Ben Simmons records monster triple-double in win over Chicago

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Philadelphia 115, Chicago 101 – Box Score

Earlier this week, the NBA announced its All-Star reserve selections. Ben Simmons was not one of them, a fact that was slightly disappointing for Sixers fans, I’m sure, but felt like the right call. After a hot start to the season, Simmons had hit something of a rookie wall lately. Call it defenses figuring him out with more tape on him, simple regression to the mean, who can say, but the former LSU Tiger hadn’t even recorded a double-double since mid-December.

Wednesday night, however, Ben Simmons showed why there are unlikely to be many more seasons when he does miss the All-Star team. With T.J. McConnell missing the game due to the death of his father-in-law, and both J.J. Redick and Jerryd Bayless still injured, Brett Brown said before the game he was going to need to rely on Simmons even more than usual. The rookie seemed to take it to heart, coming out with arguably his most aggressive game of the season.

Simmons put his mark on the game right out of the gates with 8 points, 11 rebounds, and 5 assists in the first quarter alone. It didn’t hurt that his teammates were on fire from the perimeter. Dario Saric, Robert Covington, and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot all made four threes on the game, as the Sixers shot 50% from downtown as a team. Saric, who was a whopping +31 for the game against Chicago, is now shooting 37.7% on threes this season. He deserves all the credit in the world for improving his shot and making the somewhat awkward fit between he, Simmons, and Joel Embiid work.

With the Sixers having Australian heritage night in the arena, their prized Australian 6’10” point guard kept the pressure on the Bulls throughout the game. One minute into the second half, Simmons reached a triple-double; he would ultimately finish with a ridiculous stat line of 19 points, 17 rebounds, and 14 assists. Ben even did a decent job at the foul line, knocking down 7 of 10 attempts.

Philadelphia did a better job than usual taking care of the ball, only turning it over 14 times as a team. They led by as many as 25 points, and unlike far too many games this season, the huge advantage was never in danger of completely collapsing. It was refreshing to have a drama-free win for a change.

Before the game, it was announced Embiid, Simmons, and Saric were all selected to the World team of the Rising Stars game. As an All-Star starter, Embiid will likely not participate, but having three of the top young players in the league is representative of the incredibly bright future for the Sixers. Now back to two games over .500 and featuring a rookie point guard capable of nearly having a triple-double at halftime, though, it’s also fair for Sixers fans to do plenty of thinking about the present.

Sixers give away the game to the Grizzlies

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Memphis 105, Philadelphia 101 – Box Score

Oh, how quickly we forget. The Sixers had won 7 of their past 8 games. Their only loss in 2018 came in London to the Celtics on a court where one of the baskets had a crooked rim. Blowing a huge lead to suffer a hugely disappointing loss? That was the 2017 Sixers’ problem. Even when the Bucks were able to briefly narrow the gap Saturday night, that was framed as youthful exuberance on Philadelphia’s part since they soon after blew Milwaukee’s doors off for an easy win.

Well, time is a flat circle and the turnover problems that have haunted the Sixers all season long came back to bite them Monday night in Memphis. The Sixers had an uninterrupted lead from the opening tip and led by 15 late in the third quarter. They were shooting the ball tremendously well, particularly Dario Saric (3-4 from three for game-high 22 points) and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (career-high 6 made threes on 8 attempts for 20 points). TLC stepping up the last two games has been huge for a Sixers team incredibly thin on the wings with both J.J. Redick and Jerryd Bayless sidelined.

With the Sixers completely in control, there was no reason to think a team consisting of Marc Gasol, Tyreke Evans, and a host of guys only Summer League diehards would recognize would mount much of a challenge. But that’s when the Sixers decided to hand the game away. Philadelphia committed a whopping 10 fourth quarter turnovers. Cross-court passes that sailed too high, unnecessary passes into traffic, you name the sloppy giveaway, the Sixers probably did it Monday night.

In the end, Philadelphia coughed the ball up 24 times as a team and Memphis won the points off turnover battle, 39-11. Add somebody named Myke Henry (yes, with a “Y”) on a two-way contract getting hot for the Grizzlies (12 points in 16 minutes) and there’s your ballgame.

Quick thoughts:

  • Weird to say for somebody who had 15 points and 14 rebounds, but it was an off night for Joel Embiid. Going up against one of the best defensive centers in the league in Gasol, Embiid shot just 5-13 from the floor. He also missed three consecutive free throws in the closing minutes that ended up being costly. Overall, Embiid just wasn’t displaying the same fire we usually see from him. I wonder if his swollen hand was bothering him at all. Let’s hope to see his usual world-destroying self Wednesday night against the Bulls.
  • Terrible, terrible play by Robert Covington in the final seconds. Ben Simmons managed to force a steal and the Sixers had the ball down just 2 with plenty of time left. Instead of taking time to get a good shot off, Covington shot a turn-around three while fading away on the sideline. It barely grazed the rim and fell into a Memphis player’s arms to seal the game. That lack of awareness was not great, Bob.
  • I hate these Richaun Holmes DNP-CDs.

All-Star Joel Embiid leads Sixers over Celtics

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Philadelphia 89, Boston 80 – Box Score

The Philadelphia 76ers are undefeated when Joel Embiid takes the court as a confirmed All-Star. Early Thursday evening, we learned that the big man was one of the five players voted to be an All-Star starter out of the Eastern Conference, becoming the first All-Star starter for Philadelphia since Allen Iverson.

It’s a fitting throughline between eras. Embiid’s emergence as an otherworldly talent has provided Sixers fans the hope of true contending status down the road, the first time we can say that since the peak of the AI experience. Embiid is also the first member of the 2014 draft class to make the All-Star team. In case you needed additional confirmation, Sam Hinkie and the front office at the time certainly made the correct decision in taking the highest ceiling player third overall that summer.

The good vibes carried over into Thursday night’s game in Boston. The Celtics have an All-Star starter of their own, but Kyrie Irving sat the game out with a sore left shoulder. Without him there to run the offense, Boston’s offense seemingly fell to pieces. The Celtics committed 15 first half turnovers, one more than their season average of 14 per game. As a result, the opening half was a truly ugly affair, ending with the Sixers ahead 39-32, in a game more resembling a Big Ten battle than one between two of the most talented teams in the NBA.

In the third quarter, Embiid showed why he was voted an All-Star going off for 10 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists in the period alone. Philadelphia outscored Boston by 13 points in the third when Embiid was on the floor, as he either scored at will, or more impressively, made the correct read to find open teammates. Here, Dario Saric (who played well with 16 points on the game) recognizes Al Horford’s attention has drifted to Embiid, and cuts to the rim. JoJo hits him with a perfect pass in tight quarters to earn a trip to the free throw line.

Later in the period, Embiid recognizes the double team is on, finding a wide-open T.J. McConnell (15 points) on the opposite side of the floor for a three-pointer.

Safe to say T.J. was fired up about his All-Star teammate’s play.

We know Embiid can score. He’s too big, has too many post moves, and possesses too sweet a shooting stroke not to do so. But having the wherewithal to find teammates when defenses overcommit to him is the next stage in his development, providing an open shot for the offense rather than a turnover in traffic. The fact that the next stage is basically here is why he’s more than worthy of the All-Star selection. With a final line of 26 points, 16 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 blocks, Boston was basically helpless to stop him.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Sixers game if they didn’t try to blow a huge lead. After winning the turnover battle for most of the game, Philadelphia coughed it up a whopping 7 times in the fourth quarter, allowing Boston to cut the lead to 7 with a few minutes left. Fortunately, a handful of Celtics three-point attempts that could have really made it a nailbiter rimmed out. There were be no repeat of the London collapse and the Sixers would escape with the victory.

Congratulations to the Sixers on the win, putting them above .500 at 21-20, despite playing through a lot of turmoil and injury. Most of all, congratulations to Joel Embiid on being voted an All-Star starter. In his few years since being drafted, he’s had to overcome a lot, both in terms of his physical health and tragedy off the court. Embiid has worked through it all with a smile on his face, maintaining an upbeat attitude as one of the most likable guys in the league. It will be a joy to watch him out there next month, rightfully sharing the court with the best players in the world.

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Sixers return to the states with MLK Day win over Toronto

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Philadelphia 117, Toronto 111 – Box Score

As someone who just returned from a 4-day vacation in Texas, I can appreciate the difficulty in getting back to work after a long trip. Even a few days removed from the last time they actually played a game, the Sixers flying back home from London and grabbing their first win in four tries this season against a formidable Toronto opponent is no small feat.

Of course, as is unfortunately far too often the case, the Sixers nearly gave fans in attendance on MLK Day a heart attack along the way. Things started out great, as Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the two players Philadelphia is hoping will represent the city at the All-Star game, scored the first 20 points for the Sixers. Toronto had no answer for the Sixers big men, with both knocking down jumpers, driving to the rim, and working in tandem when too much attention was paid to the other.

While Simmons was held down by foul trouble for much of the game, the scoring burden fell to Embiid, who appeared more than capable of handling the load. The Process went off for 34 points and 11 rebounds (5 offensive), knocking down 11 of 14 attempts at the charity stripe, as Toronto’s frontcourt had no legal way to prevent Embiid from scoring at will. It was one of the rare games where the Sixers actually shot and made more free throws than their opponent, a necessary component for success on an afternoon when the team shot just 6-25 from behind the arc.

On the other end, Embiid actually blocked Fred Van Vleet so hard that the Raptors guard had to leave with a knee injury (fortunately it was later diagnosed as just a bruise).

I would also be remiss in failing to acknowledge the contributions of T.J. McConnell. With Simmons bemoaning the referees’ calls from the sideline, the Sixers back-up point guard put together a loaded stat line with a career-high 18 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 steals, and a block. There were no weary travel legs for McConnell, who consistently pushed the pace in transition and knifed through the Raptors defense. He also refused to back down from DeMar DeRozan after a hard foul, to the delight of the Wells Fargo Center crowd.

The Sixers would lead by as many as 21 points in the third quarter, before the all-too-familiar huge collapse began to take effect. Philadelphia turned it over 21 times on the game (13 being committed by Embiid and Simmons), and a DeRozan jumper eventually pulled the Raptors all the way back within one point with three minutes remaining.

This time though, the lead proved too big to fail, and Simmons stepped up on back-to-back possessions, converting at the rim and then finding Dario Saric for a dagger three.

There were still some crazy moments in the final minutes, notably Simmons getting into it with Kyle Lowry with a few seconds left in the game. Both players were ejected and Simmons told Lowry to meet him in the hallway. Lowry was all too happy to oblige sprinting towards the tunnel, but the logistics of the Wells Fargo Center actually don’t allow such confrontations to occur. Lowry certainly doesn’t qualify as a villain here in Philadelphia, where he recently donated a record $1M to Villanova, but it’s interesting the mild-mannered Simmons as now been involved in some sort of scuffle in two straight games.


Ultimately, it’s a good win over a quality opponent to get back to .500 for the Sixers. They’ll have another chance to prove themselves in front of the Celtics in front of national audience Thursday night.

Different Continent, Same Problem for Sixers

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Boston 114, Philadelphia 103 – Box Score

You can cross an entire ocean, but sometimes, there’s no distance you can travel to escape your troubles. The Sixers were enjoying a fun week in London, visiting historic sights, attending soccer matches, and instructing international children on the game of basketball. With the announcing team, local media, and families all along for the ride, Philadelphia brought plenty of baggage across the pond. Unfortunately, there was one thing the team wishes hadn’t made the trip: their propensity for blowing double-digit leads.

The main event of the London trip was obviously Thursday night’s game against the Celtics (it was mid-afternoon back here in the States). And it started off swimmingly. J.J. Redick was on fire early, scoring 18 of his 22 points and hitting 5 of his 6 three-point attempts in the first half. Ben Simmons was aggressive early, going 6-9 from the field in the first half, even taking some mid-range jumpers; he finished the game with 16 points on 8-12 shooting.

One of those Simmons jumpers fell through with 7 minutes left in the second quarter to put the Sixers up by 22, 49-27. That’s when things started to go sideways. Amazingly, Boston actually entered play 7-5 in games they trailed by 13 or more points. The Sixers, of course, have a bustling side hustle blowing double-digit leads. So when the Celtics fought back to close to within 9 at the half, even the most optimistic of Sixers fans had a sinking feeling in their gut as to where this one was headed.

Boston wouldn’t waste any time taking the lead a few minutes into the second half, finishing a 42-19 stretch that Boston would only continue to build upon in creating a double-digit lead of its own. I’d like to say there was one area I could point to that the team could fix to have preventing the collapse, but really, it was just overall terrible basketball. Philadelphia turned the ball over repeatedly, allowed too many offensive rebounds, and couldn’t make a shot of their own. I suppose we can take solace that this came against the top dog in the East who has now won 7 straight. The huge second half downfalls to Portland or Sacramento were harder to make sense of in retrospect.

Other Thoughts:

  • Two games does not make a trend, but it’s interesting that two of Joel Embiid’s worst offensive games have come against Boston. Embiid finished with 15 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists, but shot just 6-17 from the field. In the second game of the season, Embiid went 4-16 against the Celtics. I don’t know if it’s Boston having bruising centers like Aron Baynes to throw at him, or just that the Celtics are a great defensive team, but it’s something to keep an eye on next week when the teams meet again.
  • As things tend to do in a rivalry such as this one, a scuffle broke out when Marcus Morris charged at Ben Simmons after the rookie tried to bust through him on a screen. Good for Simmons in keeping his cool here and just smirking. Some people don’t like that Simmons is such a quiet, even-keeled guy, but it worked in his favor in this instance.

The Sixers will have a tough time removing the bitter taste of defeat from their mouths in the immediate future. They have the long flight back to the States, before returning to the court on Monday against Toronto and their fourth and final game of the season against Boston later in the week.


Sixers Destroy Pistons to Win Fourth Straight

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Philadelphia 114, Detroit 78 – Box Score

The Sixers will be flying across the Atlantic Ocean this weekend for next Thursday’s game in London. The rest of the teams stateside have to be breathing a sigh of relief, because it feels like Philadelphia has finally pieced things together. Brett Brown’s squad entered Friday night having won three straight, and were looking to notch another victory in the budding Joel Embiid-Andre Drummond rivalry.

As the old saying goes though, is it still a rivalry if one side always wins? The Sixers were already 2-0 against Detroit this season. This time around, after Tobias Harris opened the scoring for the Pistons with a jumper, the Sixers scored the next 15 points to take early control of the game. Until some double digit leads in the not-so-distant past, there was no looking back for Philadelphia in this one. The Sixers continued the onslaught to go up 17 after one quarter and 30 at the half. The second half was nothing but more frustration for the Pistons and a chance for Brown to empty out his bench.

Philadelphia’s two All-Star hopefuls left no doubt on the outcome of this one. Joel Embiid certainly handled his end of the business against Drummond, dropping 23 points in just 25 minutes of action. The even more incandescent star was Ben Simmons, who in his 23 minutes on the court, tallied 19 points on 9-13 shooting, 9 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. Simmons had at least three plays where he spun his way through the Pistons defense to finish himself or set up a teammate.

Embiid and Simmons combined for 30 points in the first half, nearly matching the 32 points scored by the Pistons. For the game to be that much of an onslaught though, the Sixers had everyone chipping in. Six different Philadelphia players were at least 50% from three, a group which doesn’t include J.J. Redick, who went 3-8 from behind the arc for 21 points. The Sixers as a whole made 14 of their 30 attempts from downtown to supplement the terrific work on the interior by the Embiid and Simmons tandem.

Meanwhile, the Pistons were basically unraveling before our eyes. Detroit head coach Stan Van Gundy picked up a technical, basically for being embarrassed his team was getting blown out so badly. Later, Andre Drummond made two free throws and tried to shush the crowd. Only problem, his team was down 30 points.

Drummond also picked up a technical.

In the end, it’s four straight for the Sixers, who remain undefeated in 2018. Chalk up another one for the Process.

Sixers start 2018 off right with victory over Spurs

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Philadelphia 112, San Antonio 106 – Box Score

The January Sixers are back! Well, maybe. Facing a Spurs team on the second night of a back-to-back and missing/resting 5 of their top 8-ish players, Philadelphia kicked off the new year right by extending their winning streak to three games.

Despite San Antonio resting Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, Danny Green, and Manu Ginobili (and Rudy Gay missing due to injury), the Sixers almost pulled one of their patented second half collapses. After trailing by as many as 16 points in the third quarter and 9 in the fourth quarter, the combination of LaMarcus Aldridge (24 points, 14 rebounds) and Patty Mills (26 points) propelled the Spurs to a 2-point lead with just 2 minutes remaining in the game.

As a “here we go again” pall took over the Wells Fargo Center, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich made the somewhat curious decision to intentionally foul Ben Simmons for the second possession in a row. To his credit, having split the pair seconds earlier, Simmons exorcised his Hack-a-Ben demons from a month ago by calmly knocking down both free throws to tie the game.

After Aldridge missed a turnaround jumper on the baseline, Sixers coach Brett Brown drew up a terrific game-deciding play. After passing off to J.J. Redick on the wing, Simmons received a back screen from Joel Embiid at the top of the key, and wide open, was fed the return pass from Redick under the hoop for an and-1. The play was basically the ideal way to incorporate the team’s top three threats; it allowed Simmons to finish in the paint against the much smaller Bryn Forbes, it used Embiid to suck the help defender’s attention up away from the rim, and the on-ball defender had to play up to honor Redick’s shooting ability, thereby creating a passing lane.

Whether the Spurs were at quarter-strength or not, it was a strong showing from the Sixers. For one night, they fixed two of their key weaknesses, actually winning the turnover battle (committing just 13 to 15 for San Antonio), and getting to the line a whopping 45 times (helped only slightly by the intentional fouls on Simmons).

Simmons displayed the aggression fans have been calling to see from him, attempting a team-high 18 attempts from the field and going 10-15 from the charity stripe for 26 points. After only once reaching double digits in free throw attempts through his first 34 games (the infamous Hack-a-Ben game against Washington), Simmons has now done so each of his last two contests.

After curiously going from “doubtful” to “very doubtful” to “out”, Embiid was announced as a surprise starter just prior to gametime. He was instrumental in the Sixers building an early lead, dominating the first quarter with 6 points (on a perfect 2-2 from the field and 2-2 from the line), 6 rebounds, 3 assists, and 4 blocks. Not bad for a guy who said before the game, that he couldn’t really use his hand to shoot, and after the game, that grabbing all those rebounds and blocking all those shots kind of hurt him. I don’t know the medical implications of playing through a sprained hand (I imagine they’re not something to be worried about), but I do know the Sixers aren’t winning the game without his final line of 21 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 blocks.

Philadelphia also received solid supporting efforts from J.J. Redick (20 points) and Dario Saric (15 points), who combined to knock down 5 of 8 shots from behind the arc. Redick was instrumental down the stretch with that nice feed to Simmons, and then on the subsequent possession, knocking down a tough 20-footer on a broken play with the shot clock expiring. Make or miss league.

The Sixers will take on Detroit Friday looking to move back up to .500 with a win. That would be a very nice way to leave the states before heading across the pond to face the Celtics in London.

Another Late Collapse for the Sixers in Portland

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Portland 114, Philadelphia 110- Box Score

In a rare turn of events, it was the Sixers’ opponent that saw their star player have his status turn from questionable to out just prior to gametime Thursday night. Portland sat out Damian Lillard with his hamstring injury, while Joel Embiid was cleared to take the court, and for three quarters, that looked like it would be enough for a Philadelphia victory. Embiid did his best Lillard impression, sinking a career-high 6 threes on 12 attempts for a team-best 29 points. The team led by 13 heading into the final quarter, but sadly, that’s when events turned all too familiar.

You could basically play choose your own adventure in pointing out different directions where this game went wrong for the Sixers, most glaringly the 19-0 run by Portland in the fourth quarter. Robert Covington injured his left middle finger early in the second half, meaning plenty of Jerryd Bayless down the stretch. For anyone that’s watched Bayless this season, you can likely guess the result. 0 points and 0 assists in 20 minutes for a game-worst -20 plus/minus. Why you don’t throw Richaun Holmes, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, or even Justin Anderson (who was cleared to play, but hadn’t received practice time) on the floor when Bayless is giving you literally nothing is a head-scratcher.

There were also some questionable calls. CJ McCollum attempted as many free throws as the entire Sixers team (14); naturally, he made all 14 on his way to a game-high 34 points. Jusuf Nurkic also got to the line repeatedly (going 11-16), as he was definitely the more physical player in his matchup with Embiid. Still, Nurkic played for a long stretch with 5 fouls and there was definitely a moment or two when the referees could have easily blown the whistle to foul him out of the game. I know the Sixers are terrible at drawing fouls (outside of Embiid), but a 47-14 disparity in free throw attempts is ridiculous.

Finally, as they’re apt to do, the Sixers just killed themselves. After doing such a wonderful job of taking care of the ball for the first three quarters, 7 of the team’s 13 turnovers came in the fourth quarter. T.J. McConnell tried to throw a three-quarters court lob to Embiid that sailed and hit the top of the backboard. Embiid made an incredibly lazy pass to the top of the key that led to a Shabazz Napier runout. Ben Simmons had a couple plays where he over-dribbled into a crowd and lost the ball. These are avoidable mistakes that end up being the reason a team continuously loses double-digit leads in the fourth quarter. The Sixers are the embodiment of when you point a finger at someone else, there are three pointing back at you.

After the high of a Christmas Day victory in New York, the Sixers are back in the throes of a losing skid that has seen them fall in defeat 10 of their last 12 games. They will finish out 2017 in Denver Saturday night and Phoenix on New Year’s Eve. I, for one, am ready to turn the calendar page on this season.

Quick Thoughts:

  • We always took about how Simmons uses passing angles no one would even consider. This play where he actually passed over the basket to Amir Johnson was equal parts dangerous and fun. Look at Nurkic duck!

  • I didn’t mention him earlier, but Dario Saric shook off his bad performance against the Knicks with an excellent effort. Saric went 5-6 from three and 10-12 from the field overall, collecting 25 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals. That’s the sort of play that encourages you into thinking he can coexist alongside Embiid and Simmons.
  • Bayless is still set to make $8.6M next season. That signing is a huge misfire from Bryan Colangelo.

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PFB 017 – 2017 NFL Week 17 Plays

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Embed from Getty Images

Before we jump in 2018, there’s one final week of the NFL regular season. Week 17 is always tough to figure out, whether it’s a given team’s motivation or even something as seemingly simple as who is starting at quarterback. We try to parse through it all in the latest episode of the podcast.

Dan’s season record: 30-36-2; Week 16 record: 1-2
Sean’s season record: 20-15; Week 16 record: 1-1

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Sixers lose fourth straight in second half collapse to Raptors

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Toronto 114, Philadelphia 109 – Box Score

So much about Thursday night was familiar behavior from the Sixers, agonizingly familiar. First, the team played a familiar rope-a-dope concerning the availability of Joel Embiid. After Adrian Wojnarowski’s ESPN report that the big man would miss an additional two games before returning for the Christmas Day matinee against New York, the Sixers actually upgraded Embiid to probable heading into the game against Toronto. All day long, we heard from teammates about how great JoJo looked in shootaround and how they would be surprised if he didn’t go out there.

Of course, right before the game, Embiid was ruled out for the third straight contest. Why bother getting our hopes up? Also, a particular ‘screw you’ to anyone who decided to trek down to the Wells Fargo Center upon positive reports that Embiid would suit up. Given the team’s abysmal history handling medical updates, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that the organization is sowing confusion on that front yet again. Good thing Bryan Colangelo is such a great communicator with the media *eats own fist*.

Then, on the court, Philadelphia followed a familiar road map of late where they jumped out to a huge lead, only to blow it in the second half. This time around, the Sixers held a 22-point advantage in the third quarter before the Raptors went on a 22-2 run to draw back within a bucket. The Sixers maintained a slim lead until just inside of 5 minutes left in the game, when Dario Saric fouled Kyle Lowry on a three-point attempt; the former Villanova star sank all three foul shots to put Toronto ahead 101-100. After Richaun Holmes and DeMar DeRozan traded buckets, Toronto created just enough separation that the Sixers never took a potential game-tying or go-ahead shot attempt in the game’s final few minutes.

Granted, the team was without two starters in Embiid and J.J. Redick. But how does the same team that built a 22-point lead in the first place fall apart so rapidly? The Raptors were on the second night of a road back-to-back; their energy should have tailed off as the game progressed, not the other way around.

Instead Toronto grabbed 19 offensive rebounds on the night, as the Sixers had only a 58.7% defensive rebounding rate. That’s a facet of the game that comes from effort and discipline and shouldn’t take such a nosedive just because Embiid is out. Ben Simmons grabbed a lower than normal 6 rebounds, and Richaun Holmes wasn’t particularly good on the defensive end (he was active on the offensive glass, as usual). Trevor Booker was especially poor in this area though, grabbing just 1 defensive rebound in his 15 minutes of play. He also turned it over 3 times, with two coming as a result of a three-second violation and a charge. Not a great night for the big man version of T.J. McConnell.

The Sixers were also dominated in terms of getting easy points at the charity stripe. DeMar DeRozan went off for a career-high 45 points, both making and attempting more free throws than the entire Sixers team (DeRozan went 13-15 himself, while Philadelphia as a whole was 10-14). Toronto was 32-35 at the line as a group, making it a lot easier to come back from a huge deficit when you’re getting free points with the clock stopped.

Coming off a game where he was criticized for only taking 6 field goal attempts, Ben Simmons was certainly more aggressive against the Raptors, shooting 9-14 from the floor for a team-high 20 points. Unfortunately, the uptick in assertiveness came at the expense of his playmaking, with the rookie turning it over 7 times against just 4 assists.

Five of Simmons’ giveaways were very poor passes when he drove into the lane and whirled it out either out of bounds or into the waiting arms of a Raptors defender (his 7th and final turnover was a garbage offensive foul call that overturned a basket with two minutes left in the game). These are part of the growing pains for a rookie, learning to strike the proper balance between being overly passive and aggressive to the point that you’re making costly mistakes.

There were positives for the Sixers, even amongst all the negativity. Primarily, Dario Saric was a man possessed, falling a single assist shy of his first career triple-double with a line of 18 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. Saric had a great “inside-inside” game working, where he was able to back defenders down and fit pinpoint passes in tight corners to his frontcourt partner for an easy lay-in; 6 of his 9 assists went to either Amir Johnson or Richaun Holmes for shots around the basket. It bodes well that Saric could work well alongside Embiid in more than just a “spot up on the perimeter” type role.

Robert Covington bounced back from his worst shooting performance of the year to knock down 5 of 12 attempts from behind the arc for 19 points. Unfortunately, he was the only Sixer to make more than one three. Jerryd Bayless going 1-7 certainly wasn’t doing the team any favors.

With the loss, the Sixers have lost 4 straight and 8 of their past 9 games. They’ll have a tough time breaking the skid when they again face the Raptors Saturday night, as that contest will be on Toronto’s home court and Philadelphia won’t have a rest advantage. While the roster isn’t really deep enough to overcome the absence of two starters, the fact that they keep building these double-digits leads late into the game (only to blow them) shows they’re at least capable of competing. Hopefully, they put it together for a full 48 minutes for a change. But unlike reports of Embiid being ‘probable’, I’m not holding out hope.