The700Level

Did the Sixers Really Win That Game II: The Portis vs. The Process

Did the Sixers Really Win That Game II: The Portis vs. The Process

Geez, if you only watched the ends of the last two Philadelphia 76ers games, you'd think they were owed years' worth of good karma from getting perpetually screwed in the fourth quarter or something. That's right, the basketball gods may have finally approved the Sixers' line of credit: One game (and eight days) after Brett Brown's squad came back from 20-plus down to squeak one past the Miami Heat, the team again pulled out a miracle last night in Chicago, coming from five down in the final minute against the Bulls to win 116-115. 

And boy, did this one feel like a loss, too. After surging out to a 25-7 lead in the first, the Sixers quickly relinquished the majority of their lead to the Bulls, who pulled even in the third and kept the Sixers from ever running away with it. They hit an absurd 18 threes, tying a season high, and two role players posted career highs: starting wing David Nwaba (21 points on 9-14 shooting) and bench forward Bobby Portis (38 points on 15-26 shooting, including a stupefying 6-9 from three). 

Meanwhile, the Sixers went cold down the stretch; Robert Covington missed a clean look at a three, Ben Simmons missed two of two from the line, Joel Embiid dribbled the ball off his foot. When Zach LaVine hit a tough pull-up three to put Chicago up five with a minute to go, and then Cov missed an open baseline two, it almost felt a merciful end to our suffering. 

But somehow, that wasn't it. Portis shot a long two a little too quickly at the other end and missed, and Simmons put back his own miss at the other end for a quick two to cut it to three. LaVine bricked a tough jumper with 17 to go, and J.J. got fouled at the other end to prevent a possible tying three. He made both, and then good ball denial on the ensuing Chicago inbounds led to an Embiid steal and pass to Simmons, who got fouled. 

After going just 4-9 from the line to that point, Simmons calmly nailed both his free throws to put Philly up one. Embiid stonewalled a Portis attempt near the basket at the other end with seconds to go, Denzel Valentine's putback attempt missed, and the game was over, with the Philly outscoring Chicago 6-0 in the final minute to seal the W. 

It was beautiful, man. There aren't going to be many games in this life where you give up 18 threes, allow two opposing players to go for career highs, miss 14 free throws and go down five with 60 seconds to go and still somehow manage to win the damn thing. 

But there also aren't gonna be many teams in this life with a one-two punch as potent as Simmons and Embiid. The latter picked up where he left off at the All-Star Game, scoring 30 (on 11-17 shooting, including 3-3 from deep) with 13 boards, five assists, three steals and two blocks -- just a few box score tallies away from his first 5x5 game. And the former picked up where he left off before the All-Star Game, scoring a career-high 32 (13-18 shooting) to go with seven boards, 11 assists a steal and a block. And maybe most impressive of all? The two had just three turnovers between them in 69 combined minutes. 

Ben and Jo were nothing less than dominant on offense all night. They couldn't turn the faucet off on the Bulls defensively for most of the game -- though aside from a couple slow-ish rotations in the first half, I'm not even sure they played all that badly, rather just paying the three-point defense regression to the mean that Liberty Ballers writer Sean O'Connor had long been warning fans about

But in any event, Embiid finally got the best of Portis in the final minutes, shutting him down on a couple crucial possessions (including the final one), and he made the play of the night on that inbounds steal. When you have two transcendent talents -- as Embiid and Simmons undoubtedly have proven they are, even this early in their careers -- you win a lot of games you probably shouldn't, and gravity was finally on the Sixers' side tonight. 

Of course, the Sixers might not've needed such combined brilliance from their two best players if their supporting cast was able to pick up the slack a little. But no one else was really cooking for Philly last night, and as is becoming a distressingly frequent occurrence this season, Covington hit a couple shots early and then went flat for the rest of the game. Even on the Bulls broadcast, they were talking about how Cov was gonna have to hit shots in the playoffs for the Sixers to have a chance, and they're probably right: We need Rock's defense and smarts out there, but if he's gonna routinely brick open looks in big moments, he's gonna be a liability -- and he's now 6 of his last 29 from deep. 

But that's a concern for another day -- one that seems more and more likely to actually be upcoming at this point. In the meantime, Philly is 31-25, having won six in a row, and with a creampuff game coming up next at home against Orlando, before a three-game roadie against East playoff teams (Washington, Miami and Cleveland) that represents the only really tough swing remaining on the Sixers' schedule. The playoffs seem increasingly probable, and with Simmons and Embiid playing at this level, just about anything seems possible if we get there. Pity the foolish rival execs who still don't trust the process at this point. 

No excuse for how Sixers handled draft night trade of Mikal Bridges

No excuse for how Sixers handled draft night trade of Mikal Bridges

To be perfectly honest, I can’t tell you a whole lot about Mikal Bridges, other than he’s a Villanova product and two-time national champion. I can’t tell you a thing about Zhaire Smith. And an unprotected first-round pick in 2021 is so far away, it could really be anything, or change hands three more times until then.

I don’t know if the Sixers were winners or losers at the NBA draft after trading Bridges to Phoenix for Smith and the Miami pick. Nobody knows that. We all have our opinions, but we don’t know.

The only thing anybody can say for certain is the organization should be embarrassed, no matter how this plays out on a basketball court.

The Sixers should be embarrassed, but not because the front office took a risk or made an unpopular decision. Love it or hate it, the trade was made with a clear vision, and it took courage for Brett Brown the interim general manager to give his OK, realizing it wasn’t necessarily the best move for Brett Brown the head coach in the immediate. Fortune sometimes favors the bold.

No, the Sixers should be embarrassed for pulling a bait-and-switch on Bridges, a 21-year-old kid and Philadelphia hero, while he was on live TV talking about how ecstatic his mom was he would be playing pro basketball in his hometown. Draft night trades are the norm in the NBA, so why would an NBA team put a young man and his family in that position less than 30 minutes after the selection was made?

Especially when, all the while, Brown was still fielding offers for Bridges.

“The phones were active and we knocked back an incredible deal where we would lose him,” Brown said after the conclusion of the first round. “We didn’t rate it to be a godfather type of deal, something that would impact the franchise to the level that it would have to in order to trade Mikal, who we valued very much.

“Then Phoenix came in and offered a 2021 unprotected [first-round pick], plus our 1B in Zhaire, who we valued very highly, and you’re in a position that you’re on the clock and you have a decision to make.”

The Sixers should be embarrassed by the latest in an increasingly long line of public relations blunders. If this were the only example of the organization’s ineptitude, it would be unfortunate, but forgivable. Instead, it was par for the course.

This is the same organization that took its sweet time ousting Bryan Colangelo amid a bizarre social media scandal mere weeks ago; that never convincingly explained the mysterious circumstances that led to Markelle Fultz sitting out most of his rookie season; that has frequently and publicly feuded with Joel Embiid over playing time; that was previously caught hiding major Embiid injury information from fans; that has a medical team constantly under fire for its inability to quickly and accurately diagnose injuries; that just endured years of bad PR for tanking, until it finally reached a point where the league allegedly stepped in and had to force Sam Hinkie out. Did we miss anything? Probably.

No, I don’t think we’re making too much about a press conference. Too often for far too long, the Sixers have come off as dysfunctional in far too many arenas, and it can't be endearing to the likes of LeBron James, other top-tier free agents and available veteran players or even the organization's own stars.

At least one person in the building seemed to understand how sensitive a situation this was.

“I live in this city with you all,” said Brown. “I watch Villanova. I love (Bridges’) mom. I love his college coach. There’s a human side of this that’s really kind of hard to explain.

“The emotion of what we have all been through has been painful, but what’s best for the organization and how do you win a championship? And since I’ve looked at you all, I haven’t pivoted out of that once. So, the torment of trying to do my job in the very limited role in the moment I have as general manager versus the role that I have as head coach of this program, it’s a toggle, and this is where we arrived.”

Too bad Brown apparently didn’t have a chance to convey that to members of the Sixers' staff before they prematurely started the victory parade.

“All of those emotions and all of those facts happened in a 20-, 25-minute window,” Brown said.

A 20-, 25-minute window is all the Sixers need to make an awkward situation worse. Brown, the fans and, most of all, Bridges and his family all deserved better on Thursday night.

More on the Sixers

The Sixers and the Suns trade ... barbs on Twitter

The Sixers and the Suns trade ... barbs on Twitter

Joel Embiid wasn't the only one throwing shade at the Phoenix Suns on Thursday evening.

The Philadelphia 76ers' official Twitter account got in on the action after the Suns tossed some shade in their direction.

It all started with a tweet while Mikal Bridges was still a member of the 76ers' squad. @Sixers posted some highlights of Bridges from his Villanova days. Harmless enough.

Then Bridges got traded to the Suns for Zhaire Smith and an unprotected first round pick in 2021. It appears as if the original highlights tweet was deleted but the @Suns had receipts.

That's when the @Suns tossed a jab.

The Sixers didn't take it lying down.

Who you got in the battle of the hoops nerds behind the team Twitter accounts?

Just remember: don’t ever take sides with anyone against the family again. Ever.

More on the Sixers