Teams sometimes meander upon their identity after a long season, stumble upon it around New Year’s or never truly find it. The 2019-20 Sixers have no such problem.
Head coach Brett Brown, whenever there’s been an opening, has reminded reporters of the Sixers’ desire to embody the spirit of Philadelphia. Those words aren’t empty.
If you went into our practice facility, it’s our creed — it’s Philly hard, Philly edge and there’s an authenticity — it’s real,” he said Wednesday night after a 117-95 Sixers win over the Timberwolves that featured a chaotic fight between Joel Embiid and Karl-Anthony Towns. “And every time we can, we like to point to an example. Like yep, this is Philly hard. That thing had an edge. This is real. There’s a spirit amongst our team that’s authentic.
After the fight, and the post-ejection shadowboxing, and the crowd’s rapturous “MVP” chants as Embiid headed back to the locker room, Mike Scott knew what he was supposed to say about the incident. He opted against an insincere reaction.
“It was definitely entertaining,” he said. “Let’s get all the bad s--- out. You don’t want to condone it, kids are watching. We’ll see what the league does. But that was great. Probably … nah, f--- that. That was great. I enjoyed that. He’s a superstar. With plays like that, he just has that Philly toughness in him.”
Embiid borrowed one of Scott’s favorite phrases when asked what sort of trash talk had led to the fight.
“Well, first of all, I ain't not b----,” he said. “So no, there was not a lot of talking. It kind of happened out of nowhere. I just did what I had to do and I was just trying to control myself. It happens.”
Unlike Embiid, who also bragged about “owning that real estate" in the mind of Towns, the Timberwolves’ center wasn’t boastful.
“It was a competitive game, that’s all it was,” he said. “There are a lot of great things we can learn and really go out there and try to beat Washington.”
Towns deflected questions about what caused the fight, whether he regretted it and if he’d indeed taken a swing at Embiid in a similar manner. He used the word “competitive” six times in his postgame scrum.
Embiid and the Sixers, on the other hand, were sticking their chests out.
... I was built for this city and they were built for me," Embiid said. "My reaction, the reaction and the love they have for me —I can't thank them enough. ... And I heard the MVP chants from the locker room. But that's what the city of Philadelphia is about. You got to come here, you got to fight. You got to play hard. Got to be gritty. You got to be Broad Street bully. So that's what it's about. So we're going to keep on fighting and trying to accomplish the goal we have set for us.
The dissonant voice was Al Horford. After a 12-point, 16-rebound, four-assist night — not that many will recall the stats from this game at the end of the year — the even-keeled 33-year-old was displeased with the incident between Embiid and Towns. He’d kept a good distance from the scrum of bodies on the floor and did not like what he’d witnessed.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. "I couldn’t believe it. It’s just one of those things. Those two players are two of our great young players in the league. I’ve known Karl for years, I know his family. He’s a good kid. Joel’s a good kid, as well. It’s just one of those things that you don’t want to see in a game. Our game is a great game. That happened, and it was unfortunate. I do hope that they both learn from this. There’s just no place for that in our game.”
The Sixers likely won’t tune out Horford if he expresses that opinion behind closed doors. His new teammates have publicly praised his work ethic, professionalism and intelligence. They seem to genuinely respect his viewpoint. But, while Scott might be the most extreme, unfiltered version of the team's identity, his attitude appears to be a natural one for the Sixers, one of two remaining unbeaten teams in the NBA.
“Smash mouth offense, bully ball defense,” Brown had promised at his annual luncheon with the media before the season.
Well, Ben Simmons had Towns in a headlock at the bottom of that pile of bodies Wednesday night, with the Sixers up 20 and their best player in the middle of a mess. It seems safe to say he’s bought in. (For what it’s worth, referee Mark Ayotte told The Associated Press pool reporter that the officiating crew “deemed [Simmons] a peacemaker.” We’ll see whether the league agrees with that assessment upon further review.)
“You’ve gotta have that mentality,” Scott said. “Like I said, we don’t want to come out here and fight every night, s--- like that. But sometimes you’ve gotta do that. I have to watch the whole replay and see what happened. But I feel like Jo did what he had to do. S---, I would have done the same thing.”
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