The Philadelphia 76ers picked up right where they left off – losing yet another road game. This time, though, it looks incredibly different. The NBA bubble in Orlando has, other than a chicken wing incident, worked beautifully. Games have resumed and the play on the court hasn’t skipped a beat after the five-month delay. The Sixers have played three of their eight regular-season games and hold a 2-1 record.
Philadelphia’s first game back was against Indiana. The game started off like a dream. Philly used their size to bully the Pacers, who were truly missing Domantas Sabonis. Joel Embiid got the Pacers only true center, Myles Turner, into early foul trouble, and it looked like all of the hype built up over quarantine was real.
Then, reality struck.
The Sixers went back to their old ways. Blowing leads, constantly turning the ball over – 14 times in the first half alone – and playing lackluster defense. In truth, this game had season-long storylines built into 48 minutes. The promise was followed up by sloppy play and a coach who refused to make adjustments. One of the changes Head Coach Brett Brown made was inserting Shake Milton into the starting lineup. Shake, a second round pick just a year ago, took over the point guard spot, and Ben Simmons got pushed to the power forward position while Al Horford moved to the bench. Once the game was close again, Simmons could not get himself stay in that four-spot. He took back the ball-handling duties, and Brown did nothing to stop it. Another incident that every other coach would make a change for was T.J. Warren (a role player) scoring 53 points. But no, Brett held course, and let Warren light up the Sixers.
Speaking of Shake Milton, he got into a verbal argument with Joel Embiid after five or so minutes of sloppy play from the Sixers. It ended with Embiid telling Milton he would slap him – something you really don’t want to see from your team leader.
However, Milton came back in a big way the next game. After falling to Indiana 127-121 and missing out on a huge chance to take the fifth seed, the Sixers were back in action two days later against the San Antonio Spurs.
For a long time, this game looked great for Philadelphia. They played solid defense and moved the ball well offensively. Then the 76ers we all know and hate-that-we-love returned. Philly was up practically the entire game and led by double digits following the third quarter. Then, the Spurs almost scored 50 points in the fourth quarter, and the Sixers found themselves in a battle yet again.
Shake Milton, who almost got slapped by Joel Embiid two days prior, got the ball back after an in-bound with under ten seconds to go and the Sixers down one. The closer role is one that Joel Embiid has been vocal about wanting to step into this season. Down by one against a poor Spurs team and needing a bucket, everyone thought the ball would go to Embiid. The play was clearly drawn up for the ball to go into Embiid in the post, who was open. However, the ball got passed back to Shake who stepped into a three-point shot and absolutely nailed it, giving the Sixers the lead and the victory.
The best part about the bubble is that there was more 76ers basketball again, two days later. After the Spurs, the Sixers faced one of the worst teams in the bubble, the Washington Wizards.
If you know anything about the Sixers, you know this is a game where they should, on paper, cruise to victory. In reality, they always struggle – and that’s exactly what happened this time.
A back-and-forth affair the whole way, the game turned in the third quarter when Ben Simmons exited with a left-knee injury. Thankfully, tests were negative, and Simmons is day-to-day to return, but he did not see the court again against the Wizards. This led to a battle. Joel Embiid was quiet for the first three quarters before erupting in the fourth, along with Tobias Harris. At one point, Embiid and Harris scored 21 straight points for the 76ers. The pair led the Sixers to a rare road victory.
The Sixers are back and the same as before. Ben Simmons is not shooting. They are still blowing leads and turning the ball over. Brett Brown is playing Raul Neto way more minutes than he should. But 76ers basketball is back. Perhaps it is better they lost to Indiana and all but secured themselves the sixth seed and an easier path in the playoffs. Nevertheless, the Sixers are back and the same as they were when they left us.