On the Board in October: Sixers actually win a game

On the Board in October: Sixers actually win a game

December 3rd. December 1st. November 11th. October 23rd. At least in one respect, the Sixers are moving decisively in the right direction. 

Yes, the Sixers posted a W, and it's still a week until Halloween. Earlier-starting season helps, of course, but what helps even more is having Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Robert Covington in the lineup. The three of them dominated in Detroit last night, particularly in the fourth quarter, and the 76ers were able to cling on to an early lead to escape with a 97-86 victory. 

This was by no means guaranteed, by the way. The Pistons were 2-1, with a decent roster and far more year-to-year lineup consistency -- a loss would hardly have been shocking, which would've dropped the 76ers to 0-4 going into a matchup with the firebreathing Houston Rockets. And man did it look like the Sixers were gonna cough this one up, despite leading by as much as 21 in the second and by 10 with just five minutes to go, with the Pistons multiple times cutting the lead down to a single possession. 

But Joel Embiid would not be denied on the evening. You knew The Process was gonna bounce back from his career worst 4-16 performance against Boston in the Sixers' home opener, and bounce he did, to the resounding tune of 30 points on 11-15 shooting in just 28 minutes -- with seven turnovers and five fouls, but both forgivable considering what an efficient force he was otherwise on both ends, finishing a resounding +21 on the night. It was Embiid's first 30-point performance since that fateful final Houston game last season, and you knew how valuable he was on the night by how much you had to grit your teeth whenever he wasn't in there -- especially since you wouldn't trust Amir Johnson to throw out a 95% empty soda can (or prevent anyone else at the party from doing the same) at this point. 

And yet Embiid's stat line was not the Sixers' most impressive. Those honors go to one Benjamin David Simmons -- you get the triple-double, you get the triple name -- who scored 21 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and handed out 10 assists, with an extremely excusable four turnovers. It was easily Simmons' best performance in the half-court, working the pick-and-roll beautifully with Embiid late, lofting him floaters to where only he could grab 'em and slam 'em. He also hit a couple jumpers, and most impressively, he's showing consistency on his short hook shot in the paint, which he should be able to get approximately 20 times a game if he wants it when he drives the paint, freezes and turns. 

As boring and misleading as it can be to emphasize statistical history so early in the season with a player like Simmons -- especially when the team went 1-3 over his first four games -- the numbers are impressive enough that it's worth giving 'em the bold-and-underlined treatment. In four NBA games, Ben Simmons has still yet to *not* post a double-double, and according to ESPN, he's the first player since 1967 -- 50 years ago!! -- to post a trip-dub so early in his playing career. He's averaging 18-11-7, he's shooting 49% from the field (and an acceptable-ish 62% from the line), and he has a PER near 20. He has been awesome, and it's been just the beginning. 

But as amazing as our apparent franchise twin pillars were last night, I still might give the game ball to Robert Covington for this one. Cov was an absolute savior last night, bailing the Sixers out with a couple crucial late-game steals and one enormous triple in the fourth, and just generally being his usual hands-all-over self on defense, disrupting the Pistons on the perimeter and playing safety in and around the paint. He is as critical to this team's success as anyone, and he showed it on the court last night, if not as obviously in the box score. (Also special shout-out to T.J. McConnell, who hit arguably the biggest shot of the night with a corner three to give Philly some late breathing room -- like Shaq, he makes 'em when they matter.) 

To rave about all this good, we need to at least touch on a little of the bad, which means we have to talk about the MFer a minute. There's not really much else to say about Markelle at this point -- he's playing tough defense, he's moving the ball pretty well and he generally looks like he gives a crap, but he just isn't helping the team when he's not shooting his jumper. The good news was that we didn't have to have a heart attack over his free-throw form in this one, but the bad news is that's because he didn't get to the line. He went careening into the paint, and because the defenders new he wouldn't pull up, they were able to play him straight up and force sprawling misses, Fultz finishing 1-5 for 2 points. (BTW, don't think you're getting off the hook either, Jerryd Bayless -- you ever jack from three on a 3-on-1 in transition again, you're on the bench till Christmas. Only one J.J. Redick allowed per team.) 

But whatever. The Sixers are on the board, and even earlier than a handful of other teams. We beat a playoff hopeful on the road in our third game in four nights, and we did so unspectacularly but convincingly -- y'know, like an average decent team would. That's the Sixers right now: worse than the good teams, better than the bad teams. An exceedingly reasonable place to be, especially since as Embiid and Simmons (and once we find him a jump-shot exorcist, hopefully Fultz as well) continue to develop chemistry, things should only be getting better from here.

Philly won weird Super Bowl bet with Brockton, Massachusetts

Mayors of Philly/Brockton

Philly won weird Super Bowl bet with Brockton, Massachusetts

Mayor Jim Kenney doesn't seem to fully understand the concept of a sports wager.

The general rule I like to follow: if you win a bet, you GET SOMETHING OF VALUE in return.

Now, the Mayor of Philadelphia won a bet with the city of Brockton, Massachusetts, and he has to SEND THEM STUFF.

Makes no sense.

Anyway, I guess the city of Brockton now has to dress their Rocky Marciano statue up in Eagles gear. Lulz. So Mr. Kenney is shipping them some goods. I hope the people of New England had to pay for it.

As Eagles fans know all too well, the official Eagles gear is not cheap.

Did the Sixers Really Win That Game II: The Portis vs. The Process

Did the Sixers Really Win That Game II: The Portis vs. The Process

Geez, if you only watched the ends of the last two Philadelphia 76ers games, you'd think they were owed years' worth of good karma from getting perpetually screwed in the fourth quarter or something. That's right, the basketball gods may have finally approved the Sixers' line of credit: One game (and eight days) after Brett Brown's squad came back from 20-plus down to squeak one past the Miami Heat, the team again pulled out a miracle last night in Chicago, coming from five down in the final minute against the Bulls to win 116-115. 

And boy, did this one feel like a loss, too. After surging out to a 25-7 lead in the first, the Sixers quickly relinquished the majority of their lead to the Bulls, who pulled even in the third and kept the Sixers from ever running away with it. They hit an absurd 18 threes, tying a season high, and two role players posted career highs: starting wing David Nwaba (21 points on 9-14 shooting) and bench forward Bobby Portis (38 points on 15-26 shooting, including a stupefying 6-9 from three). 

Meanwhile, the Sixers went cold down the stretch; Robert Covington missed a clean look at a three, Ben Simmons missed two of two from the line, Joel Embiid dribbled the ball off his foot. When Zach LaVine hit a tough pull-up three to put Chicago up five with a minute to go, and then Cov missed an open baseline two, it almost felt a merciful end to our suffering. 

But somehow, that wasn't it. Portis shot a long two a little too quickly at the other end and missed, and Simmons put back his own miss at the other end for a quick two to cut it to three. LaVine bricked a tough jumper with 17 to go, and J.J. got fouled at the other end to prevent a possible tying three. He made both, and then good ball denial on the ensuing Chicago inbounds led to an Embiid steal and pass to Simmons, who got fouled. 

After going just 4-9 from the line to that point, Simmons calmly nailed both his free throws to put Philly up one. Embiid stonewalled a Portis attempt near the basket at the other end with seconds to go, Denzel Valentine's putback attempt missed, and the game was over, with the Philly outscoring Chicago 6-0 in the final minute to seal the W. 

It was beautiful, man. There aren't going to be many games in this life where you give up 18 threes, allow two opposing players to go for career highs, miss 14 free throws and go down five with 60 seconds to go and still somehow manage to win the damn thing. 

But there also aren't gonna be many teams in this life with a one-two punch as potent as Simmons and Embiid. The latter picked up where he left off at the All-Star Game, scoring 30 (on 11-17 shooting, including 3-3 from deep) with 13 boards, five assists, three steals and two blocks -- just a few box score tallies away from his first 5x5 game. And the former picked up where he left off before the All-Star Game, scoring a career-high 32 (13-18 shooting) to go with seven boards, 11 assists a steal and a block. And maybe most impressive of all? The two had just three turnovers between them in 69 combined minutes. 

Ben and Jo were nothing less than dominant on offense all night. They couldn't turn the faucet off on the Bulls defensively for most of the game -- though aside from a couple slow-ish rotations in the first half, I'm not even sure they played all that badly, rather just paying the three-point defense regression to the mean that Liberty Ballers writer Sean O'Connor had long been warning fans about

But in any event, Embiid finally got the best of Portis in the final minutes, shutting him down on a couple crucial possessions (including the final one), and he made the play of the night on that inbounds steal. When you have two transcendent talents -- as Embiid and Simmons undoubtedly have proven they are, even this early in their careers -- you win a lot of games you probably shouldn't, and gravity was finally on the Sixers' side tonight. 

Of course, the Sixers might not've needed such combined brilliance from their two best players if their supporting cast was able to pick up the slack a little. But no one else was really cooking for Philly last night, and as is becoming a distressingly frequent occurrence this season, Covington hit a couple shots early and then went flat for the rest of the game. Even on the Bulls broadcast, they were talking about how Cov was gonna have to hit shots in the playoffs for the Sixers to have a chance, and they're probably right: We need Rock's defense and smarts out there, but if he's gonna routinely brick open looks in big moments, he's gonna be a liability -- and he's now 6 of his last 29 from deep. 

But that's a concern for another day -- one that seems more and more likely to actually be upcoming at this point. In the meantime, Philly is 31-25, having won six in a row, and with a creampuff game coming up next at home against Orlando, before a three-game roadie against East playoff teams (Washington, Miami and Cleveland) that represents the only really tough swing remaining on the Sixers' schedule. The playoffs seem increasingly probable, and with Simmons and Embiid playing at this level, just about anything seems possible if we get there. Pity the foolish rival execs who still don't trust the process at this point.