By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
That's all for this one. pic.twitter.com/HaCISbNfQs
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) December 20, 2017
Sacramento 101, Philadelphia 95 – Box Score
For the second straight night, the Sixers allowed a 13-0 run in the fourth quarter, letting a win slip through their fingers against a subpar opponent. As he did Monday night in Chicago, Joel Embiid was in street clothes Tuesday against the Kings (looking sharp in a tan suit), after the medical staff determined his back tightness required an additional few days of rest. His long-term health should certainly be the team’s top priority, so it’s hard to argue with the decision, although maybe let Richaun Holmes get a few minutes of run the next time an overtime game rears its head?
Anyway, with Embiid sidelined, the team loses its central hub of the offense, a problem which was exacerbated when J.J. Redick left the game for good with a hamstring injury midway through Tuesday night’s contest. Ostensibly, more of the scoring burden would fall to the team’s other young star, Ben Simmons. Simmons started out wonderfully against the Kings, actually taking (and making) two midrange jumpers in the game’s opening minutes. The second shot drew a raucous ovation from the crowd, who has been waiting for him to be more aggressive. He was then able to drive for the hoop for his third bucket five minutes into the game, and you could see the outline of how the defense respecting his jumper would help invigorate the rest of his game.
Now, it’s hard to fault a guy who finished an assist shy of a triple-double (13 points, 12 rebounds, and 9 assists), but after scoring with 7 minutes remaining in the first quarter, Simmons’ next field goal attempt came with 4 minutes left in the third. He only took a total of 6 field goal attempts on the night (making 5). No more elbows from the jumper. Simmons made one lay-up out of a post-up situation and went 1-2 on drives, the make being the and-1 opportunity in the game’s final minute.
You hate to put much pressure on a rookie, but the Sixers have two guys right now who can create his own shot, Embiid and Simmons. If Embiid is out, Simmons has to take it upon himself to assume more of the scoring burden. Taking just 3 shots across the final 43 minutes of the game is simply unacceptable.
Still, you don’t lose a 16-point second half lead purely because the best player on the floor looks to pass first. Robert Covington led the team in scoring (17 points), but shot just 2-13 from behind the arc. Since missing a pair of games with a back injury of his own, RoCo is shooting 21.9% on threes. Hopefully, that’s just a product of small sample size and not an indication his body doesn’t feel right.
As usual, the team as a whole has to take better care of the ball; Philadelphia lost the turnover battle 19-12. Too many were unforced errors (traveling, sloppy ball-handling, errant passes to guys who had just moved to a new spot a second earlier). The play at the end of the first quarter where T.J. McConnell got caught in the air under the basket and passed it out for a Kings 3-0 fast break (what someone referred to as a pick-six) was particularly egregious.
With the loss, the Sixers fell to 1-6 on the season without Embiid. They’ve now lost 7 of their past 8 games and are firmly in 10th place in the Eastern Conference standings. The fair weather fans who started watching the team again this season didn’t sign up for this.
There’s plenty of ways to look at the problem. First, without a healthy Markelle Fultz, the team only has one ball handler who can create his own shot. That’s a problem of roster construction. Subsequently, that one ball handler (Simmons) has to recognize that fact and, you know, actually make more of an effort to create his own shot. It’s also up to Brett Brown to get in his ear and reinforce that idea on a nightly basis. The supporting cast needs to help out by not actively turning the ball over whenever they get it.
When it comes down to it, though, the Sixers just aren’t very good without Joel Embiid. Part of being an MVP-caliber player is that he’s incredibly valuable. Meaning, the team really needs him to be on the court. His net rating on/off court split of 7.3/-6.9 is a testament to that fact. We can whine and moan about Brett Brown, Simmons’ passivity, and turnovers all we want, but we just don’t want to admit that so much of the team’s fate in the short term is tied up in the lumbar region of a 7-foot giant. Team masseuse, do some magic with those hands.