Moultrie shows promise in Sixers' loss to Celtics


Moultrie shows promise in Sixers' loss to Celtics

By this point in the season, Sixers coach Doug Collins was hoping first-round draft pick Arnett Moultrie would not be such a mystery. Already 59 games into his rookie season, there is still a lot we don’t know about Moultrie.

The great unknown, of course, is simple …

Can he play?

In Tuesday night’s 109-101 loss to the Boston Celtics at the Wells Fargo Center (see Instant Replay), Collins gave Moultrie a chance to answer that question. The rookie was the first man off the bench, logging 20 minutes for just the third time this season.

But when the game was on the line in the fourth quarter, Moultrie went to the bench with 7:56 remaining and the Sixers trailing by 15.

Moultrie, as evidenced by the way he got up and down the floor, was gassed.

The veteran Celtics, on the other hand, were not. The Sixers had a chance to cut the deficit to six points with 6:28 left in the game, but a turnover by Dorell Wright led to a three-pointer from Paul Pierce. Following another turnover, Jason Terry nailed another three-pointer to deliver the final dagger.

From there the Celtics coasted to improve to 32-27 this season. The Sixers fell to 23-36 and with 23 games remaining in the season. They trail the Milwaukee Bucks by 7½ games for the last playoff spot in the East.

So with a once-promising season quickly slipping away, Collins gave Moultrie an extended look against the Celtics. As a result, the rookie got plenty of chances to match up against 18-year veteran, Kevin Garnett.

“It’s encouraging to see him growing. It’s a great sign,” Collins said. “I’m very pleased with Arnett and with what he’s doing.”

Moultrie shot 5 for 5 from the field to go with four rebounds. His 10 points accounted for nearly half of the bench’s production on Tuesday night. But more impressively, Moultrie has not missed a shot since the fourth quarter of the Feb. 26 game against the Magic and has hit his last 12 in a row.

With the rookie finally getting some quality playing time by logging minutes in five straight games and six of the last seven, it’s difficult not to wonder what could have been for Moultrie this year.

“I think a lot of it has been frustration, which you hope it would be,” Collins said. “He would probably have been playing like this for us all along if he had a summer. If he had not gotten hurt and he had summer league and come to camp in really good shape and been able to play. So, we’re hoping these last 24 or 25 games he’ll be able to build on this.”

Moultrie sprained his ankle last summer in a pre-draft workout for Sacramento and was behind in fitness and condition when training camp opened in October. In December, the Sixers sent the rookie to their D-League to get some playing time and help with his conditioning. It worked for a little while but when the All-Star break ended, Moultrie had taken a step back.

And to think, it all started with a summertime ankle injury.

“It became a problem because I wasn’t able to do certain things because of my ankle,” Moultrie said. “It’s not a problem any more. I think I’m in good condition now and I’m running the floor and rolling to the basket every chance I get.”

Against the Celtics, Moultrie was a presence in the paint. The longest shot he took was from three feet, which helped the Sixers out-score Boston 64-38 in the paint and 28-16 on second-chance points.

Where the Sixers struggled was containing the Celtics on the perimeter. Led by 22 points from Avery Bradley and 18 from both Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, the Celtics went 11 for 19 from three-point range and went 14 for 31 on mid-range jumpers.

“We had 64 points in the paint, 28 second-chance points and 14 fastbreak points and 20 points on turnovers. You think you can win the game,” Collins said. “Their three-point shooting was the difference tonight.”

The Sixers got double-doubles from Jrue Holiday (18 points, 10 assists) and Thad Young (19 points, 10 boards), while Evan Turner had 18 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. Still, the contributions from Moultrie, especially on running the pick-and-roll and hitting the glass, have been a positive development.

“That’s all it is, a learning experience. There’s been a lot of new stuff I have to adjust to, but I’m just dealing with it,” Moultrie said, noting that he’s been trying to model his game after Thad Young. “I think the hardest part was learning about my ankle and staying in tip-top shape.”

The Sixers return to action on Wednesday night when they open a three-game road trip in Atlanta. On Friday they go to Miami to face the Heat before wrapping it up in Orlando on Sunday night.

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

The crowd erupted as Joel Embiid stepped to the free throw line. They chanted a phrase Embiid has been repeating for the past two years, a fitting welcome to his NBA debut.

“That was great,” Embiid said after the Sixers' 103-97 loss to the Thunder on Wednesday in the season opener (see Instant Replay). “That’s my motto, 'Trust the process.'”

After two years of rehabbing foot injuries, Embiid has his first regular-season game behind him. Embiid scored a team-high 20 points, shooting 6 for 16 from the field, 1 for 3 from long range and 7 for 8 from the line. He also recorded seven rebounds, two blocks, four turnovers and four fouls in over 22 minutes. 

“The beginning I was nervous, but once you make that first shot, it just goes away,” he said. “The fans were so into the game that it was fun. I love having fun.”

Sixers head coach Brett Brown enjoyed watching Embiid on the court as much as the big man liked being on it. Brown has seen the 7-foot-2 center grow and develop during his rehab. Finally, he was able to utilize his versatile skills in a real game setting.

“I can't say this loud enough,” Brown said. “For the city to be rewarded with a player that we all understand has unique gifts, special gifts, for him to go through all the things he has been through and play like he did on opening night, the city deserves it. Most importantly, he deserves it.”

Now that Embiid has been cleared to play, he would like to do so for longer periods of time. He began the preseason at 12 minutes and was increased to 20 in segmented spurts for opening night. Even though he exceeded that limit by over two minutes, Embiid is itching to be cleared to play more extensively. 

“It sucks,” Embiid said. “I feel like I could have played more but you know you’ve got to trust the process, got to trust those guys. If I have my minute restriction at 20 minutes, I guess I’m going to go with that. But obviously I want to play more and more and I think it can help the team better. But they have a plan for me and I’ve got to follow it.”

Embiid has maintained he wants to be a clutch player. Brown looked to him toward the end of the game as the Thunder pulled ahead late in the final quarter. He drained a fadeaway jumper to tie the game at 97 apiece with 50.7 to go. 

Later trailing by four with 10 seconds left, the Sixers went to Embiid. While he was whistled for an offensive foul, Brown was glad to have a go-to unlike in years past. 

“You have a target,” Brown said. “We tried to get the ball to him a lot. … By and large, to have somebody like Joel, where the mystery is solved like, 'What do you do?' You get him the ball as much as you can.”

The more the Sixers found Embiid, the more the Thunder had to try to defend him. Thunder head coach Billy Donovan knew what his team was going up against. He watched Embiid as a high schooler and coached against him during his tenure at Florida. 

“He’s gifted and skilled,” Donovan said. “It was probably our guys' first time seeing him … I knew the talent, the gifts. The one thing with him is, he’s got great footwork. He’s hard to guard because he’s herky-jerky. He moves. He’s got a lot of [Hakeem] Olajuwon to him.”

Opening night had been two years in the making. Even though the Sixers didn't win, the significance of the evening didn't disappoint. 

"I thought this moment was going to be special," Embiid said, "and it was just great."

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

NEW ORLEANS -- Jusuf Nurkic scored 23 points, Will Barton added 22, and the Denver Nuggets survived a dominant performance by Anthony Davis to defeat the New Orleans Pelicans 107-102 in both teams' regular season opener Wednesday night.

Davis had 50 points, 16 rebounds, seven steals, five assists and four blocks. His production helped New Orleans trim a deficit as large as 14 late in the second quarter down to two points in the waning minutes. He simply didn't have enough help.

The rest of the Pelicans combined to shoot 21 of 58. Tim Frazier scored 15 for the Pelicans. E'Twaun Moore added 10 points, but missed a 3-point attempt that could have tied it with 24 seconds left.

Danilo Gallinari scored 15 for Denver and Wilson Chandler added 12 points (see full recap).

Celtics top Nets in Horford's home debut
BOSTON -- Isaiah Thomas had 25 points and nine assists, Jae Crowder added 21 points and Al Horford pitched in 11 in his Boston debut on Wednesday night as the Celtics survived a late scare to beat the Brooklyn Nets 122-117 in their season opener.

Bojan Bogdanovic scored 21 for Brooklyn, including a 3-pointer to make it 120-117 with 47 seconds left after the Nets erased most of a 23-point deficit against the Boston bench. But he missed one with a chance to tie it after Joe Harris intercepted Thomas' cross-court pass, and the Celtics were able to hold on.

Justin Hamilton came off the bench to score 19 points and grab 10 rebounds for the Nets in coach Kenny Atkinson's debut (see full recap).

Turner's opening act leads Pacers past Mavs in OT
INDIANAPOLIS -- Myles Turner scored 30 points, tied his career high with 16 rebounds and made a 3-pointer with 1:18 left in overtime to start an 8-0 run that allowed the Indiana Pacers to close out a 130-121 victory Wednesday night over the Dallas Mavericks.

Three-time All-Star Paul George added 25 points, including another 3 with 55 seconds left to seal Indiana's fifth season-opening win in six years.

Deron Williams scored 25 points, while J.J. Barea and Dirk Nowitzki each added 22 as the Mavs lost their fifth straight in the series. They still haven't won in Indianapolis since February 2014.

Dallas didn't tie the score or take a lead until the fourth quarter, yet still forced overtime when Harrison Barnes' open 3-pointer made it 115-all with 2.3 seconds left.

Turner could have won it with a long buzzer-beating 3, but it bounced off the back of the rim (see full recap).