76ers

Sixers 116, Raptors 95: Joel Embiid takes off to dominate Game 3, provide series lead

Sixers 116, Raptors 95: Joel Embiid takes off to dominate Game 3, provide series lead

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The Sixers’ Game 2 win Monday night in Toronto, when they held on for dear life to steal home court from the Raptors, was no fluke.

They proved that Thursday night, pulling away in the fourth quarter for a 116-95 Game 3 win at Wells Fargo Center highlighted by a 33-point, 10-rebound performance from Joel Embiid. With a win in Game 4 Sunday afternoon, the Sixers would move to within a game of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Here are observations from Game 3:

• Embiid drew an early foul with his favored rip-through move, something it feels like he’s done 40 or so times this season. It was a positive omen for him on a night when he finally broke through for 20-plus points against Marc Gasol, his first such game in eight matchups.

Embiid is physically at a different level than the player who was often grimacing and sluggish early in the first round against the Nets. There was one early third-quarter play that highlighted his explosiveness, as well as his sheer audacity: Embiid pump faked from the right corner, drove to the rim and rose from the edge of the painted area for a thunderous dunk attempt, drawing a foul. He wouldn’t have thought about that move in Game 1 vs. Brooklyn, when jogging up and down the floor was a painful task.

He also has much better lift on his jumper than in that opener vs. the Nets, when all of his three-point attempts were short. Embiid smiled and rose his arms in celebration after each of the three three-pointers he drained in Gasol’s face.

• It appears nearly impossible to force Kawhi Leonard to do anything other than exactly what he desires. Leonard, who scored 80 points in the series’ first two games, had Toronto’s first seven and finished with 33 on 13 for 22 shooting.

Most of his shots were contested, but it didn’t feel that way. Even Ben Simmons, who has done a commendable job on Leonard, was rarely able to deter him from getting to his preferred spots and taking the shots he wanted to take.

When Leonard was on the bench or denied the ball, though, the Raptors’ offense looked aimless. While Pascal Siakam, Gasol and Kyle Lowry are capable offensive players, they’re best suited for complementary roles.

• Jimmy Butler had another excellent night, with 22 points, nine rebounds, nine assists and three steals. The Sixers’ offense has run very smoothly when Butler has been at the controls the last two games.  

• After putting Embiid as the primary defender on Siakam and Tobias Harris on Gasol in Game 2, Brett Brown switched things up. He started with his original matchups from Game 1, then returned to the Harris-Gasol, Embiid-Siakam matchups at the start of the third quarter.

Gasol’s ineffectiveness offensively — he had seven points on 2 for 6 shooting Thursday night —  has given Brown the freedom to toggle his matchups and to send help defenders off Gasol. Harris also deserves credit for standing his ground well when Gasol has tried to post him up.

• As expected, the series took a step up in physicality in Game 3, and as expected, Lowry was in the middle of it. He took an elbow from Simmons in a sensitive region after getting tangled up under the basket early in the second quarter (see video).

The animosity between Simmons and Lowry dates back to Jan. 15 of last year, when both players were ejected, Lowry wanted to meet Simmons in the tunnel postgame, and Simmons told reporters, “I’m not going to take s--- from anybody.”

Leonard, usually near-emotionless on the court, became frustrated near the end of the first half during a Sixers’ run, arguing consecutive foul calls against him and a call he thought he’d earned against Embiid. His (relative) agitation was shared by his teammates, who took exception to many whistles.  

Siakam received a Flagrant 1 foul with 10:05 left in the fourth quarter for a blatant trip on Embiid (see video). Twenty-eight seconds later, Siakam challenged Embiid on a drive and saw his shot rejected, one of the rabid Wells Fargo Center crowd’s favorite sequences of the night.  

• The Sixers’ bench has outplayed the Raptors’ in every game this series. Fan favorite Mike Scott returned after missing the series’ first two games (right heel contusion/plantar fasciitis) and nailed his only three-point attempt, while James Ennis was excellent in his 24 minutes (10 points on 4 for 6 shooting, five rebounds). Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell and Serge Ibaka again didn’t play with much confidence or aggression offensively.

Through three games, the Sixers’ bench has outscored Toronto’s, 73-30, and much of the Raptors’ bench output Thursday came in garbage time. 

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Jerry Stackhouse tries to set record straight on scrimmages with 17-year-old Kobe Bryant

Jerry Stackhouse tries to set record straight on scrimmages with 17-year-old Kobe Bryant

At 17 years old, Kobe Bryant was scrimmaging against professional athletes and Philadelphia college stars, about to embark on a 20-year NBA career.

He impressed in those scrimmages with his skill and bravado. But, according to Jerry Stackhouse, Bryant wasn’t big on passing. 

Stackhouse, now the head coach at Vanderbilt, spent the first two-plus years of his career with the Sixers before being traded to the Pistons and matched up with Bryant in those scrimmages.

What happened with Kobe was nobody really wanted to play with Kobe,” he said on The Woj Pod. “[Former La Salle star and NBA player] Lionel Simmons, you used to always see him pulling Kobe to the side, like, ‘Man, you gotta pass the ball! You gotta learn how to do this!' Because the older guys were from Philly. … These stories kind of take on a life of their own. And yes, Kobe had some good days scoring the ball, because he could handle it so well. But he had tunnel vision at that point. You had pickup games, sometimes he didn’t even get picked up. 

“But again, because he’s so been great since this, these stories go back of ‘Oh, he beat Stackhouse one-on-one.’ Come on, man. Me at 20 years old, can you imagine a 17-year-old beating me consistently? I’d have hurt him first, real talk. Just physically, that could never happen to me. Did we play one-on-one? Yes. Did he beat me, did he maybe win a game? Yes. Did he consistently beat Jerry Stackhouse at 20 years old when he was 17? Hell no. I’m putting an end to that story. … Was he super talented and everyone saw great potential in him? Yes, but those scenarios … of Kobe Bryant, they’re a little bit of a different story when you go talk to people that were actually in the gym. 

Stackhouse noted that it took a little time for Bryant to adjust to the NBA game, which is true. The Lower Merion High School graduate played only 15.5 minutes per game as a rookie. Of course, he went on to make 18 All-Star Games, win five NBA championships and become one of the best players of his era. 

Though Stackhouse wanted to set the record straight on those one-on-one games with Bryant, he was still amazed by his ability at such a young age.

“This kid was unbelievable,” he said. “Just his ball handling ability … he grew up, obviously, emulating Michael Jordan.”

However, the members of the Philadelphia basketball community who were in the gym for those scrimmages were apparently ruthless in their critiques.

“I vividly remember the old heads from Philadelphia,” Stackhouse said, “[they're] like, ‘Come on, man, you gotta pass the ball! That ain’t how you gotta play!’” 

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Sixers fans can't stop laughing at Bulls for interviewing Bryan Colangelo

Sixers fans can't stop laughing at Bulls for interviewing Bryan Colangelo

Sixers fans, grasping at any semblance of basketball news, received a cruise ship-sized life line on Wednesday.

The Athletic's Shams Charania reported the Bulls have interviewed former 76ers president Bryan Colangelo for their top basketball ops position:

This is, of course, kind of a mind-boggling decision from the Bulls, considering the way Colangelo's bumpy tenure in Philly ended. 

You know, Burner-gate. Remember that insanity? Remember when the active general manager of the 76ers was linked to Twitter accounts actively disparaging his own players? That really happened!

And yet, despite the public unraveling of his time with the Sixers, and the unsavory nature of his resignation, the Bulls somehow deemed Colangelo worthy of an interview for this position as they try to kickstart their floundering franchise.

Sixers fans couldn't believe it:

Some laughed, and laughed, and laughed:

Some encouraged the insanity, because there's nothing Sixers fans love more than watching a tire fire form in real time:

And then, of course, Sixers Twitter came with the jokes, because they are ruthless and unceasing:

Colangelo actually landing the job is, admittedly, probably a long shot. But the fact that he could even garner an interview at this point in his career, and after his last stop, is both hilarious and confounding.

And Sixers fans are here for it, entirely.

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