Three straight wins for the Philadelphia 76ers! This one came against Brett Brown's old club, the San Antonio Spurs -- his first. Not as impressive considering Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Rudy Gay were all sitting in this one, but the Spurs are the Spurs, and you had to imagine this wasn't going to be an easy one regardless.
Still, wouldn't you know it? The Sixers lured us into think it might be that simple, getting up to a 16-point lead in the third quarter -- maybe this time they could just kinda lean on the Spurs until coach Gregg Popovich pulled the plug and we could coast to our first easy W since Thanksgiving? LOL nah. The Spurs came back to tie and even creep ahead, but Ben Simmons hit some big free throws down the stretch, J.J. Redick hit a crucial wing jumper with under a minute to go, and Philly was able to just barely hang on for the 112-106 victory.
Good stuff, and the defense was particularly stout down the stretch -- anchored as always by Joel Embiid, who was gonna miss this one with a sprained hand, until he wasn't -- but man, these late third-quarter swoons have just gotta stop if this team is gonna do anything of value this season.
Part of it is a lack of depth, as once Embiid and Redick go to the bench, it's remarkably difficult for this team to score right now -- especially with defenses figuring out how to deny Ben Simmons easy half-court looks and Robert Covington still slumping badly beyond the arc. Maybe it's on Brett Brown to figure out a way to stagger minutes more effectively, or maybe we just badly need Markelle Fultz in the rotation. But something's gotta change with the Sixers' inability to hold leads if it wants to still have a non-deceased fanbase by the time they get in or near the playoffs.
But again, cant be too upset, because they actually did hold onto this one. Though LaMarcus Aldridge was seemingly having his way with the Philly defense after being largely shut down in the first half, the Sixers held San Antonio without a field goal for the game's final two minutes, as they were able to get some light separation and maintain for the victory. Perhaps most importantly, the Sixers took care of the ball late, without a turnover in the final seven and a half minutes, and just 13 for the game -- well under the team's average. Much easier not to give the game away when you're not giving the ball away first.
And also, shout out to J.J. Redick. Our hired sharpshooter has become something of a punching bag for Sixers fans, due to his seeming proclivity for missing shots and/or fumbling the ball in critical situations, but he hit the biggest shot in this one -- that final-minute long two to put Philly up two buckets -- and was generally aces, scoring 20 on 6-12 shooting, with four assists and just one turnover. His defense is still occasionally lacking, but offensively, he's been pretty much as advertised -- since missing two games with a hamstring injury, he's averaged 21 a game on 49% shooting from the field and from three with under a TO a game, and now leads the Sixers in 3PT% (40.2) and ranks second in scoring (17.2 PPG).
Ultimately a good win, though we'll see if it ends up costing us Embiid for any further length of time: Our star center was initially ruled out of the game with a sprained hand, saying he couldn't shoot with it, but after warmups changed his tune and was suddenly active for the contest, putting up a typically spectacular 21-11-4-4 (with a +16 for the game) and even hitting a couple jumpers, even if he occasionally looked a tad reluctant to shoot from the outside.
Will the short-term push have long-term detriment for JoJo? Certainly hope not, as the schedule stays tough for Philly from here (Detroit, Boston, Toronto, at Boston, Milwaukee), and the Sixers still have work cut out for them climbing back into the playoff picture at 18-19. ("Just got to keep tabs on it and hope that gets better," was Embiid's comment on the hand post-game, saying that blocks and rebounds were mildly painful.)
Still, three wins in a row is nothing to take for granted for a team that just dropped five straight and is still ailing a little. Thanks to Pop for giving us the head start in this one -- I'm sure his old protege will owe him a nice bottle of red in appreciation.