For Sixers, hints of regaining mojo in Game 3 a mirage

For Sixers, hints of regaining mojo in Game 3 a mirage

Looks can be deceiving.

If you watched Saturday’s Sixers-Celtics Game 3 clash at the Wells Fargo Center, there were certainly moments when it seemed like the home team had regained its mojo.

The Sixers had highlight-reel dunks (you’ve all seen that monster Joel Embiid smash over Aron Baynes by now) and some of those acrobatic three-pointers. Heck, even the confetti cannon went off as is customary after Sixers’ wins.

“Well, initially because you think you've just won the game,” head coach Brett Brown said of his feelings after seeing the confetti fly following Marco Belinell’s buzzer-beater to end regulation.

But in the end, it was all just a mirage as the Sixers suffered a gut-wrenching 101-98 loss to the Boston Celtics to fall down 3-0 in their second-round series (see observations).

“Everybody was happy, but at the end of the day we lost the game, so who cares?” Belinelli said.

It wasn’t just the fact the Sixers were handed another defeat by their storied rival, but it was how this one went down.

Every time the Sixers looked like they might gain the upper hand in the back-and-forth affair, a closer glance at the box score revealed it was never meant to be on this night.

For the second straight game, a starter was limited to a single point and failed to make a field goal (Robert Covington was 0 for 8). That mirrored the struggles of the entire team as the Sixers shot just 39.2 percent overall.

There were more maddening late-game turnovers that led to Boston baskets, including JJ Redick’s errant pass in the final seconds of regulation and Ben Simmons’ giveaway near the end of the overtime. In all, the Sixers committed five of their 15 turnovers in the fourth quarter and OT with each one doing more damage than the last.

“There were some key turnovers at the end, we all know what they are, hurt us,” Brown said. “The Celtics’ defense was excellent and on two plays that really do stand out, you wish you had those back.”

“We made mistakes — it doesn't matter how old we are, and it doesn't matter that we've never been in this position,” Embiid said. “You’ve got to give them a lot of credit. They competed, they showed up when it was the time to show up, and we didn’t.”

Somehow still the Sixers seemed like they may literally snatch a victory away and climb back into the series. However, they rushed just to hand control back to the C’s. 

That was when the Sixers held a one-point lead with 18.0 ticks left in overtime and Simmons grabbed an offensive rebound. Instead of pulling the ball back out and milking the clock, he took a quick shot and missed.

The Celtics grabbed the board and scored on an Al Horford layup following a timeout to put them ahead for good.

While Simmons’ teammates supported his decision to go for the quick points at the rim, Brown wasn’t so sure.

“I think if it was a point-blank dunk, you probably would take that, but he didn't do it,” the coach said. “It's true he makes that all the time in practice. There's [18] seconds left. If we had it again, you probably bring it right back out and let them chase you and follow you and chew up the clock.”

Either way, when the smoke cleared (or confetti in this case), the Sixers were staring elimination right in the face for the first time this postseason.

“It sucked to lose this way,” Embiid said. “I felt like we had control of the whole game, especially when we made that run at the end of the first half. We felt really good, but we made a couple mistakes at the end, and it wasn't good on our part.”

Sixers Talk podcast: The Sixers are bound to go on a run

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Sixers Talk podcast: The Sixers are bound to go on a run

Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick discuss Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons' relationship, if the Sixers are going to go on a run, stability around the team and more on this edition of Sixers Talk.

• Are you encouraged by the way Jo and Ben acted toward each other during All-Star weekend? (2:00)

• The team's mettle will be tested with six of the next nine games on the road (5:45)

• Are the Sixers finally poised to go on a run? (7:43) 

• Eastern Conference betting odds (14:40)

• Is there enough stability and structure in the organization? (20:54)

• How troubling would it be if Jimmy Butler and the Heat go further than the Sixers? (31:47)

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Brett Brown is more interested in Joel Embiid's head than his hand

Brett Brown is more interested in Joel Embiid's head than his hand

CAMDEN, N.J. — In Sunday night’s NBA All-Star Game, Joel Embiid did not appear bothered by his left hand. He sought out contact, didn’t seem to be in pain or discomfort, and posted 22 points and 10 rebounds. He also did not wear a splint on his left hand, as he'd done since returning from a torn ligament in his ring finger.

A team spokesperson said Wednesday that will remain the case with the Sixers, and that Embiid will now use buddy tape on his hand.

After Embiid shot 6 for 26 on Feb. 6 against the Bucks, head coach Brett Brown told reporters in Milwaukee he thought Embiid’s hand was affecting his shooting. 

Embiid had also said his hand was having an adverse impact.

“The Miami game, you’re kind of scared sometimes, you’re just trying to look for a foul or try to be physical,” he said. “Especially on the rebounds — I think that’s where it affects me the most. But, like I said, it’s not an excuse. I’ve gotta just figure it out and keep pushing.”

Still, Brown leaned toward the metaphorical after practice Wednesday when asked a broad question about Embiid’s health. 

I think the place that interests me the most, where I see his conditioning incrementally getting to an elite level, is his head. I think he is in a space that is excellent as it relates to his excitement, seeing this final third home — to grab the team by the throat and lead us in a bunch of different areas. ... I've been with him a long time, and when I look at him and I talk to him and I hear his words ... and we're always sort of, like you would with your children, judging their body language and all that. 

“I just think he's in a really good space. As it relates to the physical conditioning, we just went up and down hard for about 60 minutes — really up and down, up and down, up and down — saw no drop off. If you study the tape from the other night and you watch Joel Embiid run the floor and some of his rim runs … we all would be saying, 'Well, shoot, it can't get any better than that.' And so I think his fitness level is fine, and I think his headspace is even better. 

As for Embiid’s hand, Brown deferred judgement. After missing nine games with the injury, Embiid has played in eight contests, averaging 21 points and 10.4 rebounds. He’s shot 44.1 percent from the floor, 38.2 percent on three-point shots and 69.9 percent at the foul line.

“I believe I'll be able to tell more when when he gets double teamed at what I call the up block … and he's forced to pass more with his left hand, which used to be all bandaged up,” Brown said. “I used to get worried in that environment where people would come hard looking to whack it or double team him from that floor spot. I look forward to seeing him pass from that floor spot.

“It's easier on the other side, the down side, with his right hand, and I think that's where it will stand out probably the most for me, to see the difference of no wrap and the one that used to be wrapped.”

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