There's a meaning behind Jimmy Butler and Ben Simmons wearing matching headbands in Sixers' win

There's a meaning behind Jimmy Butler and Ben Simmons wearing matching headbands in Sixers' win

After the Sixers’ loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers last Friday, the team faced questions about slow starts, pick-and-roll coverage and defensive rebounding.

After Friday night’s 123-98 victory over the Washington Wizards (see observations), everyone was buzzing about Ben Simmons and Jimmy Butler’s matching white headbands. 

Such is life when you’ve won seven of eight games, including two straight blowouts.

Eight Sixers scored in double-figures on Friday, as no starter had to play more than 25 minutes. 

Simmons had 13 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds, and shot a perfect 5 for 5 from the field, 3 for 3 from the foul line.

He explained the origin of the headbands.

“I’ve just been wearing it in practice,” Simmons said. “[Jimmy] said if I wear it, he’s going to wear it.”

Butler tested the headband out in an unconventional look at Thursday’s practice, wrapping it around his hoodie.

He had a smile on his face, but head coach Brett Brown thought the headbands had a deeper symbolic meaning. 

They are defensive brothers. They’re blood brothers — that band to me signifies a bonding, a defensive bonding. I’ve asked Jimmy to put Ben under his wing and really help Ben be all he can be defensively. Ben was our bell ringer tonight. … I thought he was excellent. So that’s what it is. It’s a bonding of defensive brothers, the headband.

Brown said before the game that “defensive accountability” is the biggest area in which Butler, in his early days as a Sixer, has helped Simmons. He believes Simmons can be “as good a defender as he wants to be.”

Having a notorious defensive competitor like Butler around can't hurt Simmons’ growth on that end of the floor.

The two had a 112 defensive rating when they shared the floor in Butler’s first eight games with the team, but it would be a surprise if that number doesn’t significantly drop. 

Following another quality defensive team effort, every Sixer who sat down at the microphone postgame was in a joking mood.

T.J. McConnell smiled and gave a “no comment” when asked about the headbands.

Joel Embiid said he was “kind of disappointed. I was expecting them to score at least 40 points or 50.”

Butler said, in jest, that he wanted the No. 25 but “for some reason” the team wouldn’t give it to him. 

He said rookie Landry Shamet got a “firm pat on the tail” in exchange for giving up No. 23.

If the Sixers keep blowing teams out, fashion choices will stay in the spotlight, not turnover problems or Brown’s substitutions. 

As Butler put it, “the headband is in right now.” 

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Joel Embiid dominates, Tobias Harris comes alive in second as Sixers down Celtics

Joel Embiid dominates, Tobias Harris comes alive in second as Sixers down Celtics


Joel Embiid said Tuesday night that he hasn't been having fun this season. It looked like he was having a blast at TD Garden Thursday.

In what was easily Embiid's finest game of the season, the Sixers ramped up their defense in the second half to beat the Celtics, 115-109.

Al Horford did not play against his former team as he's dealing with left knee soreness and left hamstring tightness.

Embiid was his dominant self and Tobias Harris had an outstanding second half in helping give Boston its first home loss of the season. The Sixers also did well to hold Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to a combined 8 of 27.

The victory improves the Sixers to 6-7 on the road and 19-7 overall. They've won 12 of their last 14. They’ll be right back at it again Friday night as they host JJ Redick and the Pelicans at the Wells Fargo Center (7 p.m./NBCSP).

Here are observations from the win:

A different Embiid

Whether it was Embiid taking heed of the national criticism or not, the All-Star center did play with a different energy. Like many before them, the Celtics double teamed him at just about every opportunity early. As the game went on, they gave him more 1-on-1 looks against Enes Kanter with mixed results.

To Embiid’s credit, he wasn’t forcing things. He did well to be patient, getting himself baskets and finding cutters and shooters with regularity. He also didn’t have a turnover in the first half and had just two for the game. 

One thing that seemed to help Embiid a bit were his minutes with Josh Richardson. Richardson, playing just his second game since missing the previous six, is one of the few Sixers that can create off the dribble and also hit outside shots. The pick-and-roll pairing is developing. You also saw a little of the “snug” action — a pick-and-roll initiated in the post — with Embiid and Simmons. Give Brett Brown credit for trying to get his “crown jewel” in different actions and trying to get him different looks.

With 4:04 left in the game, Embiid buried a three to give the Sixers a 100-92 lead and got fired up afterward. It sure looked like he was having fun out there as he finished with a season-high 38 points (12 of 21), 13 rebounds and six assists. He also had a nasty block on Daniel Theis which essentially sealed the game.

It’s not how you start …

As we’ve seen over the years, Brown likes to keep certain players together and doesn’t use typical substitution patterns. The duo of Simmons and Harris had a tough first half.

Harris went just 3 of 11 in the first half, but he kept the aggressive mentality he’s shown lately. He attacked his mismatches, posting up Boston’s smaller players and taking their bigs off the dribble. He hit 7 of his 9 shots after halftime. He finished 10 of 20 overall for 23 points and also added eight rebounds, seven assists and two blocks.

It was a rough start for Simmons. He committed two early turnovers as the Celtics had a clear plan to clog the paint. The Sixers shot the ball well from three in the first half (9 of 17) and that did help open things up a bit for Simmons. Like Harris, Simmons did have a couple post ups to take advantage of smaller players. The Sixers playing better defense in the second helped Simmons push the pace a bit more, as well. Still, this was another lackluster game from Simmons offensively. He finished with just seven points and had six assists but five turnovers.

Simmons has been excellent on the defensive end this season but did have trouble with the slippery Kemba Walker in the first half. The All-Star guard has always given the Sixers fits and that’s part of the reason Simmons picked up three fouls and sat out the last 2:36 of the first half. Much like the rest of the Sixers, his defense went up a notch in the second half. Walker went just 1 of 8 after halftime after shooting 7 of 13 in the first.

Defense finds its legs after halftime

In the first half, the Sixers’ defense was not at the level it’s been recently. They came into the game as the fourth-best rated defensive team in the league and were coming off a game in which they gave up just 92 points to the Nuggets.

Thursday night was a different story at the start. Boston was simply beating the Sixers off the dribble and punishing them with middle pick-and-rolls. That allowed the Celtics to shoot 53.3 percent from the field and to hold a 32-22 advantage in the paint. That gap closed to 48-44 by the end of the game

The Sixers did make adjustments as it appeared they switched more on the perimeter and the five man hedged a little harder. Boston scored just 21 points in the third and the Sixers came away with several timely defensive stands down the stretch.

Though Richardson was still on a minutes restriction, he showed you his value by chasing Walker the most effectively and being disruptive on that end.

Thybulle can shoot on the road

It was an interesting night for Matisse Thybulle. The rookie, who was actually selected by the Celtics before a draft-night trade made him a Sixer, also had his struggles with Walker early. Thybulle played Walker tough in the season opener but seemed to have issues navigating screens, something he generally does extremely well. Like Simmons, his defense against Walker improved.

When tasked with guarding Jaylen Brown, Thybulle did quite well. He frustrated Brown, who tried to bully the rookie in the post. Instead, Thybulle poked the ball away for a turnover and then drew an offensive foul. Thybulle had a steal and two blocks on the night.

On the offensive end, Thybulle evened his home/road shooting splits. He’d shot the three significantly better at home (20 of 30) than on the road (5 of 24) but went 2 of 4 Thursday. It’s a good sign that the 22-year-old appears to be improving as a shooter and that those splits may just be a coincidence.

Great Scott

With Horford out, Mike Scott got the start and gave the Sixers much-needed shooting. He was perhaps the biggest beneficiary of Embiid drawing so much attention. He made his first four shots from the outside and finished 5 of 7 from three.

Scott was mired in a 1-of-16 slump until Brown inserted him into the starting lineup against the Cavaliers last Saturday. Since then, he’s 7 of 15.

Kyle O'Quinn, who got the backup five minutes in place of Horford, had his struggles. He finished a minus-15.

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Sixers at Celtics: 3 storylines to watch and how to follow the game

Sixers at Celtics: 3 storylines to watch and how to follow the game

Updated: 7:12 p.m.

The Sixers (18-7) will be in Boston Thursday night to take on the Celtics (17-6) at TD Garden.

This would've been Al Horford’s first appearance in Boston as a Sixer, but he's now listed as out. The veteran big, who opted out of his player option with the Celtics to join the Sixers this offseason, is dealing with left knee soreness and left hamstring tightness and just popped up on the injury report earlier today.

Boston is coming off a tough loss in Indiana last night. It was also a rough night for Boston in the injury department. Gordon Hayward, who just returned to the lineup after missing 13 games with a broken hand, was forced to leave the game after taking a shot to the nose. He's listed as probable. Marcus Smart (eye infection) and Robert Williams (hip) will both miss their third straight game.

Here are the essentials for tonight’s game:

When: 8 p.m. ET 
Where: TD Garden
Broadcast: TNT
Live stats: Follow here 

And here are three storylines to watch:

Big Al returns to Boston

Even though Horford won't play, the reception he receives should be interesting. When he signed his big free-agent deal with the Celtics back in 2016, it was a move that helped the revitalization of the franchise.

Though the fan reaction will surely be mixed with Horford returning with a rival, the Celtics’ players will be happy to see him again.

“He should be celebrated,” Jaylen Brown said to NBC Sports Boston. “Boston fans, they're gonna do what they want, right? Al came here, contributed, took this team the farthest it’s been since ‘08 [NBA champions]. Al served his time well here."

Brown added, “For me, he was a great leader, a great person … I know I’ll clap for him when they call his name. That’s just me.”

Just 23 games in a Sixers uniform and Horford has already had a similar impact on the players here.

“He’s just a real role model, in terms of how he lives his life,” Tobias Harris said to our Serena Winters. “There’s no real ups and downs with him. In my opinion, he’s the definition of a consistent person — comes in everyday, same attitude, same spirit, win or loss. The way he shapes his day-to-day life is inspiring for real.”

Embiid hears the criticism … and he agrees

In case you missed it, Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal were blunt if their criticism of Joel Embiid after Tuesday night’s win over Denver. They said they felt like the All-Star center wasn’t putting in the effort to be great.

Embiid, who said postgame Tuesday that he wasn’t having as much fun this season, wasn’t offended by the criticism. In fact, he agreed with it.

“That’s what they do," Embiid told reporters. "Maybe they’re right. Maybe. I do think they are right. I do need to be more aggressive. Look to impose myself. Look to dominate. I think the whole season I haven’t done that and you can see the ways it’s affecting my efficiency and my stats. I guess I need to go back to having fun and just dominate. I get what they are saying. I think they are right and I gotta make a change.”

Embiid’s scoring numbers are down, but he’s still No. 1 in the NBA in terms of defensive rating for players averaging at least 25 minutes a game.

National TV, facing criticism, going on a tangent about not having fun, up against a rival — this seems like it’s lining up for a big night for the big man. 

J-Rich working off the rust

Josh Richardson was playing his best basketball as a Sixer when tightness in his right hamstring cost him six games. He returned Tuesday, but looked awfully rusty, going just 1 of 8 in under 20 minutes.

Though the Sixers went 5-1 in the games he missed, what the Sixers lost on both sides of the ball with Richardson out was evident. In the six games before his absence, Richardson was averaging 20.2 points while shooting a scalding 55.9 percent from three and 53.1 percent overall.

The skill the Sixers missed most was Richardson’s ability to create off the dribble, especially in the pick-and-roll. Brett Brown hasn’t run a ton of pick-and-roll in the past, but that’s mostly because of personnel. Richardson excels in that action and it’s one that helps the Sixers put other teams in a bind.

Richardson will still likely be on some form of minutes restriction.

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