Sixers snap losing skid with overtime win over Wolves

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Philadelphia 118, Minnesota 112 (OT) – Box Score

In some ways, Tuesday night was a terrific win for the Sixers. Entering play losers of four straight and facing a Minnesota team on the road that sits in fourth place in the Western Conference, the Sixers overcame a season-high 38-point explosion from Jimmy Butler to prevail in a thrilling overtime victory.

Joel Embiid showed no sign of the back injury that caused him to miss the last two games and have a masseuse bring a table onto the court pre-game to loosen him up. He did look every bit the headliner this nationally-televised game made him out to be, tallying a hyper-efficient 28 points, 12 rebounds, and 8 assists in a career-high 39 minutes, sinking two clutch free throws in the closing seconds (he shot 11-12 from the line on the night) to force overtime. Sixers fans that stayed up well past midnight for the conclusion of this one woke up satisfied, if not exactly refreshed after an abbreviated night of sleep.

In other ways, Tuesday night was an awful, ugly win for the Sixers. Philadelphia turned it over a ghastly 26 times, compared to just 10 for Minnesota. The only reason the game was even close was because the Wolves were trying to solve the national infrastructure question by laying a sturdy brick foundation around the Twin Cities, sinking only 1 of their first 22 three-point attempts, before Jimmy Butler finally made two straight in the final two minutes of the game to put the Wolves back up by two points (Minnesota finished 5-29 (17.2%).

Still without Robert Covington to a back injury of his own, the Sixers opted to go with an ultra big lineup against a Wolves team that plays both Karl-Anthony Towns and Taj Gibson together for heavy minutes. Philadelphia started Richaun Holmes in place of RoCo, meaning they had a 6’4″ J.J. Redick surrounded by four guys 6’10” or taller. The result was some questionable spacing, made more curious by the fact that the only real shooting threats off the bench, Jerryd Bayless and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, only played a combined 19 minutes.

Although the Sixers shot well from behind the arc (11-26 for 42.3%), Minnesota wasn’t honoring the shooters out there, packing the lane and clogging up all the passing and driving lanes. This situation most negatively impacted Ben Simmons, who had possibly in worst game as a pro, failing to score for the first 46 minutes of the game and turning it over 7 times. Aside from some gorgeous lob feeds to Richaun Holmes and a few dunks over feeds from Embiid, Simmons was at best a non-factor, and at worst, a hindrance to the team as he refused to ever take the open 12-footers Minnesota was providing him.

Ultimately, as Brett Brown said in his post-game press conference, “We found a way to stay together and grind out a win.” All it counts for is one notch in the win column, and when the Sixers are jockeying for playoff positioning in April, they won’t remember how ugly this game was for the first 46 minutes. Crucially, Joel Embiid looked healthy, and a healthy superstar is a luxury in Philadelphia sports this past week. Philadelphia will have a couple days to rest before taking on the Thunder back home Friday night. If only I could say the same (*huge yawn*).

Quick Thoughts:

  • He doesn’t fill a glaring need, but I’m really enjoying the Trevor Booker experience so far. He had 12 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists in 20 minutes off the bench, also at one point blocking Taj Gibson and giving an emphatic “no way” crossing of the arms to fire up the Sixers bench. Love the energy.
  • J.J. Redick (26 points) is terrific at drawing those cheap little fouls when he rises up to shoot. He got one of this calls late in the game on a three-point attempt (making all three FTs on his way to an 11-11 night at the charity stripe).
  • Dario Saric (14 points, 8 rebounds) was quiet most of the night, but had a huge stretch in the final minutes of the regulation. The Homie (playing without goggles again) accounted for nine straight points, sandwiching two three-pointers around a gorgeous feed to Richaun Holmes for an and-1 at the rim. His ability to space the floor (somewhat) and terrific court vision were reasons why the huge lineup was able to even function on a limited basis.
  • Richaun Holmes had his first double-double of the season with 15 points and 11 rebounds. I don’t know how he manages to grab and finish some of those lob attempts in the 0.2 seconds he has before it looks like he’s going to crash into the rim. Remind me again why he was a DNP-CD for most of the season?
  • It gets talked about a lot, by Minnesota head coach Tom Thibodeau playing his guys heavy minutes is absurd. There is absolutely no excuse for playing a young center like Karl-Anthony Towns 48 minutes. The Sixers were able to pull away in overtime partially because they didn’t turn it over in the extra frame (excepting a shot clock violation at the end when they handed the ball to the ref), but also because the Wolves were flat-out exhausted.

 

Embiid-less Sixers drop fourth straight in New Orleans

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

New Orleans 131, Philadelphia 124 – Box Score

With the Philadelphia sports scene in a mourning period following Carson Wentz’s injury, Joel Embiid being ruled out for Sunday night’s game with back stiffness (after being rested the night before in Cleveland) seemed like unfair piling on from the karma gods. Facing a New Orleans Pelicans team that features an anachronistic twin towers arrangement in DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis, the Sixers could ill-afford to have their gigantic unicorn missing in action.

Ultimately, while Davis (29 points, 5 blocks) and Cousins (23 points in 29 foul-plagued minutes) both did some damage, it was a face from Sixers past that sent the road team out of the Big Easy with their fourth straight defeat. Jrue Holiday, whose trade out of Philadelphia on draft night was the shot heard round the world to begin the Process era, caught fire in the second half, finishing 5-8 from behind the arc for a game-high 34 points. Holiday entered the night shooting just 27.9% from three on the season, but like the Process itself, playing the odds only improves your chances of success, it doesn’t guarantee it.

Aside from Embiid, the Sixers were also missing Robert Covington and T.J. McConnell among the regulars. The remaining members of the roster certainly put forth a good effort, especially on the offensive glass, collecting a remarkable 22 offensive rebounds. Dario Saric, Richaun Holmes, and newcomer Trevor Booker all collected five o-boards apiece. Those second chance opportunities were key in a 40-point quarter for the Sixers that saw them the lead before Holiday started dropping long-range bombs like a North Korean dictator.

J.J. Redick had an efficient night from the floor (8-14 from the field, 3-7 from three, 9-9 from the foul line) on his way to a team-high 28 points. Ben Simmons dropped 27 points, 5 rebounds, and 10 assists. Most encouragingly, coming off the game against the Cavaliers where he did not attempt a single free throw, Simmons showed no reservations about attacking the basket and drawing contact, going 7-9 on the game. The Pelicans often gave Ben plenty of space, daring him to shoot, but as usual, the rookie took it as license to go to the rim and finish with a ferocious dunk. On a couple occasions, New Orleans simply neglected to put a defender on Simmons entirely. It did not end well for the Pellies.

Reportedly, Embiid injured his back in the Lakers game Thursday night. We’ll await word as to whether he will be available Tuesday night in Minnesota. Lord knows the city of Philadelphia could use a bit of good news.

Sixers trade Jahlil Okafor, then flop in loss in Lakers

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Los Angeles 107, Philadelphia 104 – Box Score

Remember during the early Process era when the Sixers would play hard against a clearly talented opponent, inevitably come up just short, and we would chalk it up as a moral victory? This week has been the opposite. Home games against the Suns and Lakers should have been counted as easy victories, with the Sixers continuing a surge up the Eastern Conference standings. Instead, Philadelphia has played its worst basketball of the season, leaving fans with the bitter taste of defeat in their mouths that only comes when a talented team fails to play up to its potential.

Thursday night, facing a Lakers team that had lost five straight games entering play, the Sixers trailed by around 8-10 points for the majority of the evening. A lack of effort and dumb mental mistakes were to blame. Defensively, the Lakers consistently outworked the Sixers to loose balls (15 offensive rebounds for LA), and on the other end, Philadelphia gave the ball away far too often (18 turnovers, the majority of them unforced).

Finally, the Sixers got their act together in the fourth quarter, storming back from a 15-point deficit to tie the game late. Joel Embiid was the catalyst behind the comeback, as the Sixers worked the ball down low to him time-after-time. Not only was Embiid able to create his own offense, either by pirouetting on the interior for a lay-in or rising up for the mid-range jumper, but he had a nice chemistry with Richaun Holmes (the pair playing together against the two-big man lineup of the Lakers) and fed Richaun cutting down the lane for easy buckets. The final line for Embiid was 33 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal, and 5 blocks. Philadelphia was +14 in the 36 minutes he was on the court; I’m not sure what more he could have done.

Unfortunately, waiting to fall behind by 15 points before playing well wasn’t the best of strategies. After exhausting a great deal of effort just to tie the game, the Lakers were still in a position to win it in the closing seconds. Lonzo Ball (10 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 steals, 4 blocks) drove the ball along the baseline, drawing a crowd of blue-shirted defenders. He wisely kicked it out to Brandon Ingram (21 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists), who drained the wide-open, game-winning three with just 0.8 seconds remaining.

There have been last-second losses for the Sixers this season that made me sick to my stomach. This time around, it was the first three quarters or so of play that made me queasy. Philadelphia played terribly for about 40 minutes Thursday night and deserved the loss. They’ll have to do much better Saturday night on the road in Cleveland.

Quick Thoughts:

  • Ben Simmons had a triple-double after three quarters last night, eventually finishing with 12 points, 13 rebounds, and 15 assists. First, it’s remarkable that a line like that from a rookie is somewhat of a footnote. Still, Ben didn’t really dominate the action like those counting stats might suggest. The Lakers were content to mostly let him do his thing and Simmons didn’t force the issue, evidenced by his only attempting two free throws on the game. It’s interesting to think about whether he’s being less aggressive after the intentional foul nightmare a few games back. Attack the rim, Ben! More of this!

  • Richaun Holmes was terrific off the bench, collecting 13 points and 6 rebounds in 22 minutes. On a night the Sixers needed a spark to break out of their lethargy, he provided it, fighting savagely for a couple contested offensive rebounds and finishing with a ferocity around the rim. I know Brett Brown likes Amir Johnson becomes he’s the more disciplined defender, but Holmes doesn’t deserve any more DNP-CD’s going forward.
  • The Sixers miss both a healthy T.J. McConnell (he returned against the Lakers but obviously wasn’t 100%) and the possibility of having Markelle Fultz out there. The team doesn’t have a secondary ball handler next to Ben Simmons to create in the half court. The task often falls to J.J. Redick, who looks overextended trying to make something happen. Redick had 4 turnovers last night, one of them very bad late where he lost the handle on a routine behind-the-back dribble. The Sixers are paying vets like Redick, Johnson, and Jerryd Bayless a lot of money to complement their young stars, and they let them down Thursday night.

Sixers trade Jahlil Okafor

Philadelphia made big headlines earlier in the day, finally trading former third overall pick Jahlil Okafor, along with Nik Stauskas and a second-round pick, to Brooklyn for Trevor Booker. The deal shows that both Okafor and Stauskas had zero value around the league (congratulations to Bryan Colangelo on waiting so long that a once third overall pick had zero value). Rather than cut them outright, Colangelo used them as matching salaries in a deal that was really about trading a second-round pick (originally the Knicks pick so likely to be in the 40’s) for Booker.

I’m glad we don’t have to pan to Jahlil looking sad on the end of the bench anymore. He deserves a chance to actually play some minutes and show prospective free agent suitors that he’s a viable NBA player. Based on what we’ve seen, I don’t necessarily believe it, but time will tell.

Meanwhile, Trevor Booker is a fine player, a good defender and scrappy on the glass, but I’m not sure what a half season of him (he’s an unrestricted free agent after this year) is really supposed to accomplish. The Sixers have Embiid, Johnson, and Holmes at center, and Saric, Simmons (when he plays alongside T.J.), and Covington (in a stretch role) at power forward. If Colangelo felt the team needed to bolster their depth for a playoff run, I would have preferred another wing player.

With the Sixers owning a surplus of picks in the next couple years, we saw Colangelo last summer sell one away, and now use one for another fungible veteran like Trevor Booker. I just feel he could be more creative with those assets.

Anyway, Jah is freed, as are we all.

PFB 014 – 2017 NFL Week 14 Plays

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Embed from Getty Images

It’s Week 14 and the NFL is starting to separate the teams making a playoff push from those who have packed it in for the winter. We go over the slate of games this weekend, including the second of two straight West Coast games for the Eagles, and Jimmy Garoppolo’s first road start with the 49ers.

Dan’s season record: 27-30-1; Week 13 record: 2-2
Sean’s season record: 15-14; Week 13 record: 1-2

Support the site via our Patreon page.

Devin Booker shoots down the Sixers

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Phoenix 115, Philadelphia 101 – Box Score

Heading into action Monday night, the Sixers have largely taken care of business against inferior competition this season. Despite Ben Simmons battling the flu and T.J. McConnell still sitting out with a shoulder injury, a Phoenix team that was the laughingstock of the league for its lack of defense over the weekend against Boston certainly qualified as inferior competition. Philadelphia entered play as heavy favorites, expected to blot out the Suns on their continued rise up the Eastern Conference standings.

The only problem was somebody forgot to inform Devin Booker. The Sixers were awful in the first half, turning the ball over, not coming away with loose balls, and bricking all their perimeter shots. After falling behind by 13 at halftime, they finally got their act together in the third quarter, but Booker was constantly there to knock down one dagger after another to keep the Sixers at bay.

Late in the game, the Sixers announced Hall-of-Famer Allen Iverson over the Jumbotron; from the court, Booker joined the Wells Fargo Center in applauding the former legend. But to the chagrin of those Sixers fans in attendance, the 21-year-old put forth the same type of scoring performance the Answer used to have on that very same court.

Booker connected on open looks, drained shots with guys draped all over him, attacked the basket and got to the foul line, and pulled up for the occasional 30-footer just for fun.

By the end of the evening, the Suns star had gone off for a season-high 46 points, single-handedly outscoring Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons combined. Booker’s fireworks overshadowed what were some outstanding highlights for the young Philadelphia phenoms.

Embiid recorded 22 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 blocks without committing a turnover. He got into some rugged tussles with starting center Tyson Chandler, earning some trips to the foul line (going a perfect 8-8 at the charity stripe). But when the former Defensive Player of the Year sat was when JoJo really kicked things into another gear, abusing Alex Len to a degree that would be illegal in some states.

Thanksgiving has been over for a week and a half, but Embiid still had some leftover stuffing to dish out, denying Len at the rim on a couple different occasions.

On the other end, JoJo’s footwork made Len look like somebody trying to grasp at the mist after Nightcrawler has teleported across the room.

Meanwhile, despite playing though illness, Simmons was one of the few Sixers who didn’t look lethargic in the first half. His night ended with 20 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, and an impressive 6 steals. How he managed to readjust and flush home this deflected alley oop pass, I’ll never know.

J.J. Redick actually led the Sixers in scoring, scoring 21 of his 25 points in the second half. Redick missed his first 6 three-point attempts, but hit 3 of his last 4 to help Philadelphia get back within as close as 5 in the fourth quarter.

Robert Covington looked to be breaking out of his recent slump with a strong performance over the weekend against Detroit, but he struggled with his shot versus Phoenix. RoCo was 3-13 from the field and 2-10 from behind the arc. I was also surprised Brett Brown didn’t have Covington on Booker more often, as Jerryd Bayless and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot obviously had their troubles against him.

Finally, I think we can cast aside any hope of a Nik Stauskas revival. Getting some playing time with McConnell sidelined, Staukas airballed his only shot attempt and had 2 turnovers in 8 minutes, including one where he basically tripped over his own feet and fell down trying to drive the lane. Sauce did not see the court in the second half. It’s probably time to see how ready Furkan Korkmaz is for the big stage, rather than giving Stauskas any more time in the future.

Next up for the Sixers are the Lakers at home Thursday night on national television. I would say that should be an easy win for them, but as we learned Monday, even these improved Sixers need to do more than simply show up on a given night to come away with a victory.

 

Irving leads Celtics past Embiid-less Sixers

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Boston 108, Philadelphia 97 – Box Score

Traveling to Boston on the second night of a back-to-back and playing without star center Joel Embiid (rest) and master of grit T.J. McConnell (bruised shoulder), plenty of forces were conspiring against the Sixers Thursday. Though the remaining Sixers fought hard, even taking a brief 2-point lead in the third quarter, Kyrie Irving and the Celtics proved too much to handle for Brett Brown’s bunch.

Whenever the Sixers made things close, Boston would respond with a huge run, often propelled by an outburst from Irving. Uncle Drew finished with a game-high 36 points, shooting 12-21 from the field and 5-8 from behind the arc. The earth isn’t flat, but Kyrie consistently left Sixers defenders flat-footed, basically twirling the ball around on a string and finishing with a dazzling array of floaters and high-arcing lay-ins. Al Horford (21 points on 9-12 shooting) and Jayson Tatum 15 points also came up with some huge buckets in the back-half of the fourth quarter, as the Celtics simply threw too many options at a shorthanded Sixers squad.

Still, there were certainly bright spots for Philadelphia. Dario Saric assumed a larger role in the frontcourt with Embiid sitting, playing crunch time as the lineup’s stretch-five. Dario showed off his full complement of skills, recording a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds, to go along with 3 made threes (on 6 attempts) and 4 assists. It was Saric’s seventh straight game with at least 7 rebounds, as he continues to look more and more comfortable after a shaky start to the season. Rarely does Saric make things look pretty, but whether it’s a herky-jerky post-up or scrapping for an offensive rebound, the Croatian sensation gets the job done.

A guy who does make things look pretty is Ben Simmons. The Sixers point guard showed Tatum wasn’t the only outstanding rookie on the court Thursday night, collecting 15 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, and 5 steals. Coming off the intentional foul fiasco against Washington, Simmons hit 3 of his 4 free throw attempts. Although it wasn’t a sterling defensive effort from Ben, he did make some truly remarkable plays on some of those steals. Simmons’ wingspan seems as wide as the equator in snatching this Marcus Smart pass out of the air and taking it the other way.

He also turned an off-the-mark J.J. Redick jumper into a finish worthy of a running-out-of-time slam dunk contest submission, something not many point guards in the league would be able to pull off.

A game that was a schedule loss to begin with, and the Sixers decided to punt anyway by sitting Embiid, Thursday night wasn’t tough to swallow. JoJo will have two days rest heading into a matchup with the Pistons at home Saturday night. A surprisingly impactful game in the Eastern Conference standings, let’s hope they shut Stan Van Gundy up about the Process yet again.

PFB 013 – 2017 NFL Week 13 Plays

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Embed from Getty Images

It’s Week 13, but there’s nothing unlucky about this latest batch of NFL picks. We analyze all of this weekend’s action, including a crucial NFC battle between the Eagles and Seahawks Sunday night.

Dan’s season record: 25-28-1; Week 12 record: 2-2
Sean’s season record: 14-12; Week 12 record: 2-1

Support the site via our Patreon page.

Sixers top Wizards despite ugly fourth quarter

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Philadelphia 118, Washington 113 – Box Score

Playing a Wizards team missing John Wall and that had arrived in Philadelphia around 3am after playing in Minnesota Tuesday night, it looked like the Sixers were set to coast to another blowout victory. Philadelphia entered the fourth quarter ahead by 19, at which point the contest ceased resembling a normal basketball game.

After some sloppy play by the Sixers and a stretch of hot shooting from pre-Process era Sixer Jodie Meeks (season-high 21 points), Washington had cut the deficit to eight with five minutes left in the game. At that time, Wizards head coach Scott Brooks decided to start intentionally fouling Ben Simmons. Over the next three minutes of game time, Simmons was hacked ten times, going 11-20 from the line in the process.

It was an excruciating sequence of basketball to watch, happening ironically on a night when commissioner Adam Silver was in the arena and had said earlier in an interview with the Sixers announcing team that he was comfortable with the intentional foul rules. Thanks to the continued march to the charity stripe in the fourth quarter, the Sixers attempted 64 free throws, one short of the franchise record. The fourth quarter lasted longer than the 2016 election cycle. Entire bitcoin fortunes were made and lost in the interim.

Aside from Philadelphia scoring 11 points on 10 possessions being a slightly better defensive strategy than what the Wizards had been doing prior, the strategy seemed to rattle the young Sixers. Joel Embiid picked up a foul trying for an offensive rebound off one of the missed free throws, and then collected a technical arguing the call. He would foul out of the game shortly thereafter. Simmons, seemingly frustrated by his inability to end the farce by knocking down his shots, had a terrible foul while playing defense out to half court.

Washington was able to trim the deficit all the way down to three points. Thankfully for Sixers fans, it was just too big of a lead for Philadelphia to give up entirely. Thanks to a couple timely Dario Saric and-ones in the final minutes, the Sixers hung on, despite 48 fourth-quarter points for the Wizards. Saric was excellent on the night, recording 24 points and 8 rebounds, while shooting 8-12 from the field and a perfect 7-7 from the foul line.

While the fourth quarter fouling was frustrating from an aesthetic viewing experience, it also overshadowed what should have been a “the Sixers have the best pair of young players in the league” celebration. Simmons needs to iron out his free throw issues (he was 15-29 on the night), but he still finished with rookie career-highs of 31 points and 18 rebounds, adding 4 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. The man looks unnaturally poised for his age and finds passing angles that only someone with his unique combination of size and vision could even contemplate. Simmons had one cross-court pass to Robert Covington in the corner that must have traveled about 30 feet in the air and was right on the money for three points.

Before fouling out, Joel Embiid was dominant on both ends with 25 points, 14 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 blocks. Wizards center Marcin Gortat is an enormous man dubbed the Polish Hammer, and Embiid managed to make him look miniscule out there; Gortat collected just 2 rebounds in 21 minutes of action. In addition to the four blocks, JoJo altered a ton of Wizards attempts in the painted area. One sequence between he and Ben Simmons in the second quarter was basically the thesis statement for having two elite athletes around 7 feet tall who can do everything on the court.

The Sixers did suffer an injury on the night, as T.J. McConnell left the game in the second half with what the team later diagnosed as a shoulder contusion. It doesn’t sound at all serious, but given the team’s track record with shoulders recently, McConnell might be shut down for the season.

Ultimately, a win’s a win, but Ben will have to improve his free throw shooting if we don’t want to be exposed to plenty more nightmarish viewing experiences in the future. We’ll see if Brad Stevens opts to utilize the strategy Thursday night in Boston. Embiid will be out for that one, resting on the second game of a back-to-back.

Cleveland sends down upstart Sixers

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Cleveland 113, Philadelphia 91 – Box Score

In the highly anticipated first meeting between Ben Simmons and LeBron James, two generations of Klutch Sports stars, it’s safe to say the student has not yet become the teacher.

Monday night was the rare occasion when Simmons actually looked like a rookie, struggling with a Cleveland defense that often picked him up in the backcourt. The former LSU Tiger was held to 10 points and 2 assists (against 4 turnovers) before leaving the the game with 5 minutes left due to a sprained right ankle. Defensively, although he recorded 3 steals, Simmons looked disengaged, falling victim to some backdoor cuts and letting his man track down offensive rebounds.

At tip-off, the Sixers tried having Simmons defend LeBron and the King was not amused. James went off for 13 points in the game’s first 5 minutes, ending the night with a tone-setting 30 points, 13 rebounds, and 6 assists. LeBron showed off his improved shooting stroke, hitting 3 of 7 shots from behind the arc. The way in which he continues to enhance his game each and every year, even now at age 32, is a marvel.

Surprisingly though, it was when LeBron took a seat that the Cavaliers did the bulk of their damage; Cleveland outscored the Sixers by 21 points with James on the bench. Dwayne Wade turned back the clock for short stints, getting to the rim and hitting fall-away jumpers like it was 2005; Flash ended his night with 15 points, 5 assists, and 2 blocks. The frequently invisible Jeff Green was somehow the most energetic player on the court, collecting 4 of his 10 rebounds on the offensive glass, to go along with 14 points. Channing Frye and Kyle Korver efficiently spaced the floor, combining to knock down 5 of 8 shots from behind the arc.

Meanwhile, knocking down shots from behind the arc was a skill that almost entirely eluded the Sixers on the evening. As a team, Philadelphia shot an ice-cold 3-28 (10.7%) from downtown. Robert Covington regressed his season’s percentages to the mean in a hurry, going 0-9 from three for just 2 points on the night. J.J. Redick hit just a single three, while missing a handful of wide-open lay-ups in shooting 4-16 from the field.

With little help from the supporting cast, the lone Sixers bright spot was the man in the middle, Joel Embiid. The 2017 Rookie of the Year in our hearts, Embiid bullied Kevin Love and Channing Frye on the interior on his way to 30 points and 11 rebounds. He scored 16 in the third quarter alone, at one point cutting the deficit all the way to three before another Cavaliers bench surge put the game out of reach for good.

Embiid knocked down 8 of 9 shots from the foul line, and it was hilarious to see the entire Cavaliers bench explode whenever Joel received a superstar call on a rip-through move or a contested face-up jumper around the paint. The fact that the Sixers even have a player capable of receiving superstar calls is cause for celebration, even on a night largely devoid of good feelings for Sixers fans.

After a string of blowout victories, Monday was a stark reminder that this is still a young Sixers squad with a lot to learn. You’re not often going to win shooting under 11% from three, but it was still a largely lackluster and disappointing effort in other areas. Philadelphia will look to bounce back Wednesday night against the John Wall-less Wizards.

La Salle stuns Big 5 rival Temple in final minute

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

La Salle 87, Temple 83 – Box Score

The Temple Owls were off to a tremendous start to the season: 3-0, winners of the Charleston Classic, and flush with RPI-boosting victories over Old Dominion, Auburn, and Clemson. Big 5 basketball is an entirely different animal though, something the La Salle Explorers were eager to prove Sunday afternoon at the Tom Gola Arena.

After an 11-0 Explorers run in the second half erased a double-digit Owls lead to tie the game at 66, the two teams remained close heading into the final minute. Down by one, Explorers redshirt junior Pookie Powell controlled the ball at the top of the key. With the shot clock winding down, Powell let it fly, connecting for 3 of his career-high 29 points to put La Salle in front for good with 39 seconds remaining. After the game, Powell discussed having the confidence to step up for his team in that crucial moment:

“I practice on that shot a lot. I’ve taken many reps on that shot so I felt confident when it left. The shot clock was going down, the ball was in my hands, and coach always told me to make a play so that’s what I had to do.”

Temple head coach Fran Dunphy was not happy with his team’s defense for the majority of the contest, but gave Powell all the credit for making something out of nothing on that critical play:

“Powell was terrific. That last three that he shot was spectacular. It was a really hard shot. I thought we guarded that pretty well.”

The story throughout the evening was the turnover disparity between the two clubs. Although the Owls shot 55.7% from the field, La Salle was able to get back into the ball game by forcing 13 Temple turnovers, while committing just 4 themselves. In particular, two costly turnovers by Temple sophomore Quinton Rose bracketed the Powell three in the closing moments. Rose showed flashes of dominance throughout the game, collecting team-highs of 21 points and 7 rebounds, but his 5 turnovers are something he needs to improve upon, as Coach Dunphy acknowledged:

“I have to live with some of the things that he does. There are a couple things that I wish he would not have done today. But we’ll work it. He’ll work it. He’ll be better the next time.”

Still, Rose, one of the final cuts for Team USA’s U19 squad, is an enormously talented player and a large part of Temple’s future. Dunphy was quick to add that he won’t hesitate in putting the ball in Rose’s hands again in a similar spot.

One of the most intriguing matchups of the night was between Temple senior big man Obi Enechionyia and La Salle redshirt senior B.J. Johnson. Enechionyia went about his work in a quiet, efficient manner. He joined the 1,000 point club at Temple during the game, finishing with 16 points on 4-5 shooting from behind the arc. La Salle head coach Dr. John Giannini was succinct in his analysis of what makes Enechionyia such a difficult player to guard:

“Be 6’10” and rain threes from any range. And have a quick release. Not many guys like him are out there.”

With Enechionyia, Rose, Shizz Alston, Jr. (18 points), and Josh Brown (11 points, 7 assists) all contributing for a deep Temple roster, it was up to B.J. Johnson to carry a heavy load alongside Powell for the Explorers. As usual, La Salle’s leading scorer was up to the challenge, tallying 25 points while playing the full 40 minutes of the contest. Johnson never seemed to force the action, letting shots come to him within the flow of the offense to bury the Owls from all angles with a quick, left-handed release on his jumper. Giannini was extremely proud of the effort shown by his two upperclassmen:

“He [Johnson] has really simplified his game to accentuate his skill and athleticism. Those two guys [Johnson and Powell], they’re just veteran and they’re good. They know I believe in them.”

For the Owls, this loss is a disappointment, but serves as a good reminder to remain focused each and every time they take the court. On the other sideline, a La Salle victory moved them to 2-0 on the season in Big 5 play, allowing them to set some pretty high goals for themselves, as Johnson alluded to after the game:

“Coach drills in our heads that the Big 5 champion always goes to the tournament. We got a lot of seniors and we don’t want to go out without getting to a tournament.”

La Salle has shown it’s capable of competing against top-notch competition on a given night. If the Explorers can find a way to do it more consistently, those fans throwing blue and gold streamers Sunday night might have a postseason berth in March to celebrate as well.