Sixers' furious comeback bid falls just short vs. Warriors


Sixers' furious comeback bid falls just short vs. Warriors

Usually when Stephen Curry buries a three-pointer with 3:45 to go in a game to give the Warriors a 13-point lead, it means curtains for the opposition.

Considering the Warriors beat the Cavaliers, Bulls, Pacers, Spurs and Mavericks by an average margin of 25.4 points in their last five games, it would have been easy for the Sixers to get demoralized down by 13 in the waning moments Saturday.

But the Sixers aren’t like most NBA teams. Logic certainly doesn’t apply.

Instead of folding up against the defending champs, the Sixers went on a 15-2 run to tie the game with 22.3 seconds to go on a steal by Isaiah Canaan and a dunk from Ish Smith. In fact, just moments before Canaan put the Sixers on the verge of completing the comeback he hit a corner three-pointer and drew a foul from Curry to make it a two-point game with 38.6 seconds to go.

Problem for the Sixers was that they left too much time on the clock for the Warriors. Even though the Sixers double-teamed Curry on the last possession, the Warriors found Harrison Barnes in the corner for a three-pointer with 0.2 seconds left, handing Brett Brown's club a 108-105 loss.

Score it as another moral victory.

Still, improbably, in 24 seconds, the Sixers went from six points down to tie the game.

How did that happen? And how were the Sixers able to go toe-to-toe with the Warriors when powerhouses like the Spurs, Cavs, Bulls and Pacers could not?

“It was a testament to our coaching staff and a testament to our team that we kept grinding and kept pushing and found ourselves in a good position,” Smith said.

Actually, it was a statistical anomaly that the Sixers were down by 13 points late in the game. Considering that the Warriors had attempted just two free throws in the entire game — only the fourth time since records were kept going back to 1963 that a team attempted just two free throws in a game — and turned it over 23 times to the Sixers’ paltry 12, the Sixers, realistically, should have led.

But maybe the fact that the Warriors could hold a 13-point lead with so many turnovers, two free throws and a season-worst 35 points in the second half, shows how good they are.

“I guess you don’t need to take free throws when you shoot the ball as well as they do,” Smith said. “They shoot it really, really well. One time during the first half I didn’t think they were going to miss. It’s pretty special. They play with a rhythm and it’s not a surprise they are the champs.”

The Warriors shot 49.5 percent for the game and had 37 assists on 47 baskets. In the first half, they had a team-record 26 assists on 32 baskets while shooting 65.3 percent.

But the Sixers trailed by 19 at the half and didn’t play that badly. They turned it over just five times.

The flaw for the Sixers was foul shooting. They went 11 for 21 from the line in the game, including a combined 4 for 12 from Nerlens Noel (3 for 7) and Jahlil Okafor (1 for 5). In a way, the missed free throws could be construed as a turnover.

Still, Warriors coach Steve Kerr could sense that the Sixers were inching back into the game.

“I could feel it coming,” Kerr said. “The first five minutes of the third quarter we completely messed around with the game and we probably should’ve lost. You know, if the gods delivered what should’ve happened, we probably should’ve lost because that’s what happens when you mess around with the game and with the ball. We had 23 turnovers. After a beautiful first half of ball movement, we totally got away from our game and lost our focus. But, you know, Harrison [Barnes] bailed us out.”

There is the moral victory angle, which the Sixers really don’t want any part of (see story). Instead, Smith says the Sixers can use the loss to Warriors as a learning tool. Yeah, they lost, but they understand how to take that next step in tight games against good teams.

“We have to take the next step,” Smith said. “We’ve been right there. Chicago we took to overtime, Cleveland we were right there in the final two minutes. I look at that as where we need to grow and take that next step.”

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

A post shared by Matisse Thybulle (@theycallmetisse) on

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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