Trevor Booker

'Unlikely suspects' give Sixers perfect touch at home

'Unlikely suspects' give Sixers perfect touch at home

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It would've been easy for the Sixers to pack it in.

During the final game before the All-Star break, without their best player and down 23 at the half, this game had loss written all over it.

Instead, the Sixers outscored the Miami Heat 65-40 in the second half of a 104-102 win at Wells Fargo Center Wednesday (see observations).

"We felt that within this room we had enough firepower, offensively," head coach Brett Brown said when asked about his halftime message, "but nothing can happen unless we have some level of sting to our defense."

After allowing the Heat to shoot 52 percent from the field in the first half, the Sixers held Miami to just 37 percent in the second. And they were able to produce that second-half "sting" without the services of All-Star big man Joel Embiid (see story).

Rookie Ben Simmons (18 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists) and Dario Saric (19 points, eight rebounds, three assists) were their usual stellar selves, but it was the Sixers' bench that propelled them to the win. Veteran Trevor Booker, newcomer Marco Belinelli and the recently bench-ridden Richaun Holmes were huge in the comeback effort.

"As I look at our bench and I see the contribution that Richaun made and Trevor Booker made and Marco Belinelli made," Brown said. "Kind of unlikely suspects to flip a game that we were down 24 at home and claw back and have a tremendous win, and to achieve our goal of winning the five games at home sure makes the [All-Star break] a heck of a lot more enjoyable."

Booker and Holmes provided their typical energy. Booker grabbed nine rebounds in just 15 minutes, while Holmes, though not Wednesday’s starter at center, played 28 minutes, recorded 11 points, nine boards and two blocks, and was also in the game down the stretch as the Sixers clung to their lead.

"That's what we do," Booker said. "We both bring energy. When both of us are on, it's tough. But that's what we do. We provide the energy and just try to get the team going and that's what we did tonight."

As for Belinelli, he came as advertised. The sharpshooter, who signed Monday after being bought out by the Atlanta Hawks, provided the team exactly what it needed: bench scoring (see story). The 11-year veteran scored 13 of his 17 points as the Sixers made their comeback in the second half. He shot 7 of 12 from the field overall, including 3 of 5 from three. 

After the game, he felt vindicated in picking the Sixers.

"I remember yesterday saying the one thing I really love about this group," Belinelli said, "they want to win so bad and that's why I think we won this game. It's not easy. Especially down [24] against a really good team in Miami, I'm really impressed." 

The Sixers swept their five-game homestand in impressive fashion.

But was it their best win of the season?

"It's high," Brown said. "It could be No. 1. It feels like it's the best as I speak."

Sixers do the improbable to cap off homestand

Sixers do the improbable to cap off homestand

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The game started off as another example of the trials and tribulations the Sixers face without Joel Embiid. It ended with a massive comeback victory, 104-102, over the Heat. 

The Heat dominated the Sixers, leading, 62-39, at halftime Wednesday. The Sixers looked out of sync without Embiid (right ankle soreness), who didn’t play for only the second time in 20 games. 

That’s why there are four quarters, though. The Sixers began to take back control in the third, thanks in part to a 12-0 run that cut a 24-point deficit in half and put the game back within reach.

The Sixers came all the way back in the fourth quarter and were up five points with 13 seconds to play … but not so fast. Tyler Johnson hit a trey and the Heat regained possession after Ben Simmons committed an out-of-bounds turnover while passing. The Heat had one last chance to steal back the win. Dwyane Wade, who has knocked down key shots countless times over his career, missed what would have been a game-winning three as time expired. 

• The Sixers extended their winning streak at the Wells Fargo Center to 11 games. They have not lost in Philadelphia since Dec. 21.

• This was an important game for the Sixers because of potential playoff implications. The Sixers entered the night half a game ahead of the Heat in the seventh spot. After this matchup, the Sixers improved to 30-25, while the Heat dropped to 30-28.  

• Marco Belinelli showed why the Sixers pursued him, and vice versa, in his debut. He gave the first glimpse into the spark he can provide off the bench. Belinelli scored 17 points (7 for 12 from the field, 3 for 5 from three) in 28 minutes, including key buckets in the Sixers’ comeback run (see highlights).

• Another night, another triple-double for a Sixers’ point guard. Following up on T.J. McConnell’s performance, Ben Simmons posted his sixth triple-double of the season: 18 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists and four steals. He ranks third in the NBA behind Russell Westbrook and LeBron James in triple-doubles. 

• Richaun Holmes clocked 28 minutes after barely seeing the court lately. He contributed a high-energy 11 points and nine rebounds. Trevor Booker neared a double-double with nine points and nine rebounds. Dario Saric once again had a solid offensive night (team-high 19 points). 

• The Sixers were whistled for three technical fouls (McConnell, Saric, JJ Redick) in the second quarter alone. 

• It remains to be seen how many events Embiid will participate in All-Star weekend. In addition to starting in the All-Star Game, he was selected for the Mtn Dew Kickstart Rising Stars game and the Taco Bell Skills Challenge.

“In regards to a definitive, ‘This is what he's going to do,’ that has not been established,” Brett Brown said before the game (see story).

How Sixers got in holiday spirit

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How Sixers got in holiday spirit

NEW YORK — Holiday music could be heard in the Sixers' locker room shortly before their Christmas Day matinee game against the Knicks. 

Veteran Amir Johnson scrolled through his phone, selecting songs to set the tone of the season. Around the room, boxes of Beats by Dre headphones were at each locker, a gift from Ben Simmons. Players talked about their families making the quick trip from Philadelphia to New York City to be together. 

Monday was a work day for the Sixers, but the team still was in the holiday mood.

The Sixers kicked off Christmas early with a Secret Santa before leaving for Toronto last week. It's an annual tradition by Brett Brown, one the players look forward to.

"It's dope," Johnson said. "It brings the team together. It's just something fun, gets your mind off of basketball. It shows you what Christmas is about — giving and sharing." 
 
The gift givers will remain anonymous for the sake of maintaining the secret in Secret Santa. Players could keep their gift or swap it with a teammate based on their number in the selection order. 

Richaun Holmes held on to his limited edition Air Forces Ones. Johnson did the same with his Louis Vuitton scarf and matching hat. 

Trevor Booker received Creed cologne and traded it to Justin Anderson for an MCM backpack. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot got a watch he exchanged with Jacob Pullen for a Common Project backpack. After all the Secret Santa transactions, Pullen ended up with a Gucci wallet. 

"It keeps you in the Christmas spirit," Holmes said. "Being around great guys like this, always wanting to give, it makes it fun to be around them and it brings us closer together."

The Sixers then gave a gift back to Philadelphia — a victory over the Knicks