If you’re like me, you probably hit a wall sometime Friday afternoon after the Eagles’ Super Bowl parade and Bryan Colangelo’s media availability regarding Markelle Fultz.
In the 50 hours since, the Sixers ripped off a pair of home wins, survived a Joel Embiid injury scare, and added a veteran shooter via free agency. I figured it would make the most sense to wrap all of this into one post for a Monday morning story, as we all wake up from our Eagle hangover to return to the real world of commutes, cubicles, and trying to repair the damn leak in my roof.
So that part sucks, but the sports is good. The Birds, Flyers, and Sixers are a combined 8-0 since February 4th. How bout that?
Friday – Sixers 100, Pelicans 82
When Joel starts 2-2 from three point range and then dunks on his own teammate, you know it’s probably going to be your night:
Embiid dunking on Robert Covington lol pic.twitter.com/mTDbTaOwHc
— Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) February 10, 2018
“I was confused at the time,” Dario Saric laughed post-game. “Who scored it? What happened? Does he get two assists or one?”
The Sixers jumped out to a 23-4 lead and never looked back, extending that lead to 30 or so by the time the fourth quarter came around.
They won by 18 despite being outscored by 14 points in the fourth quarter with an unconvincing bench contributing just 19 points. All seven reserves saw the floor and five played more than 15 minutes without hitting double-digits. Justin Anderson led the way with 8 points on 3-11 shooting and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot added 6 on a 2-12 night, while the entire bench finished 7-34 for a woeful 20.5% mark.
The positive side of that, though, was being able to limit the minutes played by Embiid and the entire starting unit. Not one played more than 30 minutes:
That was critical on the front-end of a rare back-to-back featuring two home games. The fewer minutes for Embiid, the better rested he would be for his second-career B2B.
Joel finished with 24 points and 16 rebounds and really played some nice defense on Anthony Davis, who went for 14 and 8 on 6-19 shooting. It was Davis’ worst offensive output in 11 games dating back to mid-January.
To make Joel’s defensive performance look even better, look at the Saturday night New Orleans/Brooklyn box score. Davis roared back from the Friday defeat with 44 points and 17 rebounds in a 50 minute, double-overtime victory.
The Pelicans are now 2-5 since losing DeMarcus Cousins to an Achilles injury and might not be long for this NBA season.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Saric, who was phenomenal on Friday night, matching Embiid’s team-high 24 points on 8-11 shooting and throwing in 5 rebounds and 4 assists.
Dario is now shooting above 50% in the month of February, with a 3P% in the mid-40 range:
He’s been excellent in 2018.
Saturday: Sixers 112 – Clippers 98
A good win against a team that had won three straight games in the post-Blake Griffin era.
The Sixers ran out to a 14-point halftime lead, then hit the 3rd quarter wall that we’ve seen so many times before. Los Angeles clipped that lead to 2 around the 6:00 mark of the 4th, but instead of folding the Sixers rebounded from an underwhelming, 16-point third quarter with a 17-5 run to close out the game. T.J. McConnell began that run with a tough turnaround in the paint and was excellent on a 17 point, 6-7 shooting night.
They were 5-6 from the free throw line during that stretch and actually turned the ball over just four times in the second half. They committed 66% of their 12 turnovers in the first half while building up the 14-point lead, so, again, for the thousandth time, the raw turnover number does not necessarily correlate to scoring and win/loss trends.
They’ve found ways to buckle down and get the job done. Dare I say this team is “learning how to win?” They won by 14 last night despite LA cutting the lead to two. They won by 13 against Washington despite the Wizards getting within single digits five separate times. They hung on against Miami despite blowing a 28 point lead.
So that’s three home games in a row that they’ve got the job done. In most of their recent road losses, they haven’t built up double-digit leads. It’s nine home wins in a row if you remove that bogus London “home game” from the equation.
Defensively, they were strong throughout the game, as Brown noted:
“I think that we played good defense in the second half. For the most part, I thought the game was well played defensively. It’s a tale of two different stories offensively, the first-half offense versus the second-half offense. We both played the night before I thought it got a little bit slow, I thought it got sort of static in the second half. But to your point, we had 27 points and one turnover in the fourth period that’s excellent for us, and I give our defense a lot of credit in that stretch that you’re referring to.”
Case in point, the Sixers really closed out the game with two big stops in which they were able to turn defense into transition offense:
Five-point swing, nail in the coffin.
Anyway, about mid-way through the fourth quarter, Joel Embiid went down awkwardly, which resulted in a collective holding of breath from Reading down to Wildwood, if anyone’s there in February:
Embiid exits the game after slipping.
Here's a look at the play. pic.twitter.com/bUzDu1HApu
— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) February 11, 2018
Turned out not to be a big deal, according to Joel himself. He was examined in the locker room and came back out to finish the game.
This is what he told reporters afterward:
On his fall…
“I just got tangled as I was reaching for the ball. Nothing happened, I feel great. I hit my knee on the floor, but it happens.”
Did fatigue play a factor?
“Yes. I was trying to reach for the ball and I was getting tired, especially in the fourth quarter. Back-to-back nights are tough, but that’s basketball.”
Did you need X-rays when you went to the locker room?
“No, he just checked on my knee movement.”
On checking back into the game…
“My knee didn’t twist. I hit myself, and I felt something. It was contact-to-contact, and it goes away.”
Did it look worse to you than it was?
“No. I feel great.”
Optically, I think you’re obviously in a tough spot here, because if you take him out you’re be accused of babying him (on the night of his 2nd career back-to-back no less), and if you leave him in you’re accused of being reckless with his long-term health. So I sympathize with the club in that regard. I think they’ve done a nice job this year of allowing Joel to have more of a say in the process, and Brett Brown has spoken frequently about taking Embiid’s opinions into account, i.e., if he says he feels good, they’re trusting him to be out there. The training wheels have certainly come off, maybe even faster than most of us had imagined.
I will say that I’m not a fan of him participating in multiple All-Star weekend activities. I understand that it’s nice to have him out there from a showcasing and marketing perspective, but you’re 28-25 with a real shot at the playoffs this year, and the ASG weekend is ultimately worthless in the grand scheme of things that actually matter. When’s the last time you’ve actually watched an entire All-Star Game anyway?
One other thing of note – I had this hunch that Tobias Harris has struggled against the Sixers this year, and that seems to be the case. He went 0-4 against Philly this season with efforts of 17, 14, 11, and 27 points. Harris finished 5-21 from three against the Sixers (23.8%), despite being 39.8% on the season. So unless you wanna say he had three off nights (he was 3-6 in one game), the Sixers did a really nice job limiting him in four matchups this year.
Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Saturday night that veteran shooter Marco Belinelli had cleared waivers and was intending to sign with the Sixers.
TRUST THE PROCESS
— Marco Belinelli (@marcobelinelli) February 11, 2018
Does this mean Markelle Fultz might not play this season? Maybe. But the Sixers also need some scoring off the bench, and Belinelli is no worse than Jerryd Bayless, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, or Justin Anderson in this department, right?
Well, maybe the numbers aren’t amazing, but if he can get you 8-10 points a night on a veteran minimum deal, then it’s probably better than what you have right now. Worth a try. Certainly better than sending a 1st-round pick to Memphis in a deal for Tyreke Evans.