Sixers observations

Joel Embiid shows Celtics why he's an All-Star

Joel Embiid shows Celtics why he's an All-Star

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BOSTON — The Sixers narrowly avoided a regular-season sweep by the Celtics with a 89-80 win Thursday night.

The Kyrie Irving-less Celtics cut the Sixers’ 21-point lead down to seven with two minutes to play, a margin that seemed closer because of Boston’s swarming defense.

The Sixers went scoreless for two minutes before T.J. McConnell hit a pair of free throws with 30 seconds left. They snapped a seven-game losing skid at TD Garden dating back to their last road victory there on April 4, 2014.

The Sixers are back above .500 at 21-20. The Celtics dropped to 34-12. 

• On the night Joel Embiid was named an All-Star starter (see story), he posted his 19th double-double and 24th 20-point game of the season. Embiid finished with 26 points, 16 rebounds and six assists in 35 minutes.

• Celtics leading scorer Irving did not play because of a sore left shoulder.

“It’s nothing too crazy,” Irving said. “It was just giving me a little discomfort over the last few weeks. I’ve been playing through it.”

Irving averaged 25.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists in three games against the Sixers this season.

• The Celtics struggled offensively in the second quarter (13 points). The Sixers held them to 32 points in the first half, the fewest first-half points by the Celtics against the Sixers since Dec. 28, 2012. Overall, the Celtics’ 80 points were a season low.

• The Sixers led the Celtics, 71-53, after the third quarter. In all of their storied meetings, this was only the fourth time in Sixers history they held the Celtics to 53 points or less through the third.

• The Celtics entered the night tied for eighth-fewest turnovers per game (13.3). They uncharacteristically committed 15 in the first half alone (19 on the night).

• Dario Saric added 16 points and six rebounds. Ben Simmons recorded eight points, seven rebounds and four assists.

• McConnell gave another boost off the bench (15 points). He scored nine points (4 for 4 from the field) in the third alone.

• Bigs Al Horford and Marcus Morris led the Celtics with 14 points each. Jaylen Brown broke out of a scoreless first half to finish with 12 points.

• Justin Anderson saw increased minutes (16) in the absence of JJ Redick (left fibula injury). Jerryd Bayless started at shooting guard.

• Two-way contract player James Young returned to Boston, where he spent his first three NBA seasons with the Celtics.

Sixers bully ball their way back to sea level

Sixers bully ball their way back to sea level

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The Sixers put Friday’s game against the Pistons away long before it was over, 114-78.

They jumped out to a 13-point lead and were up by 32 in the second quarter. At one point, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons had combined for as many points as all the Pistons (35). 

The Sixers easily beat the Pistons to move back up to .500 (19-19). Their previous largest margin of victory this season was 21 points. The Sixers have won three straight against the Pistons to sweep the season series.

• The Sixers’ 62-32 halftime lead was the first 30-point lead at the half since Jan. 23, 2012, against the Wizards. They held the Pistons to the fewest first-half points since Nov. 21, 2015, by the Heat. 

• Embiid played without any restrictions in his second game since spraining his right hand. He thrives on matchups against other big men and looked to draw contact against Andre Drummond. Embiid scored 23 points and had nine rebounds in 25 minutes. (He did not play in the fourth quarter because of the Sixers’ lead.) Drummond had a quiet offensive night of 10 points, eight boards and five dimes (29 minutes). 

• Simmons used his size and physicality to get to the basket at will. He posted 19 points, nine assists, four rebounds, two blocks and two steals in 23 minutes. Like Embiid, he sat in the fourth. 

• Brett Brown plans to play Richaun Holmes more often at power forward. He did so in the first quarter, pairing Holmes first with Amir Johnson and then with Embiid. Holmes played the four earlier in his career with the Sixers before being grouped in with the other centers. 

“There’s just an incredibly high motor. There’s a familiarity that those two guys have had, they’ve been with each other for awhile now,” Brown said pregame. “The coexistence of Richaun as a four alongside of Joel is something you’re going to see me play with.” 

• Justin Anderson played in his first game since Nov. 15. He had been sidelined by shin splints in his left leg. Anderson played 8:28 and went scoreless (0 for 3 from three with four rebounds). Rarely-utilized two-way contract player James Michael McAdoo knocked down a three in his seven minutes of playing time. 

• The Sixers outrebounded the Pistons, 55-34. It was a total team effort on the boards — no player reached double digits. 

• Julius Erving rang the ceremonial bell before the game. The Sixers wore the red “Statement Edition” uniforms in honor of Erving’s windmill cradle dunk, which he threw down over the Lakers’ Michael Cooper on this date in 1983. 

• The Sixers’ spirit continued with these specially-made sneakers: 

Ben Simmons stars as the finisher

Ben Simmons stars as the finisher

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An injured Joel Embiid unexpectedly played.

Kawhi Leonard, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Rudy Gay and Danny Green did not.

The Sixers seized the opportunity Wednesday against the shorthanded Spurs with a 112-106 win to snap a 12-game losing streak vs. San Antonio that dated back to 2011.

Overall, the Sixers have won three in a row to improve to 18-19.

• Embiid played through a sprained right hand as he shook off the injury from Monday’s game to notch 21 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and four blocks in over 35 minutes. He initially was ruled out, but after he went through pregame warmups, he was cleared to go. 

The change in availability came as a surprise considering Embiid’s description of his injury just over an hour before tipoff. 

“It’s just tight in general, pretty swollen, and I can’t really use it, can’t shoot,” he said.

• Ben Simmons scored a cool, calm and collected 26 points (11 in the fourth), including 10 of 15 free throw attempts. The Spurs sent him to the line often late in the game, when he shot 5 for 9 in the fourth.

“He shot 15 free throws; that in itself is a huge win for me when he gets back to the line,” Brett Brown said after the game. “It’s a mentality more than it is a skill, and that mentality of him attacking the basket and going to the free throw line then growing the confidence that you’re referring to, that’s a hell of a package and it starts with getting there.”

• The Spurs were missing their star power between injuries and rest in the second night of a back-to-back: Gay (right heel bursitis), Ginobili (rest), Green (left groin tightness), Leonard and Parker (both return from injury management). Veterans Patty Mills (26 points) and LaMarcus Aldridge (24 points, 14 rebounds) led the Spurs.

• More third-quarter problems: The Sixers led by 16. Then came the third. You know the rest. The Spurs outscored the Sixers 35-28 in the quarter and cut the lead to four points going into the fourth. The Sixers had to fend off the Spurs, including climbing back out of a quick deficit. 

“I thought Philly was great,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said. “Their aggressiveness, their physicality was really good. I thought they executed really well. We got a pretty good punch in in the second half and they hung in and went and took the game. It was a good win for them.”

• The Sixers committed only 13 turnovers, below their season average of 17.5 (most in the NBA). More importantly, there were only two in the fourth, including none by point guard Simmons. 

• The Sixers made their mark at the free throw line. They took 20 more attempts than the Spurs (43 to 23) and had a 13-point advantage. In addition to Simmons’ 15 attempts, Embiid shot 9 for 11. 

• Justin Anderson remains sidelined with shin splints (left leg).

• The last time the Sixers beat the Spurs was Feb. 11, 2011. They started Jrue Holiday (37 points), Jodie Meeks, Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand and Spencer Hawes. Just how long ago was that? Darius Songalia logged four minutes. 

• Brown joined the Sixers in 2013 after working over 11 years on the Spurs' coaching staff. He had not won against his former team until Wednesday.

“It’s a program that I have tremendous fondness and respect for,” Brown said (see story). “It’s a team that didn’t have their full-strength roster, but in my eyes, it’s still the San Antonio Spurs. … You can put in whoever you want, they’re still going to play and compete and be organized. From that perspective, the win is satisfying.”