Sixers Lose at Home; Sixers Fans Lose Any Remaining False Notions
Fool us once, shame on you, fool us twice…
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At this point I think we can all probably acknowledge that we should’ve seen the Thursday loss coming. The Sixers flew into Chicago riding the high of a season-long six-game winning streak, and an evisceration of Minnesota two nights before, their most decisive road victory (of all, uh, 11) this year. Process Trusters were starting to have visions of 2018 dancing in their head, counting that we could do two better than the 16-game win streak to end that season if we won out from there. Meanwhile, they were facing a Bulls team who had just lost four in a row, and were now a game or two away from being officially eliminated from playoff contention altogether. What could possibli go wrong?
The answer, of course, was everything. Coming off a signature performance against the Timberwolves, and one of the best overall stretches of his career since coming back from his shoulder injury (31.8 PPG, 13.4 RPG, 53/41/84% shooting splits), Embiid was finally slowed down by Wendell Carter (Junior Horford?) and Daniel Gafford, struggling his way to 20 points on 6-19 shooting. Shake’s stroke was off, Horf was clapping like he was workin’ at the car wash yeah, and while Tobias led the team in scoring with his 25, he pump-faked out of two critical looks at three late that could’ve made this one interesting. Meanwhile, Zach Lavine continues to be Steph Maravich anytime he plays Philly, going off for a ridiculous 47 on 18-24 shooting -- I don’t think I’ve ever seen Josh Richardson shake his head or argue with the refs that much.
Typical Sixers, right? The road loss when everything seemed to be pointing to a victory was one we could be rightly furious with ourselves for not spotting a mile away. Last night against the Suns? A slightly different (and much more dispiriting) story.
The Sixers hadn’t lost at home in 19 games. The last time they did, both the third and fourth digit of the year were different. Over that time, they’d beaten the Bucks, Lakers, Clippers, Raptors, Celtics and Thunder -- pretty much every team in the Association worth beating. It had gotten to the point where we assumed we were invincible within the booing confines of the not-Wells Fargo Center. Certainly the Phoenix Suns -- friskier of late but still not a patch on any of the elite teams we’d recently vanquished at home -- would present no major challenge, right?
Well, home win streak over, not-WFC invincibility over, emotional investment in the rest of the regular season (maybe?) over. Phoenix dismantled the Sixers on Friday, with Devin Booker playing the Zach LaVine role of J-Rich torturer. Every time it looked like the Sixers were on a run and getting close, Booker would stop and pop for some absurd three, or find a rolling DeAndre Ayton going around Embiid like he was playing musical chairs. (Embiid had a nice offensive bounce-back game in this one, at least, going for 35 and 15.) Booker finished with 44 and 8, a total that probably could’ve gotten to 50 if he didn’t sub out with six minutes to go and the W comfortably in hand. (He also found our old bud Dario Saric for a resounding fourth-quarter dunk over a late-arriving Furkan Korkmaz, before flexing his muscles at the booing home crowd -- though by that point they probably were boing the Sixers themselves more than The Homie.)
After the game, Brett Brown -- who, as many on Twitter have noted, has now started wearing a Sixers hoodie and sweatpants to his post-game conferences -- struggled to explain his team’s performance over the last two games. “You tip your cap to both Zach and Devon -- great offensive players are going to give great offensive performances,” he qualified. “But the lack of intensity from our guys in these two losses, with the playoffs now around the corner -- we all find it a little alarming. We’ll look at what the tape shows us, and we’ll find things to clean up, but it starts with the guys in that locker room taking it as a personal affront -- for them to say, ‘No one comes into our building and scores 44 on us.’”
Brett didn’t seem to want to say it, so I will: This team really misses Ben Simmons. Not shocking that our Defensive Player of the Year candidate should be noteworthy in his absence, but wth Richardson all but pulling out the Wile E. Coyote “HELP!” sign while chasing Booker and LaVine around the last two games, you definitely wish we could’ve called on our 6’10”, five-position shutdown guy to tag in, at least for stretches. Offensively, too: Shake’s had a real tough time getting past Kris Dunn and Ricky Rubio and into the teeth of the defense, and while he’s done a nice job of forcing plays that aren’t there, he’s also left the Sixers with a lot of possessions where there’s eight seconds on the shot clock and we still haven’t gotten the ball past the three-point line. Wouldn’t mind having a guy initiating offense that only five or six defenders in the world have the size and quickness to totally check.
When the Sixers owners attempted to make every non-contracted Sixers employee making $50,000 or more take a pay cut, Joel Embiid stepped in with a superstar moved and publicly shamed them into changing their minds.
Anyway, these were the games we brought Jamal Crawford in for, right? To be the give-me-the-ball guy when Simmons is out and Shake gets stirred? Maybe, but after a nice Sixers season debut in Minnesota, he’s been a ghost the last two games. He shot just three times in 15 minutes of game action in Chicago, and while he started cooking a little in garbage time against Phoenix -- hence the 118-107 final score belying how not-that-close this game actually was -- but he didn’t score his first bucker until the third quarter, seemingly trying to placate his new teammates by acting as a distributor in the first half. I can’t believe I even need to say this, but a passive and polite Jamal Crawford is of absolutely 0 use to this team right now.
And beyond seeing how ol’ J. Crossover gets acclimated to his new digs, is there any reason to still be watching the Sixers this regular season -- with our mighty home streak over and the entire team, once again, very much who we thought they were? The answer is of course: Always watch the games, especially when there’s no point to do so. (Next up: Portland at home tonight.) And regardless, the Sixers have been fortunate, in that their mini-cold spell leaves them in a dead heat -- pun semi-intended -- with Miami, who lost to Denver on Wednesday and got scorched by the same Suns last night.
However, the third-place Celtics -- winners of two straight after dumping three in a row -- are likely out of reach for the Sixers with only nine games remaining in the season. And perhaps more importantly, the idea that the Sixers had finally turned a corner that they couldn’t just as quickly turn back the other way around has been put to bed. Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova ain’t walking through that door, and this ain’t 2018 -- though come the postseason, it could end up finishing in a very similar way.