Things to Watch: Sixers vs Celtics Part Two

By Kevin McCormick, Sports Talk Philly Editor

After a matchup that would go down to the wire on Wednesday, the Sixers and Celtics will face off again in this 'series' finale. Now that they have faced off once, it will interesting to see what kinds of adjustments are made for the second matchup.

Here are three things to watch as these teams get set to face off for the second time.

Limiting the supporting cast 

It has been reported that Celtics' All-Star Jayson Tatum will not be making the trip to play in this game. Boston will still have Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker to lead the charge, but the Sixers need to focus on limiting the supporting cast.

Guys like Brown and Walker are All-Star level talents, we know they are going to go out and get their numbers. This is why if the Sixers want to walk away with another win, they need to focus on shutting down the players around them.

Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis both scored over 20 points in the first matchup on Wednesday. Those scoring outbursts helped keep Boston in the game, and need to be addressed the second time around.

The Sixers defense was sloppy at times early but stepped it up late in the game. Now that they have seen what Boston is going to throw at them, the defense should have an easier time containing them for all four quarters.

Getting to the line 

The biggest disparity between these teams on Wednesday was their amount of free-throws. Joel Embiid alone would attempt more shots at the line than the Celtics team as a whole. The Sixers' ability to draw contact and get to the line played a big part in their victory and is something they need to continue in game two.

Part of the reason Embiid and the Sixers got to the line so much was because of their size advantage. Boston does not have the size to counter bigger players like Embiid and Simmons they were forced to play more physical. The two need to continue to show a willingness to get to the line and keep taking advantage of their size.

As a whole, the Sixers would shoot double the amount of free-throws than the Celtics. If the Sixers can get to the line at the volume again and get Boston in foul trouble, it should lead to a second straight victory.

Joel Embiid making adjustments 

Joel Embiid was without a doubt the biggest factor in the Sixers' victory on Wednesday. He would erupt for 42 points and 10 rebounds, continuing his early MVP campaign. 

Now that Brad Stevens has had the chance to try and defend Embiid, he will likely attempt a different approach in the second matchup. How Embiid adapts to whatever is thrown at him will be something major to focus on. 

The most obvious difference will likely be the number of double teams thrown at Embiid. Their lack of size will force them to throw more bodies at the All-Star center if they want to slow him down. If Embiid can continue to be a strong passer when doubled and make passes like the cross-court one he made to Danny Green on Wednesday, he should be just fine. 

It's no secret that the Sixers are going to need another strong performance from Embiid if they want to sweep this 'series.' This game will be a good test for Embiid, as it is the first time a top-level team and coach will have the chance to change their plan of attack from game to game. Situations like this are great preparation for the postseason. 


Grades From Sixers' Victory Over Celtics

By Kevin McCormick, Sports Talk Philly Editor

The Sixers were back in action at home on Wednesday night, facing off against the Eastern Conference-leading Boston Celtics. Boston would be without their All-Star Jayson Tatum, but would still put up a good fight. 

In the end, the Sixers would be able to hold on to the lead late and walk away with a 117-109 victory. With the win, the Sixers now hold the top spot in the conference by half a game. 

Here are some grades from the first of two matchups by these teams. 

Tobias Harris: A

Since being reunited with Doc Rivers, Tobias Harris has begun to look like his old self. His play on the floor this season has been a night and day difference to the player we saw last season. 

As much credit goes to Joel Embiid for carrying this team this season, Harris deserves just as much credit for being a reliable second option on a nightly basis. He would end this game as the team's second-leading scorer with 22 points and would shoot over 50% from the floor. 

Harris did a good job establishing himself early in this game and was crucial for the team down the stretch in the fourth quarter. Nine of his 22 points would come in the final quarter, including a huge bucket in the post to help keep the Celtics at bay in the closing moments. 

Although there is no All-Star game this year, Harris has been playing at that type of level. What he has brought offensively has played a huge part in the success the Sixers have seen this season. 

Shake Milton: B+

Shake Milton is another player who has upped his game since the arrival of Doc Rivers. He continues to be an offensive spark plug off the bench, solidifying the team's second unit in the process.   

The potential sixth man of the year candidate would be the Sixers' third-leading scorer in this contest, racking up 16 points in about 29 minutes of action. Milton would shoot the ball effectively in two major areas, knocking down a pair of threes and converting all six of his free throw attempts. 

Milton's play off the bench is something the Sixers haven't seen since Lou Williams. His ability to come in games and rack up points fast makes the Sixers look like a deep and dangerous team. 

Ben Simmons: B+

Ben Simmons struggled in portions of this game but was big for the team down the stretch as they secured the win. His shooting struggles would continue, but that didn't stop him from finishing just shy of another triple-double. 

He would finish the game with a stat line of 11 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, and two steals. Although 11 points aren't impressive, he would score seven of those points at the free-throw line. His ability to draw fouls and get to the line at a career-high rate has been a big positive for a slow start to the season for Simmons. 

If Simmons can keep getting to the line at this type of rate, he is bound to break out of his slump soon. He is still rebounding and passing the ball at an elite rate, once his shots start to fall he will start to look like Simmons we are accustomed to seeing. 

Joel Embiid: A++ 

Yet again, Joel Embiid continues to dominate any matchup put in front of him. Whether it was fresh legs or wanting revenge from last year's playoffs, Joel Embiid was a man determined on Wednesday night. 

The early MVP favorite would put on another dominant performance, ending with 42 points, 10 rebounds, two assists, two steals, and one block. Embiid would get it going early and never look back. 

What stands out most about this performance was how effective Embiid was shooting the ball. He shot over 60% from the floor, hitting 12 of his 19 field goals, and would convert 17 free throws on an astonishing 21 attempts.  

Boston's lack of size was something that stood out heading into this matchup, and Embiid would make it very apparent. Boston had no answer for him in the postseason last year, and Embiid has found a new gear since then. 

This level of dominance is something we haven't seen from the center position in a long time, and shouldn't go unnoticed. If Embiid can keep up this level of play, he for sure will continue to rise up the MVP ladder. 


Things to Watch: Sixers versus Celtics

By Kevin McCormick, Sports Talk Philly Editor

The Sixers kick off a two-game matchup against the Boston Celtics on Wednesday night. This is an opportunity for the Sixers to climb in the standings, as Boston currently sits in the top spot in the Eastern Conference. 

Here are three things to watch in the first matchup of these two teams. 

Feeling refreshed 

With the delayed start to this season, teams have been playing games almost on a nightly basis. This demanding schedule has not allowed teams time to regroup and catch this breath as the first half of this season pushes on. 

The Sixers just found themselves in an opportunity where they were able to get off their feet and have some time to breathe for the first time in weeks. After having the matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder postponed on Sunday, the Sixers had three days off between games. 

After having to play with a depleted roster, this time off should be a huge benefit for the team. Now that they have had some time to rest and get a team practice in, it will be noteworthy to see what it does for their play on the floor. 

Embiid attacking mismatches 

One common theme for the Sixers this year has been the elite play of Joel Embiid on both ends of the floor. Early on in this season, the All-Star center has performed at an MVP level. 

When these two teams faced off in the first round of the postseason last year, Embiid was a dominant force. Although the Celtics would eventually sweep the Sixers, they had no answer to stopping Embiid. 

Seeing Embiid make the most of the size advantage will be a major area to watch in this game. Tristan Thompson is an experienced big man in this league, but he is going to have a tough time slowing Embiid down. 

With the Sixers getting most of their roster back, they have almost all of their perimeter shooting threats. This will make it harder for the Celtics to double team Embiid around the rim, allowing him to attack smaller bigs like Thompson and Daniel Theis. 

Shake Milton leading the second unit 

Since returning after clearing protocol, Shake Milton has been a huge boost for the Sixers. He has had back to back 25+ point performances off the bench, including a 31 point and 7 assist performance against the Heat. 

With Marcus Smart being moved to the starting lineup, the Celtics' depth isn't what it used to be. This should allow Milton to continue to be an offensive spark plug for the Sixers off the bench. 

Milton has shown that his performance last year was not a fluke. Doc Rivers has allowed him to lead this second unit, and he has done a great job doing so.  

When the Sixers were fully healthy, the second unit impressed just as much as the starters at times. This a matchup where Milton should keep his foot on the gas. Boston's second unit is young and depleted, which should create a lot of mismatches for the potential Sixth Man of the Year. 


Report: Seth Curry Cleared to Play

By Kevin McCormick, Sports Talk Philly Editor

The Sixers have found themselves in a rough patch during their recent stretch of games. Due to healthy and safety protocols, they have been forced to play with a depleted roster.

After slowly getting players back they are finally back to full strength. Recent reports have come out that Sixers' guard Seth Curry has cleared health and safety protocols and is active for Wednesday's game against the Boston Celtics.

Curry had been sidelined for six games as he cleared protocol. His impact on the floor has been greatly missed, especially his lethal perimeter shooting.

Since arriving in Philadelphia, Curry has been having a career-year. He is scoring a career-best 17 points per game, and shooting an incredible 59.5% three.

Getting Curry back on the floor will be a nice boost for the team as they gear up for a 'series' against the Eastern Conference leading Boston Celtics. His return will allow the Sixers to roll out their original starting lineup for the first time since January 6th.

Before losing half the roster, the Sixers were dominating teams on both ends of the floor. Now with the key rotation pieces back in the lineup, the team can get back on track.

Two players who should be excited for this return are Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Having Curry back on the floor will open up the floor for them to attack around the rim, and give them their elite kick out option they have missed in recent games.

The Sixers couldn't be getting healthy at a better time. If they can sweep their two-game stint with the Celtics, it will allow them to regain a top spot in the conference. Not to mention they have a matchup against the defending champion Lakers right around the corner.


Grades From Sixers' Loss vs Grizzlies

By Kevin McCormick, Sports Talk Philly Editor

The Sixers would hit the road after their sweep at home of the Miami Heat, heading to Memphis to face off against Ja Morant and a young Grizzlies squad. Despite an abundance of turnovers and missed free-throws, the Sixers found themselves in this game until the end.

Some mishaps down the stretch would prove to be costly, and the Grizzlies would pick up a two-point victory. Here are some grades from the nail-biting matchup.

Tobias Harris: B+

With no Joel Embiid in this game, the supporting cast would need to fill the void of the All-Star center. Although Harris would get off to a slow start, he would come up big for them down the stretch.

Harris would end the night as the team's second-leading scorer with 21 points while grabbing three rebounds and dishing two assists. On a night where the team struggled from the line, Harris was effective. He would get to the line seven times and covert on every attempt.

Turnovers were another major concern for the Sixers in this game. Harris would cough up the ball five times against the Grizzlies, including one in the team's final possession with a chance to win the game.

Harris' play down the stretch was big for the Sixers as they clawed back into the game, but the turnovers were a major blemish to his performance.

Ben Simmons: B- 

The Sixers would need some extra production in this game from Simmons without Embiid in the lineup. He would thrive in some areas but would continue to struggle in one key area. 

Simmons would fall an assist shy of finishing with his second straight triple-double. He would end the night with 11 points, 16 rebounds, and nine assists. 

This would be a rough night shooting the ball for Simmons as he only made three of his nine attempts, but was taking shots we aren't accustomed to seeing. He would take multiple jumpers just outside the lane, and attempted two shots from deep. 

The glaring concern for Simmons continues to be his turnovers. He has had a rough stretch of games taking care of the basketball. On Saturday against the Grizzlies, Simmons would give up the ball a team-high seven times. 

As the guy initiating the offense, Simmons needs to get more disciplined with the ball in his hands.  

Shake Milton: A

Outside of Tobias Harris, the one player who has elevated their game most under Doc Rivers is Shake Milton. He would put on another offensive showcase in this one, adding to his case for Most Improved Player and or Sixth Man of the Year. 

Milton would lead the Sixers in scoring for the second straight game off the bench, dropping 28 points on an efficient 10/18 shooting. He would also fill the stat sheet in other areas, racking up three rebounds, four assists, and two steals. 

In a game where the Sixers struggled on offense, Milton was a huge bright spot. He was able to score on all three levels and even got himself to line seven times. His ability to create his own offense was a big part of why the Sixers were able to stick around in this game. 

This level of play is a reminder of just how deep this team when they are fully healthy. Once the original starting lineup is all back on the floor, opposing second units are going to have their hands full dealing with Milton and Tyrese Maxey.


Takeaways From Sixers' Blowout Victory Over Heat

The Sixers took on the Miami Heat for the second straight game on Thursday night. After an overtime thriller in game one, game two would be a completely different story. The almost full strength Sixers would go on to beat the Heat by a final score of 125-108.

Here are some takeaways from the Sixers' blowout victory.

No signs of rust 

The Sixers would get some reinforcements in this game in the form of Tobias Harris, Shake Milton, and Matisse Thybulle. Despite having to sit out for multiple games due to health and safety protocols, they did not show it.

Milton would come back tonight and erupt on the offensive end. He led the team in scoring with a game-high 31 points and dished seven assists. His presence was greatly missed in the Sixers' second unit.

Harris was playing some of his best basketball before having to sit for protocol reasons, and he did not skip a beat in his return. He would set the tone offensively from the opening tip and end his night with 18 points on efficient shooting.

Thybulle was just getting his footing in the rotation after Furkan Korkmaz was injured, and would put on a solid performance in his return. Doc Rivers would say after the game that he was phenomenal on defense against the Heat, racking up four steals in the contest. Along with his standout play on defense, Thybulle would also knock down a pair of threes on offense.

Seeing these three come back and instantly get back in a groove is a great sign for the team as they look to get back on track when back to full health.

Rookies continue to shine 

Losing half the roster took its toll on the Sixers in their recent stretch, but some good came out of it. This opportunity opened up a lot of time on the floor for some players, and two in particular have made the most of the opportunity.

Tyrese Maxey and Isaiah Joe have been two huge bright spots of playing with a depleted roster. Maxey had already started making a name for himself, but this extended time on the floor has allowed him to turn heads and show what he can do on a larger scale.

Not to mention, this stretch has allowed Joe to emerge and show he can be a nice piece for the team as he develops.

Both of the Sixers' draft picks would break double digits in this win. Maxey would be the fifth starter in the game and rack up 15 points. Joe continues to shoot the lights out, knocking down four threes en route to finishing the game with 12 points.

The Sixers already look like a deep team and having their rookies come out and play the way they have only makes the roster look deeper. Hopefully, the two can continue to build on the strong play they had of late.

Ben Simmons bounces back 

Ben Simmons had been struggling on the floor as of late but would bounce back in this one. Whether it was due to the injury he suffered or the trade rumors swirling around him ending, Simmons looked much comfortable on the floor in the second game against Miami. 

The 24-year-old All-Star would do it all in this one, ending the night with his second triple-double of the season and the 30th for his career. Simmons would finish the game with 10 points, 10 rebounds, and 12 assists. He has now matched his season-high in assists in back to back games.  

Having Maxey in the starting lineup allowed Simmons to play off the ball more, and showed some nice flashes. With Maxey initiating the offense, it allowed Simmons to slingshot himself to the rim from the wing and generate some good looks. He would also spot up and attempt a corner three with no hesitation. 

Getting the roster back close to full health was a big boost to Simmons' game. Having most of the team's perimeter threats back allowed him to attack the rim and kick to shooters. The presence of those shooters also denied Miami the ability to wall off Simmons in the lane, which allowed him to find lanes to attack the basket.  

Now that all the Harden trade drama is over, Simmons should get back to playing freely. The team's decision to not trade him should be a confidence boost, and hopefully we continue to see Simmons play more like the way he did on Thursday against the Heat.


Sixers Close to Full Strength for Game Two vs Heat

After an overtime battle on Tuesday, the Sixers and Heat will face off again tonight. The Heat will still be without a majority of their roster, but the Sixers continue to get back to full strength. Ben Simmons returned to the floor on Tuesday, and three more Sixers could return in game two.

Tobias Harris, Shake Milton, and Matisse Thybulle have all been upgraded to game-time decisions for tonight's matchup. This would put four of the Sixers' starters back in the lineup, and their sixth man. The return of these familiar faces should be a nice boost to the team.

Before the roster was depleted due to health and safety protocols, Tobias Harris was playing some of his best basketball in a Sixer uniform. He was confident and making quick decisions on the floor at a high level, getting him back in the lineup will be a nice upgrade to the Sixers' offense.

The biggest takeaway of getting these guys back is what it does for the rotation as a whole. In this recent stretch, guys have been required to play big minutes, now with almost the full rotation back, it can lessen the load.

One name to keep an eye on in this 'series' finale is Joel Embiid. After the MVP-type performance he put on to lead the Sixers to victory on Tuesday, it will fascinating to see how he follows it up. The Heat defense had no answer for Embiid once he got going in the second half, and it should be more of the same in this one.

Ben Simmons is one player who will be looking to get back on track in this second meeting. He would score just five points before fouling in the fourth quarter and had some turnovers issues.

Getting guys like Harris and Milton back should help Simmons get back to looking like himself. Having those guys on the perimeter will open back up his drive and kick game, and Miami won't be able to wall off the lane, allowing him to have more room to attack at the rim.

The Sixers need to come out and set the tone early and take control of this game. Miami is still without their key players, leaving no reason for this game to go down to the wire like the one on Tuesday.


Grades From Sixers' Overtime Win Over Heat

Behind a dominant performance from Joel Embiid, the Sixers have been able to end their losing streak. They held off the Miami Heat in overtime, winning by a final score of 137-134. Here are some grades from the overtime victory. 

Danny Green: A 

Danny Green came into this game looking to forget about the rough night he had shooting the ball against the Hawks on Monday. He would go on to have a career night in multiple areas. 

Green would finish the game as the team's second-leading scorer with 29 points. On top of his scoring barrage, he would also post 10 rebounds, six assists, two steals, and two blocks. 

His scoring barrage was much needed as the Sixers needed to find scoring outside of Joel Embiid throughout the game. 

The major area of Green's performance was his shooting. He would go on to post a new career-high in threes made in a game, hitting nine shots from beyond. Green would also set a career-high in threes attempted, pulling up from deep an astonishing 21 times. 

This was an all-around great effort from Green in this game. His scoring in the first half helped keep the team afloat in the early portions of this matchup.  

Isaiah Joe: B+

This depleted roster has given a real opportunity to Isaiah Joe, and he continues to make the most of it. His confidence grows on the floor with each passing game, and he continues to show flashes of becoming a solid rotation player. The Sixers might have found a solid player with their second-round pick in this year's draft. 

Joe would end the night with 13 points and five rebounds, he would also hit four shots from deep in this contest. The rookie would also cause a huge turning point in this game, knocking down a huge three late to set up Joel Embiid's game-tying basket in the closing moments of regulation, 

Having a depleted roster hasn't been a great situation for the Sixers, but some good has come out of it. This extended time on the floor should do wonders for Joe's development down the road. 

Ben Simmons: C+

Ben Simmons would return to the floor tonight after missing two games with a knee injury. In a night where the Sixers would need to rely on their stars heavily, Simmons would put on a lackluster performance. 

Simmons looked frustrated from the opening tip, and would never really find a groove in the game. He would tie his season-high in assists with 12, but the rest of his game struggled. 

Two glaring areas were fouls and turnovers. Simmons would have an early exit after picking up his sixth foul late in the fourth quarter and would give the ball away six times. 

His final stat line would be five points, six rebounds, 12 assists, and two steals. 

Joel Embiid: A++

Joel Embiid has put on some dominant performances this season, but this one was his best. He carried the team in the second half and overtime, hitting an array of shots to lead the team to victory. 

He would end the night with a monstrous box score, racking up 45 points, 16 rebounds, four assists, five steals, and one block. This was without a doubt an MVP performance from the All-Star big man. 

The third quarter is where Embiid started to find his stride. The Sixers found themselves trailing coming out of the half, but Embiid would quickly change that. He would go on a scoring barrage to sway the momentum back in the Sixers' favor. 20 of his 45 points would come in that quarter, and he did not miss a single field goal attempt. 

This was a reminder that Embiid is the most dominant center in the league right now. The Heat were sending triple-teams at him at times, and it still wasn't enough to stop him from scoring. 

With the uncertainty of when the rest of the roster will be able to return, the team is going to rely on Embiid heavily moving forward. After this performance, it is safe to say that he is up for the challenge. 


Depleted Sixers Fall to Hawks 112-94

The Sixers traveled to Atlanta on Monday to square off against Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks. Numbers caught up to the Sixers on Saturday, and it would happen again this one. Being understaffed continues to plague the Sixers as they suffer their second consecutive loss, falling to the Hawks by a final score of 112-94.

Joel Embiid did his best to lead the charge for the Sixers in this game, but it just wasn't enough. He would play about 23 minutes in an attempt to preserve his body for the team's game tomorrow against the Heat.

In his time on the floor, Embiid was his usual dominant self. He would end the night with 24 points and 11 rebounds while shooting a solid 8-17 from the floor.

Tyrese Maxey did what he could to aid Joel Embiid, filling the stat sheet in all areas. He too saw a smaller load on the floor in attempts to preserve him for the upcoming stretch. In 31 minutes of action, Maxey finished with 15 points, six rebounds, four assists, and two blocks.

One area that stood out for Maxey tonight was his defense. Defending Trae Young is no small task, and the rookie did a great job defending him without fouling.

Isaiah Joe is a guy who has shown some nice flashes with his extended time on the floor. He was the team's second-leading scorer with 18 points and shot a stellar 4-7 from beyond the arc.

Trae Young didn't play much in this game but left his mark while he was out there. He would end his night leading the Hawks in scoring with 26 points, and dished eight assists.

The lack of depth is heavily taking its toll on the Sixers, and things are getting any easier for them. They now have to travel back to Philadelphia to kick off a 'series' against the Miami Heat tomorrow in what will be their third game in four days.


Shorthanded Sixers Set to Face Hawks

By Kevin McCormick, Sports Talk Philly Editor

After taking the floor with just seven players against the Nuggets on Saturday, the Sixers find themselves back in action on Monday night. The shorthanded squad has traveled to Atlanta to face off against Trae Young and the Hawks.

The Sixers will still have a limited roster due to health and safety protocols, but they will have some reinforcements on Monday night. Joel Embiid and Mike Scott have been upgraded to probable, giving the Sixers nine potentially players to see the floor.

They will be facing a Hawks team that is going through a rough stretch. Heading into Monday's game, the Hawks are riding a four-game losing streak and have lost five of their last six games. Injuries have plagued them as well, being without the services of Bogdan Bogdanovic, Tony Snell, Rajon Rondo, and Danilo Gallinari.

Joel Embiid has had great success against the Hawks in the past, which gives the depleted team a fighting chance in this matchup. The last time Embiid took the floor against the Hawks, he erupted for a career-high 49 points, came down with 14 rebounds, and converted 14 of his 15 attempts from the free-throw line.

Tyrese Maxey will be the other name to watch for the Sixers in this one. The rookie will be looking to follow up on the career day he had against the Nuggets on Saturday. Maxey ended the day with 39 points and did everything he could to lead the charge for the short-staffed Sixers.

The key name to watch on the other end is All-Star guard Trae Young. As we know, he could go off for a huge performance on any night. Containing him on offense will have to be the primary focus for the Sixers' defense.

Young has been in a dry spell shooting the ball from deep, something the defense will need to focus on when guarding him. Heading into this game, Young is shooting just 28% from beyond on the season.

It isn't going to be an easy task, but this could be a matchup where the Sixers could steal a win. Having two more players will help distribute minutes on the floor easier, not to mention they will have Embiid to lead the charge tonight.

The Sixers showed a lot of fight on Saturday, refusing to just roll over despite the circumstances in the game. If they can bring that same energy again with Embiid and Maxey leading the charge on offense, this game could potentially either way.