76ers

Sixers waste brilliant Al Horford performance and get torched by Devin Booker and the Suns

Sixers waste brilliant Al Horford performance and get torched by Devin Booker and the Suns

BOX SCORE 

Devin Booker and the Phoenix Suns ended the Sixers’ run as the lone unbeaten team in the NBA Monday night.

The Suns’ guard torched the Sixers for 40 points on 15 for 19 shooting and the Sixers fell to Phoenix, 114-109, dropping to 5-1 on the season.

The Sixers wasted an excellent game from Al Horford, who had 32 points on 13 for 20 shooting, and another strong offensive performance from Tobias Harris (24 points and 10 rebounds). 

They’ll play the Utah Jazz next, on Wednesday at 9 p.m. (NBCSP). 

No answers for Booker

The Sixers just couldn’t stop Booker. Josh Richardson, the primary defender on him, had a frustrating game overall, with eight points on 3 for 11 shooting, five assists and four turnovers.

Brett Brown sees Richardson as the Sixers’ “mortar,” which sounds ideal in theory. In practice, Richardson doesn’t seem to have completely found his spots yet offensively. That’s not a reason for panic — Richardson and the Sixers have 76 more games to figure it out and have lost just one of their first six. 

Ricky Rubio, not renowned for his three-point shooting, made 3 of 5 behind the arc for Phoenix. 

An interesting offensive shift 

The Sixers entered the game running the fewest pick-and-rolls in the NBA, but Brown ran several in the first quarter with Harris as the ball handler and Ben Simmons as the screener. Brown later ran a pick-and-roll with Simmons as the screener later in the quarter, this time with Richardson as the ball handler, and the Sixers’ guard converted an open three off it. Simmons commands plenty of respect as a roller, and set good, physical, legal screens Monday. 

As a team, the Sixers will most likely finish the season with the most post-ups in the NBA — the Lakers are the only team who might end up in the same ballpark — and that makes sense for many reasons. They’ll have size advantages just about every night, Embiid is hard to handle when he gets deep position, and Horford and Simmons are excellent passers from the post. 

Still, a bit more pick-and-roll isn’t a bad idea, especially on nights without Embiid. Harris has historically been an efficient pick-and-roll player and he thrived in that setting Monday. He’s very good at shielding off his defender once he gains a step, then taking his time to get the shot he wants. 

Horford is also skilled both as a roller and in the pick-and-pop, with the ability to knock down open threes and to make plays for his teammates when the jumper isn’t available.

The best “backup center” in the league

At the moment, Horford is playing like the best “backup center” in the NBA. He totaled 57 points and 11 assists during Embiid’s suspension.

In addition to the stats, Horford has been valuable as usual outside of the box score in setting strong screens, defending the pick-and-roll well and just playing smart basketball. 

And, at 33 years old, he can still elevate. His 32 points Monday were more than he ever scored as a Celtic, and just two shy of his career high.

Brilliant on one end, stymied on the other 

There have been lapses here and there, but Simmons has been a more engaged defensive player this season.

He was ready to go right from the opening tip in Phoenix.

Simmons tied a career high with seven steals on an excellent defensive night. 

Offensively, he was stymied by the Suns, who dropped deep into the paint and gave him a ton of space to shoot jumpers, which he did not. Simmons’ longest made field goal through six games is from seven feet out. He posted six points on 2 for 8 shooting, six assists, five rebounds and four turnovers. 

Will Neto stay in the rotation? 

When Embiid returns, Brown will have a number of decisions to make, among them whether Raul Neto stays in the rotation.

The Brazilian point guard helped turn the game Saturday against the Trail Blazers, and he played well in his first-half stint Monday.

Neto hit Horford in the corner with a nice pass at the end of the first quarter.

And Horford didn’t need any help at the conclusion of the first half, nailing a very long three. 

However, Neto wasn’t as good in the second half, committing a turnover that led to a Mikal Bridges dunk near the end of the third quarter and getting scored on by Tyler Johnson a couple of times early in the fourth.

While there haven’t been many exceptional plays in which Neto is at the center of the highlight, the Sixers have mostly been better when he’s on the floor. That would certainly seem to merit playing time.

Korkmaz gets the nod, sets a career high

Furkan Korkmaz took Embiid’s spot in the starting lineup, and he had no hesitation in taking his first shot since his game-winner Saturday in Portland. It looked like he’d sunk it, too … but his three-pointer from the left wing went in and out.

He couldn’t retain all of the magic of that moment vs. the Blazers, though he did score a career-high 20 points. On the night, Korkmaz shot 6 for 13. 

Korkmaz got the nod over Matisse Thybulle, who didn’t have a great night and only played four minutes. The rookie isn’t playing with much decisiveness or confidence on offense, and the fact that he isn’t hitting shots is surely connected. Thybulle shot 1 for 3 Monday and is now 7 for 27 through six games (25.9 percent) 

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Kobe Bryant's 7 best NBA moments in Philly

Kobe Bryant's 7 best NBA moments in Philly

We are paying tribute to a legend. 

NBC Sports Philadelphia will re-broadcast three of Kobe Bryant's landmark games Monday night — the 2008 Olympic gold medal game at 6 p.m., followed by Bryant's final game in Philadelphia at 8 p.m. and the 2012 Olympic gold medal game at 10:30 p.m. 

Bryant honed his Hall of Fame talents at Lower Merion High School and sharpened his skills and competitiveness in the Sonny Hill League and on playgrounds across the Delaware Valley. 

Bryant had his share of highs and lows as a professional in his hometown. 

He played 17 regular-season games in Philadelphia, finishing with a 7-10 record and a 22.8 scoring average. More importantly, he had a perfect 3-0 record in postseason games in Philadelphia, with all three wins coming in the Lakers' 4-1 series victory over the 76ers in the 2001 NBA Finals. Bryant averaged 25.7 points in those three games and captured the second of his five career NBA championships. 

Here's a look back at some of Bryant's most memorable moments in Philly. 

First NBA game in Philadelphia — Nov. 26, 1996
Bryant played his first professional game in his hometown as an 18-year old reserve, scoring 12 points in 21 minutes in a 100-88 Lakers win. He shot 4 of 10 from the field, 2 of 5 from three-point range and made both of his free throw attempts.  

Bryant's rookie counterpart Allen Iverson finished with 16 points on 6 of 27 shooting and 10 assists. Former Temple star Eddie Jones and Shaquille O'Neal each had a game-high 23 points for the Lakers. 

Bryant came off the bench in 65 of the 71 games he played as a rookie, averaging 7.6 points in 15.5 minutes per game. 

NBA Finals — June 2001
The Lakers and Sixers arrived in Philadelphia for Games 3, 4, 5 of the 2001 NBA Finals with the series even at one game apiece. The 22-year old Bryant famously proclaimed that he was coming to Philly to "cut their hearts out."

The Lakers went on to win the next three games in Philadelphia to secure their second straight NBA championship. 

Game 3 was the closest of the three games — the Lakers won 96-91 behind Bryant's 32 points. He had 19 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists in a 14-point win in Game 4 before closing out the series with 26 points, 12 rebounds and six assists in a 12-point win in Game 5. 

2002 All-Star Game MVP — Feb. 10, 2002
Bryant's "cut their hearts out" comment was still fresh in the minds of Sixers fans eight months later when the 2002 All-Star game was played in Philadelphia. Bryant was booed throughout the night, but he fed off the negative energy to score a game-high 31 points and win the first of his four career All-Star Game MVP awards. 

He was subsequently booed during the All-Star MVP presentation and admitted that his feelings were hurt by the frosty reception from his hometown crowd.  

Bryant averaged 25.2 points during that 2001-2002 season and led the Lakers to a third straight NBA championship. 

44-point outburst — Dec. 20, 2002 
Bryant's best game in Philadelphia came 10 months after that 2002 All-Star Game, when he posted 44 points and 10 assists in a 107-104 loss to the Sixers. He shot 16 of 35 from the field, 2 of 5 from three-point range and made all 10 of his free throw attempts. 

Iverson led the Sixers to victory with 32 points, nine steals and five assists. Keith Van Horn had a double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds. 

The 2003 Lakers came up short in their quest for a fourth straight NBA title, losing to the Spurs in the Western Conference semifinals.

Snapping the streak — Dec. 21, 2007
Bryant and the Lakers got their first regular-season win in Philadelphia in nearly eight years, beating the Sixers 106-101 to snap a six-game losing streak at the formerly named Wachovia Center.

Bryant had 19 points in the win, but Andrew Bynum stole the show with 24 points and 11 rebounds. Andre Miller led the Sixers with 21 points and eight assists. 

The 2007-2008 season marked the first of three straight trips to the NBA Finals for Bryant and the Lakers. They would lose the 2008 Finals to the Celtics before beating the Magic in 2009 and winning a rematch with Boston in 2010. 

Last great performance in Philadelphia — Dec. 16, 2012
This was Bryant's last vintage performance in his hometown. The 34-year old Bryant had 34 points and six assists in a 111-98 win over the Sixers. Nick Young led the Sixers with 30 points, while Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes each scored 16 points. 

Bryant's 2012-2013 campaign ended with a torn Achilles tendon late in the 80th game of the regular season. The Kobe-less Lakers were swept by the Spurs in the first round of the playoffs. 

This turned out to be Bryant's last great season. He averaged 27.3 points, 6.0 assists and 5.6 rebounds to earn First Team All-NBA honors in his 17th NBA season. 

Final game in Philadelphia — Dec. 1, 2015
Bryant's last game in Philadelphia came nearly 14 years after he was booed during the 2002 All-Star Game. That proved to be plenty of time for old wounds to heal. He was showered with applause and tributes in his Philly farewell, and for a while it looked like he would deliver one final great performance in his hometown. 

Bryant opened the game by hitting 3 of his first 4 three-point attempts, whipping the Wells Fargo Center into a frenzy. But at 37 years old, Bryant eventually ran out of gas and finished 7 of 26 from the field in a 103-91 loss to a Sixers team that entered the game with an 0-18 record. 

Bryant scored 20 points and finished his 20th and final NBA season with a 17.6 scoring average.

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Sixers Talk podcast: Will Sixers have a chip on their shoulder if playoffs happen?

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NBCSP/USA Today Images

Sixers Talk podcast: Will Sixers have a chip on their shoulder if playoffs happen?

On this edition, Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick discuss:

(2:12) — Questioning Joel Embiid's fitness is like beating a dead horse; will the Sixers have a chip on their shoulder?
(13:22) — Charles Barkley calls Moses Malone trade a disaster to his career.
(20:20) — Would the season being cancelled be worse than watching our most hated rival winning the Finals?

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