Sixers Fall in Final Minute in Season Opener

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Washington 120, Philadelphia 115 – Box Score

Sixers fans may have heard something similar plenty of times over the years, but in Wednesday night’s season opener, Philadelphia fought hard, only to come up just short in the final minute. However, unlike early seasons of the Process, this wasn’t the case of plucky underdogs playing above their talent level. No, this loss indicated a team just as talented as a Wizards team that’s a perennial playoff team in the East, losing due to some untimely turnovers. For that, at least, Sixers fans should be encouraged.

As you might expect with a Sixers squad that’s still very young, Washington won the turnover battle 17-9. But it was some of the more seasoned Sixers that had the two most critical giveaways of the game. With Philadelphia down 2 and under a minute remaining, Jerryd Bayless had the ball in transition with Ben Simmons streaking wide open for a game-tying dunk. However, his pass was deflected by Otto Porter and scooped up by Bradley Beal.

Then, after Robert Covington blocked Marcin Gortat on the other end, he had the ball on the wing and tried to swing it to a wide-open Bayless in the corner. Beal deflected the pass though, leading to another turnover. You can’t give away two possessions in the closing minute of the game and expect to win, it’s as simple as that.

Despite the loss, there were plenty of reasons for excitement, and I’m not just talking about a Wizards home game being packed by about 30% Sixers fans who were constantly chanting Trust the Process, or Jeff Van Gundy saying on the ESPN broadcast that the Sixers looked like the 5th best team in the East. The biggest reasons to believe this is going to be an unbelievably fun seasons were on full display with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons both showing out.

Embiid blew past his minutes restriction “in the teens” and ended up playing 27 minutes. He looked perfectly healthy and tried to prove it right from the get-go by almost sending Jason Smith to an early grave with this tomahawk dunk attempt.

In all, Embiid recorded 18 points, 13 rebounds, and 1 block, even without hitting any of his 4 three-point attempts, which we know he’s capable of knocking down. On the whole, the big man looked very composed. Rather than some of the more wild isolations and post-ups we saw last season, Embiid played nicely off his teammates within the structure of the offense, as in this nice little dribble-handoff pick-and-roll with J.J. Redick.

Meanwhile, Simmons became only the second player in franchise history to record a double-double in his rookie debut (Michael Carter-Williams was the other) with 18 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists. Ben didn’t even think about taking an outside shot, but it rarely mattered, as he was able to get out into transition for easy buckets so seamlessly. It takes 3 seconds here for Simmons to go from collecting those loose ball off an Embiid block to laying it in on the other end.

Simmons also got to the rim in the half court on a handful of occasions, able to burst past Otto Porter, the type of quicker wing opposing defenses will try to throw at him throughout his career. He also scored off a couple pick-and-rolls with Embiid and Saric; Simmons was much too quick for Gortat to have a chance of cutting him off. The passing ability was on full display with the 5 assists. Although there were no highlight-reel dishes, Simmons continually made the right reads (only 1 turnover was a terrific sign). An early drive into the paint and kick to Bayless in the opposite corner for three was the type of play that’s relatively straight-forward, but will always be there for Simmons.

Other Game Notes:

  • Robert Covington was an absolute monster and I hope he knows how he’s planning to invest the $60-70 million in guaranteed money that will start coming his way after next month’s extension. RoCo hit 7 of 11 from downtown, confidently stepping into shots like he was not only the former MVP of D-league, but the whole league. As usual, he got his hands on everything defensively, deflecting a number of balls, collecting a steal and 2 blocks. The team-high 5 turnovers were something to clean up going forward.
  • J.J. Redick did what he was brought here to do, going 4-8 from behind the arc. It’s so refreshing to see the ball swing to an open player in the corner and feel confident the shot is going down.
  • In the back-up center role, Amir Johnson didn’t have a great Sixers debut, shooting 2-7 and fouling out in just 15 minutes. Saric played small-ball center in the fourth quarter, which was when the Sixers made a big 15-2 push to get back into the game. Dario didn’t have a whole lot to do with it though, struggling with 3 points and 3 rebounds on the evening. Get well soon, Richaun.
  • Markelle Fultz was *fine*. He confidently got to the basket to score 10 points on 5-9 shooting, even hitting a sweet pull-up jumper over Kelly Oubre.

Still, in his one trip to the free throw line, Fultz’ shot looked absolutely broken. That shoulder needs to heal up so the team can lock him in the shooting lab and fix whatever the rookie did to screw up his form over the summer.


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