Devin Booker

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

BOX SCORE 

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) 

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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. 



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Sixers close out 2017 calendar year in fashion

Sixers close out 2017 calendar year in fashion

BOX SCORE

PHOENIX — The Sixers jumped on the third quarter roller coaster Sunday night in Phoenix, and held on for a 123-110 win over the Suns, a score that doesn't reflect how close the second half was.

An 18-point lead dwindled away over 10 minutes in the third until the Sixers were hanging on to a three-point advantage heading into the fourth.

Like the Sixers did to the Nuggets the night before, the Suns staged a comeback with a 28-10 run in the third to change the tone of the game and turn the fourth into a battle.

The Sixers held the Suns scoreless in the final 1:31 to prevail with their second win of this three-game road trip. With this victory, the Sixers won back-to-back games for the first time since Nov. 20-25. 

• Joel Embiid took a hard fall late in the third and came up grabbing his right hand. He stayed in the game, tallying 22 points, nine rebounds and five assists on the night. Embiid said his hand is not broken and thinks it is a strain (see story).

• The Suns were active fouling Ben Simmons in the fourth. He shot 5 of 9 from the line in the final quarter. Simmons posted 21 points, nine rebounds, six dimes, three steals and three blocks.

"I know coach needs me to be more aggressive offensively, so I definitely had to do that this game," he said. 

• Dario Saric led the Sixers with another strong offensive outing, with 27 points off 4 for 5 three-point shooting. He is averaging 24.0 points in his last three games.

"I need to stay focused and believing in myself, believing in what I am doing on the court," Saric said. "The last couple of games I've had some good games." 

JJ Redick added 22 points.

• Devin Booker, who dominated the Sixers with 46 points in their previous game, still did damage. He scored 32 points after only four in the first half. While the focus is on Booker, TJ Warren posed problems with 28 points (11 in the first quarter).

"It had to be a team effort," Brett Brown said of defending Booker. "I think we did a really good job. He's really hard to guard. If you weren't coaching against him, he's somebody you would pay to go see. He's got a real balance and a real ability to put points on the board."

• Yet again, turnovers came into play. The Sixers committed seven of their 21 in the third.

• Tempo was a focal point of this game. Players and coach alike could be heard from the court yelling to push the ball and get back on defense.

• In a matchup reminiscent of practices of the past, T.J. McConnell and Isaiah Canaan were matched up at point guard. All that was missing was a guest appearance by JaKarr Sampson. The Suns signed Canaan in mid-December as a backup.

• Markelle Fultz continued on with the team to Phoenix. He was working with coaches on individuals drills before the game.

• There was a strong cheering section for former University of Arizona players Jerryd Bayless and McConnell. Bayless saw a bump in minutes (25) after Saturday’s 14-point performance.

• Justin Anderson (shin splints) was inactive for the second straight game.