By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
Washington 109, Philadelphia 94 – Box Score
It was a fun ride while it lasted, but all good things have to end sometime. That’s what Philadelphia fans are telling themselves this morning, after the Sixers had their winning streak snapped at 7 Sunday night in the nation’s capital. The Wizards led from the end of the first quarter on, as their advantage ballooned to as many as 23 points at one point in the third quarter. To the Sixers’ credit, they twice cut the deficit to 8 midway through the fourth quarter, but climbing out of that big a hole was too tall an order on the road on the second night of a back-to-back.
This game was the biggest example I noticed of an opponent really getting up to play the Sixers, a decided 180 from years past when teams would sleepwalk through games against them, until finally waking up in time to pull out the victory. Maybe it was the large contingent of Sixers fans in attendance in DC, chanting Trust the Process and E-A-G-L-E-S. Maybe it was the fact that the Sixers would have moved up to 5th in the East, dropping Washington down to 6th, with a victory. Or maybe they’re just tired of hearing about the Sixers as the next big thing in the NBA. Whatever the case, the Wizards were fired up, flexing for the crowd after every big play and leaping off the bench in celebration whenever a run prompted a Sixers timeout.
That energy fed into Washington’s shot-making, as whether open or contested, they drained every single jumper in sight. The Sixers got to the free throw line more, collected more offensive rebounds, and forced more turnovers, so it wasn’t a question of effort. But every time Philadelphia was making a push to get back into the game, Bradley Beal (24 points), Otto Porter (23 points), or Kelly Oubre, Jr. (19 points) would hit a huge shot to stem the tide. Washington shot 12-25 from behind the arc as a team, whereas the Sixers went a paltry 9-33, with not a single player making better than one-third of his attempts. Make or miss league, and all that.
Philadelphia’s stars played well enough. Ben Simmons recorded 16 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists. Joel Embiid put together a line of 25 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, and 1 block. He also had the highlight of the night with this left-handed, no-look, over the shoulder hook shot. If he doesn’t even need to see the basket now to throw it in, I’m not sure what recourse opposing defenses will have.
Still, it wasn’t a nearly dominant enough performance when the majority of the supporting cast was MIA. The only other Sixer who showed much of a pulse was Richaun Holmes, who finally got off the bench in the third quarter and provided a huge spark for the team. Holmes’ numbers don’t pop off the box score (7 points, 2 rebounds, and 1 block), but he was a +12 in his 12 minutes of playing time. He noticeably bumped up the energy level for the team, the biggest catalyst in the Sixers trimming Washington’s lead back down to 8. It was great to see Holmes have another strong showing because of the other big piece of news Sunday.
Word on the street is that Ersan Ilyasova will be returning to the Sixers after being bought out of his contract with Atlanta. As I’m sure you recall, Ilyasova spent much of the 2016-17 season with Philadelphia, averaging 14.8 points and 5.9 rebounds, while shooting 35.9% from three. His skillset as a stretch four makes for a solid addition to the bench unit, especially getting him for nothing, although it’s funny the Sixers are collecting spare parts from the last place Hawks.
The million dollar question at the moment, though, is who will be the roster cut to bring in Ilyasova. Jerryd Bayless is owed $8.6M next season and I’m sure the Sixers would like to find a way to clear that salary off the cap this offseason. Guys like Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and the recently-acquired Marco Belinelli are at a position of need for the current roster. That process of elimination basically leaves Richaun Holmes and Trevor Booker. Booker was a recent half year rental and would be the logical choice. He doesn’t help stretch the floor at all, something vital for a team with Ben Simmons as the point guard.
However, even though he’s young and has plenty of supporters among the fan base, the coaching staff seems to have soured on Richaun Holmes at times. He’s gathered plenty of DNP-CD’s this season, mainly due to concerns on the defensive end. His being the odd man out wouldn’t be completely out of left field. Booker is the smartest choice though; hopefully, that’s the news we’ll be hearing in the next day or two.
Meanwhile, although the Sixers could have moved up to 5th place in the East with the win, they’re still sitting in fine position. Currently, they reside in 7th place with a comfortable 4.5-game cushion between them and the 9th-place Pistons. The playoffs are more and more secure by the week. Don’t let one bad game cloud what’s a very bright big picture.
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