Sixers suddenly beating once unbeatable teams

Sixers suddenly beating once unbeatable teams


BOSTON — What a difference two games make.

The Sixers entered this week 0-8 against the top three Eastern Conference teams: the Celtics, Cavaliers and Raptors. By Thursday night, they had picked up two straight wins over them.

The Sixers followed up Monday’s victory over the Raptors with an 89-80 win over the Celtics (see observations)

“I think we are in a good position right now,” Ben Simmons said. “Still a lot of improvement, a lot of things we’ve got to pick up on, but I think we are doing really well and getting better.” 

All season long, a downfall of the Sixers has been giving up leads. Ten, 15, 20 points have been erased just like that. 

The Sixers’ largest advantage was 21 points in the last two games, and in both instances their opponents fought back. The Raptors cut the lead to one with three minutes to play; the Celtics got within seven with two minutes on the clock.

Unlike in the past, the Sixers held on for wins.

“We’ve been in that situation too many times,” Joel Embiid said. “We just have to stay calm and keep moving the ball. We made a couple mistakes, but everything was fine and we got the win.” 

The game was missing two key players. The Celtics were shorthanded without their leading scorer, Kyrie Irving (shoulder). The Sixers were down starting shooting guard JJ Redick (leg). Brett Brown considered their absences “almost a wash.” 

Newly-announced All-Star starter Embiid led all players with 26 points, 16 rebounds and six assists, his 19th double-double of the season. 

“They are still a great team,” Brown said of the Celtics. “For us to come in here and build a lead, hold onto the lead, close out the game, and at times not in a pretty way, is a fantastic result for us.” 

With the win, the Sixers snapped a seven-game losing streak at TD Garden dating back to April 4, 2014. They also avoided a regular-season sweep by the Celtics. 

The Sixers moved above .500 (21-20) and into the eight spot in the East. The Celtics and Raptors could be postseason pairings if the Sixers hold their ground in the standings, a scenario they are well aware of in these regular-season games. 

“I don’t know what seed we are going to be, but that’s a potential matchup in the playoffs,” Embiid said. “We always want to come out and try to dominate and let them know that it’s not going to be easy.”

Matisse Thybulle documents Sixers' first day in NBA 'bubble'

Matisse Thybulle documents Sixers' first day in NBA 'bubble'

Though the Sixers’ journey to Disney World for the NBA’s planned restart was not a typical road trip, some things haven’t changed.

Matisse Thybulle was still responsible for procuring Chick-fil-A for his veteran teammates. Tobias Harris still had a stint as “DJ Tobi.” And Joel Embiid still cracked jokes with his usual dry humor.

Thybulle posted a vlog on Saturday of the Sixers’ trip, documenting their flight to Orlando and early hours in quarantine. The players have since cleared the initial mandated quarantine and returned to practice Saturday for the first time since March 10.

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Day 1

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The personalized pillow is a nice touch from the staff at the Grand Floridian Hotel. And, though Thybulle was missing a fork at first, it didn’t sound like he had any complaints about the food.

As he said, “The chicken is chicken.”

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How Sixers will ramp up Ben Simmons, other key players for NBA restart

How Sixers will ramp up Ben Simmons, other key players for NBA restart

The Sixers have transitioned into the next phase of their stay at Disney World.

After an initial mandatory quarantine period, players have been cleared to leave their rooms. The team’s practice Saturday afternoon was its first since March 10. Back then, reporters stood behind a table at the team’s practice facility in Camden, New Jersey, and spoke to players from a distance. Saturday, the dialogue was through Zoom.

There are a lot of new protocols for everyone to get used to, but Brett Brown was glad to have his team together again.

“To see our team and everybody’s got their sort of elbow bumps going down the aisle of the bus, and to see the team again under one bus roof, it’s fantastic,” he said. 

Brown is adapting to the new conditions and still determining exactly how he’ll coach his team during this period. He did, however, have a firm answer on how often he plans to play Ben Simmons as the Sixers ramp back up. Simmons had missed the team’s final eight games before the season was suspended with a nerve impingement in his lower back, but he said on July 2 that he’s feeling healthy and has added muscle

I think in general when you look at the scrimmage situations, you’re going to see something that’s quite frugal,” Brown said. “I believe when it gets into the regular-season games, you’re going to see normal numbers that I’ve played him. And so that answer isn’t delivered because of anything to do with health. It’s delivered just because I think that’s the way that I want to do it, and the way that I will do it with (Joel Embiid) and Tobias (Harris), as examples, because of their stature more than anything to do with health.

Embiid had been sidelined for five games in late February and early March with a left shoulder sprain. Harris has more minutes than any NBA player this season and played through a right knee issue earlier in the year.

The Sixers are set to have scrimmages on July 24, July 26 and July 28, and to resume play on Aug. 1 against the Indiana Pacers. 

Nobody in the NBA has experienced anything like this situation before, which Brown acknowledged. He’s in a position of attempting to find and capitalize on opportunities for normalcy while also making the best of the circumstances, with many restrictions in place. 

“This thing is fluid,” Brown said, “but I believe it will be normal in relation to no mask and me being able to look at Ben and Jo and talk to them (at practice),” Brown said. “Personally, I feel like it’s not normal. You’re going to have to feel different things through of how you deliver a message and how you coach a team again, and I’m excited to be able to do that.”

‘An open mind’ about concerns 

Harris’ outlook is an important one for the Sixers. He’s clearly viewed as a leader, someone his teammates respect and have talked to often while play has been suspended.  

In his first meeting with local reporters since before the hiatus, he gave his thoughts on players who have expressed their opinions on the league resuming, ranging from disagreement to doubt to hesitation. Joel Embiid said he “hated the idea,” while Shake Milton said he doesn't think the NBA should be playing.

Just try to understand their perspective, just to hear them out with an open mind,” Harris said. “Everybody takes this in a different way. You can look at it in many different facets, with what’s going on in the world, whether coming out here is safe or not as safe for some guys. Guys leaving family, guys being free agents. So everybody has a little bit of doubt in their mind with everything. 

“Just hear them out, understand them. Try to do our best with it. So I think that’s the best thing we can do. But everybody’s going to have their own type of inner feelings about it, and that’s not to say that mine is right or theirs is right … so just hearing them out.

The Bobi and Tobi Show? 

As the Sixers acclimate to the Disney environment, Harris has already received a visit from a familiar face. He had a fun exchange Friday with Boban Marjanovic, and there might be more “Bobi and Tobi” antics to come.

“Obviously it’s always good to be around Bobi and see him — as you saw yesterday, him in front of my hotel room,” Harris said. “It’s always light-hearted, it’s a fun thing. I definitely look forward to catching up with him while I’m out here. There’s some things in the works.”

At some point, perhaps a month or two down the line, this new routine might become comfortable for Harris and the Sixers. But it understandably sounds like that’s going to take a while. 

"Obviously there’s so much involved in it, from food to sleep to making sure we’re stretching right,” Glenn Robinson III said. “It kind of feels like a summer camp with everything going on. It’s easy to get distracted or caught up in everything, but our eyes are just on practice, getting better and just making sure that we’re good, as far as the team.”

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