Dario Saric

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


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) 

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers

Sixers at Suns: Live stream, storylines, game time and more

Sixers at Suns: Live stream, storylines, game time and more

How long can this last? 

The Sixers are in Phoenix Monday night to play the surprising 4-2 Suns, seeking to move to 6-0 after an incredible comeback win Saturday over the Trail Blazers

Here are the essentials for tonight’s game:

When: 9 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 8:30 p.m.
Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch:

It’s not all about Booker 

The Sixers are focused on stopping Devin Booker, and that’s very understandable. Booker went for 37 points in both of the meetings between the teams last season.

“Devin Booker is one of the best scorers this league has,” Josh Richardson told reporters Saturday night in Portland. “We’ve gotta make it tough on him, try to get the ball out of his hands. They’ve been rolling, so we can’t come out flat or they’re going to make us pay for it. I think just asserting ourselves in the first half is going to be huge for us.” 

Booker’s scoring average is actually slightly down from last year through the Suns’ first six games, at 23.8 points per game. He’s been more efficient, though, and is 16 of 34 (47.1 percent) from three-point range.

Phoenix is sharing the ball well, with a league-best 68.8 assist percentage. New addition Ricky Rubio is a big part of that, averaging 8.2 assists per game along with 11.0 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.2 steals.

A reunion for Horford  

The Al Horford-Aron Baynes frontcourt helped kick the Sixers out of the playoffs in 2017-18. Those two will be playing against each other tonight.

Baynes has taken over as the Suns’ starting center following DeAndre Ayton’s 25-game suspension for a positive test for a diuretic. The Australian big man has had an excellent start to the season, knocking down 12 of 26 threes (46.2 percent) and averaging 15.0 points in a little over 23 minutes per game. 

Horford has been everything the Sixers have asked for through five games and will start again at center with Joel Embiid serving the second game of a two-game suspension for his fight Wednesday with the Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns. 

Familiar faces 

The Suns have a couple of familiar faces in head coach Monty Williams, Brett Brown’s assistant last season, and forward Dario Saric.

After being shipped to Minnesota last November as part of the Sixers’ trade for Jimmy Butler, Saric was dealt from the Timberwolves to Phoenix this July in a draft-night deal. Embiid, Ben Simmons, Jonah Bolden and Furkan Korkmaz are the only players on the Sixers’ current roster that he played with during his time in Philadelphia, which puts the volume of moves general manager Elton Brand has made into context. 

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers

Sixers' week ahead: A possible playoff preview, Tobias Harris' slump, Jimmy Butler's return to Minnesota

Sixers' week ahead: A possible playoff preview, Tobias Harris' slump, Jimmy Butler's return to Minnesota

While the sting of a disappointing loss in Atlanta is still fresh, the Sixers have a chance to redeem themselves Monday night in Orlando.

They’ll also host Brooklyn in a possible playoff preview and catch up with an old friend in Minnesota Saturday.

Here’s a look at the Sixers’ week ahead.

Hoping to find the Magic

Whether it was a letdown coming off a couple big wins or them taking a hungry young Hawks team too lightly, the Sixers simply didn’t show up Saturday night.

Their defense in the first half was horrendous as they allowed 74 points, the most they’ve surrendered to an opponent in a half this season. They struggled with a familiar issue, failing to stifle rookie Trae Young in the pick-and-roll.

But as Brett Brown alluded to postgame, it wasn’t strategy. It was execution.

“We had probably three or four different [adjustments] from blitzing to switching to hedging to dropping,” Brown said. “If you really dug in and looked at that, you would have seen that. I can’t say that any of them were incredibly effective, but they did force us to try and make different adjustments in the pick-and-roll.”

Expect a better effort Monday against a Magic team that’s fighting for its playoff life.

Tobi will come around

Tobias Harris was a monster in his first eight games as a Sixer, averaging 21.9 points while shooting 55 percent from the field and 42 percent from three. In his last 11, he’s down to 17.3 points on 45 percent from the field and 31 percent from three.

Harris is having an All-Star-caliber season, but every player — especially shooters — has their ups and downs. JJ Redick is a perfect example. He wasn’t hitting anything after the All-Star break and then followed it up with a torrid five-game stretch in which he shot 55 percent from three.

Whether it’s fatigue — he’s played in all 74 games for his teams this season — or just a rough patch, Harris deserves the benefit of the doubt given his recent track record. Also, it’s better that he gets this kind of slump out of the way now instead of mid-April. 

Playoff preview?

The Nets have given the Sixers fits this season. Guards D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie have scorched them, averaging a combined 51 points while both shooting over 55 percent in three matchups this season.

The only Sixers’ win was because of a furious comeback capped off by a ridiculous Jimmy Butler game-winner. In fairness, the teams haven’t squared off since Dec. 12 and Butler was out of the lineup — Furkan Korkmaz started in his place — in a three-point Sixers’ loss. This isn't even the same Sixers team.

If the playoffs started today, this would be the first-round matchup. It would behoove the Sixers to show up Thursday in front of their home crowd.

The return of Jimmy

Butler will return to Minnesota for the first time since the drama of his trade request ultimately landed him on the Sixers. 

While Butler was relatively quiet in the Sixers’ blowout win back on Jan. 15, he’s been a force recently. Over his last five games, Butler is averaging 23.8 points a game. 

The two most encouraging signs are his free throws and threes in that span. Butler has been aggressive getting to the rim, averaging 8.8 free throw attempts a game. Him attempting 3.2 threes and hitting 38 percent from there is a huge boon for his fit alongside Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.

The Sixers will also see Dario Saric for the second time as an opponent. Saric was such a key part of the Sixers’ playoff run last season, but has struggled to carve out a consistent role with the Timberwolves. Robert Covington, the key asset in that deal, is sidelined for the rest of the season with a knee injury. Covington hasn’t played in 2019.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers