76ers

Joel Embiid frustrated by play, refs in loss vs. Celtics

Joel Embiid frustrated by play, refs in loss vs. Celtics

When Joel Embiid raised his arms at half court after hitting a pair of threes in the fourth quarter, it felt more like a sigh of relief than a celebration.

The All-Star center had a tough start to his night against the Celtics in a 112-109 Sixers’ loss at the Wells Fargo Center Tuesday (see observations). Embiid admitted that there’s extra frustration with this loss to a Boston team the Sixers have dropped their last five games to. 

It seems like the Celtics just have the right recipe to slow down Embiid and Ben Simmons. A big part of that is the play of veteran big Al Horford. Horford was efficient on offense, posting 23 points on 9 of 16 from the field, five assists and just one turnover. He had four steals and played strong on-the-ball defense against Embiid.

While Embiid admitted to feeling frustrated, he didn’t attribute it to Horford.

“He’s not doing anything, he’s just on me,” Embiid said. “I was sleepwalking for three quarters and that’s on me. That’s on me. That has nothing to do with anybody.”

You can certainly point to Horford’s ability to stick with Embiid, but there is merit to Embiid’s point. After going just 3 of 12 for eight points through three, Embiid had a 15-point fourth on 6 of 10 from the field.

Brown was effusive with his praise of Horford, but tended to agree with his big man’s assessment of the matchup, shooting down the notion that Embiid was overly affected by Horford.

“[Horford's] a difficult person to score on,” Brown said. “I thought that Joel toward the end of the game carried us. He just grabbed the game and carried us. That last few minutes was special from him."

With that said, two of those 15 fourth-quarter points Embiid would like to have back.

With 13.1 seconds left and the Sixers trailing 110-107, the Sixers had the ball out of a timeout. After Tobias Harris missed a game-tying three with 6.6 seconds left, Embiid was able to gather the offensive rebound. Instead of looking to pass the ball back out for another three-point attempt, Embiid scored the easy two with 2.4 seconds left.

The Sixers wound up fouling Jayson Tatum, who made both free throws with 1.8 seconds on the clock. Jimmy Butler couldn’t get his half-court heave off in time.

Embiid accepted the blame for the late-game blunder.

“I’m an idiot,” Embiid said. “I should’ve kicked it out or take it out and shoot it. I didn’t think about the situation and us not having a timeout. I thought we had one and then as soon as I shot it I looked and I was like, ‘I’m stupid.’ Like I said, that’s on me. I need to do a better job.”

For as great and as dominant as Embiid is, it’s easy to forget how young and green he is.

He’s still just 24 and has been playing basketball for less than a decade. He may be a legitimate MVP candidate, but there are still growing pains and things to learn from in a tough matchup like the one against Horford and the Celtics.

There’s something to be said for Embiid holding himself accountable. It’s a sign of maturity and leadership — though he had his undisciplined moments Tuesday.

Embiid picked up his fifth foul on an iffy call against Horford with 3:56 left. Then, with 33.6 seconds left and the Sixers trailing by two, it appeared Embiid was fouled by Horford on a short jumper.

No whistle.

He may not have admitted to being frustrated by Horford, but he didn’t hide his feelings about the officiating.

“The referees f------ sucked.”

The feeling of letting out your frustrations is priceless … but that one will cost Embiid.

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How the Sixers are trying to help Tobias Harris snap out of it

How the Sixers are trying to help Tobias Harris snap out of it

They say that shooters shoot.

Tobias Harris has been shooting plenty — they just haven’t been going down.

After going 0 for 11 from three on Tuesday night against the Cavs, Harris went 0 for 3 and 3 of 13 overall in the Sixers’ loss to the Magic in Orlando Wednesday (see observations).

The last three Harris hit was in the first quarter of the Sixers’ loss in Phoenix on Nov. 4. He’s missed his last 23 attempts since.

When Harris was acquired from the Clippers last season, he was shooting 43.4 percent from downtown in a healthy sample size.

So what the heck is going on?

“I'm not making shots, I'm not in a rhythm,” Harris said to reporters postgame. “That's it. Obviously, it's easier said than done but I'm going to find my rhythm and once I do those shots are going to be there and they're going to be able to be made. Until then, I'll watch film and see the looks I can get, see the easy ones I can get to, but when they're not going for me, get to the free throw line. 

“In the fourth quarter I thought that was two questionable whistles, a travel and offensive [foul]. So those are two turnovers that kind of affected our fourth quarter. But I just gotta find a rhythm. That's it.”

On top of missing, Harris just looks indecisive. During early parts of the season, he appeared to be passing up open shots. In his pregame availability before Tuesday’s win, Brett Brown made a point to talk about needing Harris to have a scorer’s mentality.

Over the last two games, Harris seems like he doesn’t know when to shoot the basketball. After shooting so poorly from the outside against Cleveland, in Orlando he appeared to just get caught in between while trying to drive to the basket more.

It just seems like Harris is in his own head.

“I think it's just human nature,” Brown said. “He wants to please, he wants to shoot the ball, he wants to score, we need him to score.”

Harris is an easy target for fan ire. GM Elton Brand gave up an awful lot to get him before last year’s trade deadline. During the summer, the Sixers gave Harris a five-year, $180 million deal — the richest in franchise history.

But to his credit, Harris hasn’t made any excuses. He faced the music Wednesday night after not playing well and not feeling well.

Brown mentioned Tuesday that Harris had been dealing with an illness. Harris didn’t want to take the easy way out and attribute that to anything.

“When I get out there and play, I'm playing,” Harris said. “I'm under the weather, yeah, but if I get out there and play, I believe I can go.”

Forget the big contract and disappointing start for a second — Harris is a worker. He’s worked on his game tirelessly to rise to the level he did last season in L.A. During the offseason, he stepped up as a leader that all of his teammates are eager and willing to follow. He’s been depended upon by the young players and veterans alike.

Now, it may be Harris who needs their support.

“Tobias has had great looks and he's a great player, great shooter,” Ben Simmons said. “I mean, at times, everybody gets down when they're not playing their best game. They know that they can do better. But he's one of those guys. He's always positive. And we all believe in him.”

The Sixers’ road trip continues Friday with a date with the Thunder. Oklahoma City is the site of Harris’ finest game as a Sixer. On Feb. 28 of last year, Harris poured in 32 points and led a tough road win without Joel Embiid.

Maybe the memory of that game will spark something in Harris.

If that doesn't work, what else can you really say?

“Keep shooting,” Brown said. “Don't listen to any of you guys. Don't read anything. Keep shooting.”

After all, shooters shoot.

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Sixers Talk podcast: What is going on with Tobias Harris?

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NBC Sports Philadelphia/USA Today Images

Sixers Talk podcast: What is going on with Tobias Harris?

Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick discuss Tobias Harris' struggles continuing, Ben Simmons' unwillingness to shoot the ball, and why Matisse Thybulle isn't seeing more playing time.

• Another rough night for Harris. What the heck is going on?

• Simmons was strong, but still refuses to shoot the basketball outside the paint.

• Should Thybulle be getting more minutes?

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