Philadelphia Sixers

Sixers' loss falls on Brown? No, his stars went missing

Sixers' loss falls on Brown? No, his stars went missing

BOX SCORE

For a team that almost won its eighth game in nine tries Monday night, the flaws on this Sixers squad are obvious.

They blow big leads.

They turn the ball over too much.

They don’t have a dependable perimeter scorer late in the game.

And they’re reliant on their stars to cover up those problems. While Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot’s season-high 20 points (see highlights) and Dario Saric’s 22 almost saved the team Monday, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid have to show up if the Sixers want to win night in and night out, and they didn’t in an ugly 105-101 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies (see observations).

“Our stars weren’t stars tonight, and our wings were below average," Brett Brown told reporters. "I think [Luwawu-Cabarrot] played well. I think in general the story should be the turnovers. You can’t win any NBA game that matters, and you certainly can’t even consider the playoffs, if this ends up just part of who we are.”

The Sixers, who led the NBA with 18.1 turnovers per game entering Monday’s contest, had 24 turnovers compared to just 12 for the Grizzlies. Ten of those turnovers came in the fourth quarter.

Twenty-four turnovers, and 39 points off those turnovers, are obviously unacceptable statistics. But Brown knows a young team that plays fast like the Sixers will have plenty of games with turnover totals in the high-teens. The Sixers can win those games, but only if their stars play like stars.

Simmons had only eight field goal attempts against the Grizzlies, and didn’t take a free throw for the second straight game. He had just six points along with seven assists and four turnovers.

Embiid scored 15 points, going 5 for 13 from the field and 5 for 9 from the line. While the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week pulled down 14 rebounds, he wasn’t himself.

“This wasn’t one of Jo’s games,” Brown said. “For whatever reason, from the start to the end, this just wasn’t one of his games. It was clear there wasn’t much going on tonight. When you see him miss the type of free throws that he missed, you know something’s going on. He’s had a great season, he’s a Player of the Week, and sometimes those games happen.”

Like Brown, Simmons was frustrated with the loss, and he agreed with his coach’s sentiment that “the stars weren’t stars.”

“Yeah, we weren’t,” Simmons said. “We sucked. We didn’t make big plays down the stretch, didn’t take care of the ball. Defensively, we weren’t too bad, but yeah, he’s right.”

Coaching this Sixers team is not an easy job. It may look easy when Embiid is playing like the second coming of Hakeem Olajuwon and Simmons is making freakish play after freakish play, but Brown must feel helpless as he watches his young team gift the opposition free points while its big lead vanishes. When the Sixers win, it’s been pretty, but many of the losses have followed the same ugly pattern.

Brown can stress how important it is to take care of the ball, call timeouts to try to stop the opponent’s momentum and draw up plays to get his stars the ball in crunch time. He did all of those things Monday, and it wasn’t enough, because Embiid and Simmons had off nights on the same night. Many Sixers fans will want Brown to do more and will think this team should be beyond these sort of collapses. While that's a fair perspective, you can also understand Brown's exasperation.

“I thought that we had not much leadership,” Brown said. “I thought our poise was poor. I thought it was an immature loss. I think it’s a game where you look at the mistakes that were made and the opportunities that we blew, those types of words come to mind. It’s not something that we leave Memphis dusting off, thinking that there are 82 games and stuff like this happens — that’s not good enough. This is a game we should have won, we were in a position to win and we didn’t have the maturity to close it out.”

This month going a lot better than expected for Sixers

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USA Today Images

This month going a lot better than expected for Sixers

I remember looking at the calendar at the beginning of 2018 and wondering if three weeks in, we weren't already going to be looking at the playoffs as a near-impossibility for the Sixers. Ten of their next 12 games were against teams in the playoff picture as the calendar turned -- including each of the next seven -- while the Sixers were two games under .500, having just finished a 5-10 December that included losses to the Kings, Bulls, Suns and Lakers. A 2-5 or 1-6 start to the new year and we would've had some serious work to do in order to catch up in February and March.

Well, uh, the Sixers appear to be slightly ahead of schedule. Instead of kicking off the year on a 2-5 or 1-6 run, they've instead burst through the door on a 5-1 tear -- still undefeated in North America in 2018 -- with the most recent win coming Saturday night with a closer-than-it-looked-but-also-not-totally 116-94 victory against the Milwaukee Bucks. Now, the Sixers don't have catching up to do to make it back on the right side of the postseason bubble; hell, at 22-20, they're already sixth in the East. 

Say this for last night's game: The Sixers are really discovering every permutation of the blown-double-digit-lead game this season. It happened again last night, of course -- looked like they'd pull away in the second, instead let the Bucks battle back to recapture the lead in the second half -- but they got the cycle out of the way early enough that they were still able to reach escape velocity in the fourth quarter, ultimately winning by 22. Until they figure out the don't-blow-the-lead-at-all game, this is probably the most preferable version of the game so far. 

Joel Embiid went for 29 and 9 on 12-19 shooting and dominated on both ends, ho-hum. Dario Saric (13-6-7) and Ben Simmons (16-8-9) both got most of the way to triple-doubles, while Robert Covington (13-5-3-4) hit multiple triples for the first time in four games. T.J. (11-3-7) was T.J. Even Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, filling in for an injured (and bad) Jerryd Bayless, was sparkling, scoring 16 on 5-9 shooting, with a +21 for his 30 minutes on the court. If he can give us anywhere near that production level on a consistent basis, it'll make the loss of JJ Redick for the rest of the month a whole lot more palatable for Brett Brown & Co. 

And speaking of players being out -- boy, teams have sure been doing us a favor in spotting us one or two this month, huh? After a 2017 portion of the season where it felt like the Sixers were always the undermanned squad -- aside from one game against the John Wall-less Wizards which we nearly blew, and one against the Blazers without Damian Lillard which we actually did -- Philly has in six 2018 contests already faced the Spurs without Kawhi Leonard (and assorted other rotation cogs), the Celtics without Kyrie Irving and the Bucks without Giannis Antetokounmpo or Malcolm Brogdon. Easier to deal with the Deer with Khris Middleton as your only real offensive concern, certainly, and we'll see Brogdon in Milwaukee soon enough.

Anyway, understandable that even our most formidable opponents are doing what they can to duck #SixersJanuary. The team is once again trending entirely in the right direction, the home crowd is feeling it, and Philadelphia basketball is as fun and as fearsome as it's been since... well, last January. This is our month, and we'll deal with all the weird crises sure to beset the squad in the months to come after Groundhog Day. For now, with absolutely nothing else going on in the world of Philadelphia sports, let's just be sure to take the time to enjoy it. 

Is Joel Embiid actually over Rihanna?

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NBA on TNT

Is Joel Embiid actually over Rihanna?

Joel Embiid is officially an All-Star.

Maybe Rihanna is now interested?

Even if so, sorry, RiRi … "The Process" has moved on.

In a postgame interview Thursday night with NBA on TNT's Kristen Ledlow, Embiid was asked about his old crush (a topic which resurfaced that evening).

Any words for the national audience, Mr. All-Star?

"She denied me back then, so why go with her again?" Embiid said with a smile after the Sixers' 89-80 win over the Celtics (see game story). "Might have to pass that and move on to the next one."

Ben Simmons wasn't so sure.

"Shoot for the stars," Simmons said to ESPN. "Shoot his shot."

So, anything else, JoJo?

"Trust the process," Embiid said.

Now that's an All-Star.