Sixers, Celtics working to rebuild former glory


Sixers, Celtics working to rebuild former glory

It might be hard to believe that the Sixers and Celtics are just 20 months removed from playing in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

When the two franchises meet for the first time this season on Wednesday night at TD Garden, they will do so in full rebuilding mode as the bottom two teams in the Atlantic Division.

Long gone are Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand, Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams, who made up the core of that Sixers team coached by Doug Collins.

The Celtics have since parted ways with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Ray Allen found greener pastures in South Beach and Doc Rivers is now guiding the Los Angles Clippers.

“It seems like it was just yesterday,” said Thaddeus Young, who averaged 7.7 points and 5.2 rebounds that postseason. “That was a great series, of course. In Game 7 (Rajon) Rondo hit some big shots.

“But this is a new year, new teams with different players and things have changed over the course of time. We both are now in a situation where we are losing teams and basically we are both trying to go out there and battle for wins.”

Rondo has played in just five games this season since recently returning from surgery to repair a torn right ACL last year.

The Celtics point guard is trying to regain the all-star form that allowed him to put together a personal 9-2 run with 3:30 remaining in that Game 7 to give them a series win. Rondo notched a triple-double in that game with 18 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

Rondo’s performance that night was just the latest chapter in the rich playoff history shared between the Sixers and Celtics.

Brett Brown all too familiar with that tradition between the two franchises. The Sixers head coach was a Boston University student-athlete from 1980 to 1983, absorbing the city’s love for its Celtics and tense rivalry with the Sixers.

“What a special era it was selfishly,” Brown said. “I can still hear the NBA music and introduction to the NBA Game of the Week. To travel down to the Garden and be able to see [George] McGinnis and Julius Erving and Bobby Jones and [Andrew] Toney, [Maurice] Cheeks and Doug [Collins] play.

“I just couldn’t believe how Andrew Toney would just kick the Celtics’ tail. To me, he was unguardable. He was just such a one-on-one, triple threat. Rock a step, rock a step threat. He was a big part of my upbringing and my memory of the NBA, more so than the Celtics-Lakers battles.”

Brown hopes the days return when Sixers and Celtics can enjoy that kind of high-level success and rivalry that ruled the NBA’s Eastern Conference for so many years.

“They are two fantastic sporting cities that love basketball. It is ironic that we are on the same path of trying to find that balance of competing and rebuilding,” Brown said. “It is a difficult challenge, but I think it is in both of the programs to do it because they have such a history and rich tradition.”

Anthem singer at Sixers-Heat game kneels during performance

Anthem singer at Sixers-Heat game kneels during performance

MIAMI — A woman performing the national anthem before an NBA preseason game in Miami on Friday night did so while kneeling at midcourt, and opening her jacket to show a shirt with the phrase "Black Lives Matter."

The singer was identified by the Heat as Denasia Lawrence. It was unclear if she remained in the arena after the performance, and messages left for her were not immediately returned.

Heat players and coaches stood side-by-side for the anthem, all with their arms linked as has been their custom during the preseason. Many had their heads down as Lawrence sang, and the team released a statement saying it had no advance knowledge that she planned to kneel.

"We felt as a basketball team that we would do something united, so that was our focus," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "Throughout all of this, I think the most important thing that has come out is the very poignant, thoughtful dialogue. We've had great dialogue within our walls here and hopefully this will lead to action."

The anthem issue has been a major topic in the sports world in recent months, starting with the decision by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to not stand for its playing. Kaepernick cited racial injustice and police brutality among the reasons for his protest, and athletes from many sports -- and many levels, from youth all the way to professional -- have followed his lead in various ways.

"All I can say is what we've seen in multiple preseason games so far is our players standing for the national anthem," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in New York earlier Friday, at a news conference following the league's board of governors meetings. "It would be my hope that they would continue to stand for the national anthem. I think that is the appropriate thing to do."

The NBA has a rule calling for players and coaches to stand during the anthem.

Heat guard Wayne Ellington often speaks about the need to curb gun violence, after his father was shot and killed two years ago. He had his eyes closed for most of the anthem Friday, as per his own custom, though was aware of Lawrence's actions.

"At the end of the day, to each his own," Ellington said. "If she feels like that's the way she wants to stand for it, then more power to her."

Making a statement in the manner that Lawrence did Friday is rare, but not unheard of in recent weeks.

When the Sacramento Kings played their first home preseason game earlier this month, anthem singer Leah Tysse dropped to one knee as she finished singing the song.

Tysse is white. Lawrence is black.

"I love and honor my country as deeply as anyone yet it is my responsibility as an American to speak up against injustice as it affects my fellow Americans," Tysse wrote on Facebook. "I have sung the anthem before but this time taking a knee felt like the most patriotic thing I could do. I cannot idly stand by as black people are unlawfully profiled, harassed and killed by our law enforcement over and over and without a drop of accountability."

Joel Embiid ends preseason on impressive note, has Sixers excited

Joel Embiid ends preseason on impressive note, has Sixers excited

MIAMI — It’s a cautious optimism to be sure — there can be no other type for the Sixers right now given their history of injuries — but you can tell the team is starting to get excited about Joel Embiid.

In Friday’s 113-110 exhibition finale win over the Miami Heat (see game story), Embiid scored 18 points in 18 minutes before fouling out late in the fourth quarter.

The 7-0 center, who missed his first two NBA seasons because of foot surgeries, made 8 of 16 shots and 2 of 2 on free throws, adding a game-high nine rebounds.

“I’ve always felt like I’m a complete player — that’s what I do,” Embiid said. “I’m starting to get easy points.

“I just got better every game [in the preseason], defensively, offensively.”

Sixers coach Brett Brown said he is still learning how to best use Embiid.

Brown added that the rust is apparent in Embiid’s game. But …

“He is as self-taught as any player I’ve ever been around,” Brown said. “He grew up in Cameroon and hasn’t played a lot (because of injuries). But he studies, he looks at stuff. He pays attention. He’s instinctively curious.

“There’s a lot of stuff in his head that he thinks through. His mind is quicker than his feet. At times, his core, his balance and his decision-making are off because his mind is working faster than his body.”

Embiid scored most of his buckets on Friday at close range — a finger roll, a tip-in, a couple of put-back dunks, an alley-oop dunk and a fast-break layup. But he did make a 10-foot jumper and took — but missed — a three-point try.

“He does stuff in a game that makes you step back and say, ‘Wow,’” Brown said. “He will trail and hit a three. He will have a pound, pound drop-step, dunk.

“Like a traditional post, he will turn his face and make a bank shot. He has that up-and-under stuff.

“But he’s raw. His preseason has been highlighted by those few things that you notice, all under the umbrella of, ‘He really has a chance to be very, very good.’"

Brown was asked to summarize the Sixers' 2-5 preseason, and he called it a “completely erratic” exhibition season because of injuries.

“Jahlil [Okafor] hasn’t practiced,” Brown said. “Joel has been steady and incremental. I think we all see that Dario Saric has got a lot to offer. I think the pairing of Joel and Dario was solid.

“We’ve seen Jerami [Grant] have a really good preseason. Richaun Holmes has taken his opportunity to play big minutes. Those type of things come to my mind.”