got to correct that."

At 19-20, the Sixers are nearly halfway through the regular season. They currently are one spot out of the eighth seed behind the Pacers. The Sixers will face the 29-11 Raptors on Monday, another top-tier Eastern Conference team they are winless against this season. Their loss to the Celtics should serve as a measuring stick of steps they have to take to not only make the playoffs, but compete in them as well. 

“We got out by 22 points. You're playing against the best team in the East, the best defensive team in the NBA, and we didn't react the way we have to,” Brown said. “The physicality got the better of us, the turnovers definitely got the better of us, and it's part of our growth. It's something that .500 teams experience and we're going to have to do better.”

For London native Jay Ajayi, Wembley = The Garden

For London native Jay Ajayi, Wembley = The Garden

The JayTrain is heading back across the pond in 2018. 

While plenty of Eagles players were happy to hear the news that the team will be playing the Jaguars at Wembley Stadium in London on Oct. 21 or 28 next season, it was especially delightful for Jay Ajayi. 

Ajayi was born in the Borough of Hackney, North London, and lived there until he was 7. Now 24, Ajayi still has his British accent, along with his affinity for the culture. 

"It's a great surprise, obviously, to know we're playing over there," Ajayi said on Thursday. "It's not my focus this week, obviously (with the playoff game on tap). But it's a cool little thing to know I get to go back over there next year."

Ajayi actually got to play in London earlier this year while he was still a member of the Dolphins. He got a chance to see many family members who still live in the UK and flew his immediate family out for the "special game." 

The game itself didn't go too well, though. The Dolphins were shut out 20-0 by the Saints in front of 84,000-plus at Wembley. 

Just a chance to play at the stadium was incredible for Ajayi.  

"It's like how Americans look at the Garden, Madison Square Garden, the Celtics, where they play, it's kind of like that," Ajayi said. "It's a hallowed place, special. It's where the national team plays. So it's going to be an amazing experience next year when we're over there."

It's not surprising at all that the Eagles were picked to play in London next season; they are one of just six teams that hasn't yet played over there. Having Ajayi on their roster likely made it a slam dunk. 

The Eagles will face the Jaguars in the game in October; it'll be a home game for the Jags, who have traveled to London for the last five seasons. 

The full NFL schedule won't be released until April. 

Ajayi said interest in American football has been growing in England and more kids are beginning to pick up the sport. He was treated like a rock star during his trip back earlier this season. 

It's unclear how the Eagles will handle the trip, if they'll want to get across the Atlantic Ocean early to practice over there or if they'll simply treat the trip like they would a cross-country trip to California for a single game. 

Ajayi is hoping his teammates get to sample a little bit of his hometown. He said his favorite thing to do is to get a Greek gyro or lamb skewer from a little hole in the wall spot. 

"Hopefully we get enough time that you can go out and see the city for itself because it is a special place," Ajayi said. "Lot of history there. I would say, we'll probably be close to Central, so go do some shopping and go get some authentic European food you might not get in the states. 

"If you do get that time to experience something different, to experience different culture, that's always good for people just because it opens up your view of the world a little bit."