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Bulls 108, Sixers 107: Inexplicable late mistakes cost Sixers

Bulls 108, Sixers 107: Inexplicable late mistakes cost Sixers

BOX SCORE 

On the road, on the second night of a back-to-back, and without Joel Embiid, the Sixers have a few good excuses. That said, Wednesday night’s 108-107 loss to the Bulls is difficult to accept.

Mike Scott and Jimmy Butler blew their coverage of a dribble handoff between Robin Lopez and Zach LaVine on the Bulls' final offensive possession, with both players taking Lopez and leaving LaVine free for an and-one layup with 1.6 seconds remaining. It was an inexplicable mistake, especially given LaVine had a game-high 39 points. 

The game had a bizarre ending, as the officials determined the clock started early on the Sixers’ final play with 0.5 seconds to go, allowing the Sixers another attempt to win. The Sixers didn’t manage to get a shot off on either play.

The loss drops the Sixers to 41-24 and 4-3 since the All-Star break without Embiid.  

• Up 10 in the fourth, the Sixers let the Bulls get right back into the game with a 10-0 run. The team’s sloppy late execution was disappointing. This was a game the Sixers had so many chances to win, and their carelessness with the ball late in the fourth quarter is one of the biggest reasons why they were unable to capitalize on any of those opportunities. 

• Back on his old stomping grounds, Butler (22 points) didn’t wait until the fourth quarter to turn it on against the Bulls. He shot 3 for 3 in the first three minutes, lifting the Sixers to a 12-4 lead with a pretty backdoor cut and dunk off a feed from Ben Simmons. 

With Butler at the point, the Sixers had T.J. McConnell screen for Butler on several occasions to force the defense to switch and get Butler an advantageous matchup against a smaller defender — in this case, Ryan Arcidiacono. It’s a tactic the Sixers have started using with greater frequency, and a simple, effective look they can go to moving forward when Butler is at the one. 

• For the second straight night, Amir Johnson got the start. Even with Jonah Bolden back after missing Tuesday’s game with sinusitis, the decision to keep Johnson in the starting five made sense. He earned it with his performance against the Magic, posting a season-high 13 points, and Lopez is about as close as you can get to an ideal matchup for Johnson.

Johnson had nine points and eight rebounds in 20 minutes. 

Though Bolden was impressively agile as usual when switched onto perimeter players, he struggled with Lopez’s strength inside and picked up his fifth foul less than a minute into the fourth quarter.

Lopez had 19 points, 13 in the first quarter. 

• One action Simmons (18 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists) and the Sixers have gone to more recently is the quick dribble handoff in semi-transition. While it’s obviously most dangerous when JJ Redick is involved, Simmons himself puts so much pressure on the defense with how fast he gets the ball up the floor, forcing the defense to have sharp communication. 

His fake dribble handoff to McConnell on this play in the second quarter was masterful.

• Well, Tobias Harris was due for a clunker, and after a two-point first half, he seemed to be having one.

But Harris picked it up in the third quarter, scoring nine points in the period. He just has too polished and balanced an offensive game to be held down forever.

In the final quarter, Harris was a non-factor. He finished with 13 points on the night as his streak of 20-plus point games ended at seven. 

• Following two straight games on the bench, James Ennis played over Jonathon Simmons. Ennis blended into the background for most of his first stint … and then he did this. 

Ennis had his best game as a Sixer, posting 11 points on 5 for 7 shooting and seven rebounds. The “quiet tournament” Brett Brown is holding for minutes between Ennis and Simmons is nowhere near decided. 

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Joel Embiid sits out Sixers' Game 3 win over Nets, though he says knee injury is getting better 'slowly but surely'

Joel Embiid sits out Sixers' Game 3 win over Nets, though he says knee injury is getting better 'slowly but surely'

NEW YORK — Joel Embiid sat and watched the Sixers’ shootaround Thursday morning in slippers.

About an hour before tip-off, he walked into the locker room, changed into warm-up gear, took questions from a hovering group of reporters as Boban Marjanovic stretched on a yoga mat behind him, then did a light workout on the Barclays Center floor. The whole scene was strange but, given Embiid’s recent history, it wouldn’t have been remotely surprising if it culminated in him playing in Game 3. 

Everyone asked about Embiid’s status before and after the game — from Brett Brown to Marjanovic to Embiid himself — stuck with the line of him being a “game-time decision” besides Greg Monroe, the man who stepped into Embiid's spot in the starting lineup  the Sixers’ 131-115 win over the Nets (see observations). 

“They told me this morning at shootaround that most likely Joel would be out so he was going to start me,” Monroe told reporters. “So I knew right away in the morning and was able to get mentally focused.”

Embiid attempted to describe his left knee soreness, which he again classified as “tendinitis.”

It’s just about working on your strength and just getting in the practice facility or whatever, basically. Just trying to do whatever you can do to stay strong. At the end of the day, what cures it is just loading. You gotta load in the right way. Can’t do too much and then can’t also sit out and do nothing. It’s hard to manage, but gotta do it. Gotta push through the pain and see where it goes. 

Though “pushing through the pain” doesn’t sound like an ideal situation for a team’s best player, Embiid said he’s making progress.

“It is becoming better, slowly but surely,” he said. “We just gotta be smart about how we handle it every single day. I’m sure these guys wouldn’t let me get on the court if there was a chance of something bad happening. Gotta Trust The Process.”

The confounding part of Embiid’s knee pain, at least as he describes it, is the unpredictability. The fact he had an extra day off before Game 3 didn’t automatically increase the odds of him playing.

“Kind of,” Embiid said of whether the extra day was helpful. “The body reacts differently every day. I might feel good after the game and then in two days, maybe feel it. So I just gotta manage it.”

The one certainty with Embiid is his importance to the Sixers. 

As Brown said before Game 2, when game planning with Embiid and without Embiid, “There is night and then there is day.”

Monroe and Marjanovic combined for 23 points and 21 rebounds in Game 3, but they're likely not a long-term solution if the Sixers aim to win the Eastern Conference. 

“We definitely need him,” Jimmy Butler said of Embiid. “We’re capable of winning some games, but we’d all definitely rather have Jo out there.”

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Smirking Ben Simmons knows he's in a different class than Jared Dudley and is happy to show it in Sixers' Game 3 win over Nets

Smirking Ben Simmons knows he's in a different class than Jared Dudley and is happy to show it in Sixers' Game 3 win over Nets

NEW YORK — The crowd at Barclays Center on Thursday night gave Jared Dudley warm cheers when he first checked into Game 3 of the Sixers’ first-round series against the Nets, aware of the unpleasantries recently exchanged between Dudley and Ben Simmons.

By the time Dudley took his first shot of the night — an air ball with 1:48 left in the third quarter and the Sixers leading by 15 — there was a meek scattering of boos as Simmons raised his arms and stared at the veteran. Dudley finished scoreless in his 16 minutes, while Simmons had 31 points on 11 for 13 shooting and nine assists. The gaping disparity between the two players was never more obvious than during the Sixers’ 131-115 win over the Nets (see observations). 

Simmons, for his part, brushed aside a question about whether he’d proven he was more than the “average” half-court player Dudley said he was. 

“I don’t know,” he said.” I’m not worried about it.”

“I try not to pay too much attention to what’s going on social media or what people say just because they’re going to say what they want to say. I’m not going to let that affect me on the floor. I’m going to do my job when I step on the floor and play the point guard position the best I can.”

Brett Brown gushed about a second straight excellent performance from Simmons, who helped split the offensive load with Joel Embiid out because of left knee soreness. Simmons responded to the Nets’ heightened physicality with him by making 9 of 11 free throws and became the first Sixer to ever score 31 or more points and shoot 80 percent or better from the floor in a playoff game, per Basketball Reference.

Whether he’s getting booed or there’s something else going on as it relates to scrutinizing Ben, he is tremendously confident in himself. He has put in a tremendous amount of work to earn that privilege. I’m so happy for him to play like he played tonight. … I think he feeds off that but it’s not like he’s beating his chest out there. I think internally, he’s got tremendous inner confidence.

Simmons’ inner confidence often manifests as arrogance. He knows he’s in a different class than Dudley and was happy to show the world. The 22-year-old plays with a smirk that suggests he savors dominating inferior opponents.

Though the Sixers still need two wins to advance to the second round and diminish Dudley’s place in the national spotlight, Simmons already wants to move on. In his mind, Dudley isn’t worth worrying about.

The questions about how Simmons will fare against the Eastern Conference’s elite teams or his ideal role in the Sixers’ half court offense — largely off the ball since the return of James Ennis and corresponding increase in Jimmy Butler’s time at point guard — are still present. 

For now, though, he says the questions posed by and about Jared Dudley are far from his mind.

“I don’t really have energy for it,” Simmons said. “It’s done. People are going to say what they want to say. Just gotta play.”

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