Sixers handed first loss by Iguodala, Warriors

slideshow-warriors-andre-iguodala-uspresswire.jpg

Sixers handed first loss by Iguodala, Warriors

BOX SCORE

When the guy you let beat you ends up with a career night in the first half, chances are it’s going to be a long night. For the Sixers on Monday night against the Warriors at the Wells Fargo Center, the night could have lasted forever.

Ex-Sixer Andre Iguodala buried a career-high seven three-pointers -- he hit six of them in the first half -- for 32 points in the Warriors’ 110-90 victory over the Sixers (see Instant Replay). Though the Sixers fell behind by 20 points for the third straight game, there was no magical comeback this time.

The Warriors, and Iguodala, were just too good.

“The guys we let beat us, beat us,” said Evan Turner, who led the Sixers with 18 points. “You can’t go bucket to bucket with a team that can score like that.

“Look at the stat sheet -- the guys who usually make the threes didn’t make them tonight.”

Turner is right about that. Sharp-shooter Stephen Curry went 2 for 9 from beyond the arc, but he did a bunch of other things to make up for his poor shooting. Curry scored 18 points to go along with 10 rebounds and 12 assists for the second triple-double in the NBA this season (see 5 observations). Curry also had five steals and was the catalyst in forcing the Sixers into a season-high 24 turnovers.

Iguodala’s shooting (7 for 11 from three-point range, 11 for 18 overall) mixed with the turnovers was “deflating,” according to Sixers head coach Brett Brown.

“I think it gets deflating when you turn it over and they run and punish you with threes,” Brown said. “They’re a skilled team in the open court. I think it gets deflating when that happens.”

Still, it was a bit of sweet revenge for Iguodala, who did not receive the warmest of ovations when he was introduced before the game. Traded to Denver after the 2011-12 season in the ill-fated Andrew Bynum deal, Iguodala returned to the Wells Fargo Center with Denver last year and had a poor game.

This time, though, Iguodala couldn’t miss. Maybe he can thank his friend Turner for the motivation.

“Evan actually texted me right after they beat the Bulls. He was kind of talking trash,” Iguodala said. “He said you’re next. He’s the ultimate competitor, no matter who he’s going against. Actually, I wanted to shut him out tonight. I wasn’t even thinking about scoring.”

Iguodala scored 11 points in the first quarter and had 16 more in the second. After the third quarter, he sat down after playing just 20 seconds of the fourth.

“It was almost kind of like a high school game, where you get it going and you can’t miss,” Iguodala said.

Though Iguodala downplayed the revenge factor, saying playing against the Sixers is no big deal. After all, he’s playing for his second team in as many seasons and only Turner, Spencer Hawes, Thad Young and Lavoy Allen remain from his last season with the Sixers.

However, Warriors coach Mark Jackson wasn’t buying it.

“It’s no secret: You want to kill them,” Jackson said. “You say all the right things beforehand, just in case it doesn’t work out, but your mindset is to make a statement.”

Mix the revenge factor with a Sixers’ defense that was packed in the paint in attempt to keep Andrew Bogut and David Lee off the boards while shadowing Curry and Klay Thompson on the perimeter, Iguodala had plenty of time to hit the wide-open shots.

“He changed the game in the first half,” Brown said.

If the turnovers and Iguodala’s shooting weren’t demoralizing enough, the Sixers’ shooting ruined what self-confidence was left. The Sixers shot 35 percent from the field, including 22 for 51 (43.1 percent) from the paint. While the Warriors hit 15 three-pointers, the Sixers went 9 for 37 (24.3 percent) on shots outside the paint.

The result was a 39-point deficit for the Sixers in the third quarter.

Ouch.

“I think we were careless with the ball. I give [the Warriors] credit,” Brown said. “They’re a very underrated defensive team. They’re noted for their offense and they’re noted for their barrage of three-point threats and scorers, but they actually are an excellent defensive team with all the pieces. … I give them credit defensively, but I admit we were sloppy. We were careless. Some of that was a result of their good defense.”

Then again, after three straight improbable wins, the Sixers had to come down to earth at some point (see story). If there was one team it wasn’t going to be able to run against and wear down, it was the Warriors.

The Sixers will get another look at the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center. Last Friday, the Sixers overcame a 20-point deficit to stun the Wizards with a late surge in the second game of the year.

Joel Embiid, Sixers prove plenty with benchmark win over Raptors

Joel Embiid, Sixers prove plenty with benchmark win over Raptors

BOX SCORE

The Sixers weren’t supposed to beat the Raptors, were they? This was going to be an “easy” game for the visiting team, which was coming to Philadelphia on a back-to-back that started in Brooklyn. The Raptors are a playoff team, and second in the Eastern Conference at that. Not to mention, they had defeated the Sixers in their last 14 meetings.

Maybe easy would have been the case the last time the two teams played back in mid-December. For the Sixers, though, things have changed since then and a 94-89 win over the Raptors on Wednesday proved this recent success is not fleeting (see Instant Replay).

“I don’t think it’s a fluke,” Joel Embiid said. “We’re competing. We’re winning games. We’re playing great defense. We finally found what we’ve been looking for.”

The Sixers had been missing clearly-defined roles and a defensive identity (see story). Now that Brett Brown has whittled down his roster to 10 players and laid out a starting five and second unit, the team has been gelling in those two aspects. The Sixers have won seven out of their last nine games, with the Raptors being the highest caliber of competition.

The Raptors entered the game averaging 111.5 points per game, first in the East and third in the NBA behind only the Warriors and Rockets. They had scored less than 100 points in just seven games this season. Additionally, the Raptors had been held to under 90 points by a single opponent: the Spurs. Not bad company to be in. 

Embiid led all players with 26 points (including 12 for 14 from the free throw line) to go with nine rebounds (see highlights). The Sixers staved off 25 points (11 for 21 from the field), six assists and three rebounds from DeMar DeRozan and 24 points (11 for 16 from the line), four rebounds, four assists and five steals from Kyle Lowry, who fouled out. The Raptors shot 25 percent from three and 65.2 percent at the free throw line.  

“We’re playing with a spirit, we’re playing with a defensive mindset,” Brown said. “There is a belief within each other amongst the team that is the best that it’s been since I’ve been here.”

The Sixers' winning stretch began against subpar teams, opponents who earlier in the season some would look at the schedule and say, the Sixers could probably take that one, as they tried to project a batch of victories. The Sixers turned those wins over the Nuggets, Timberwolves and Nets into momentum and carried it into a matchup against the Knicks.

Even though the Knicks are looking lost this season, they still have veteran offensive firepower that can take over a game against a struggling opponent. The Sixers made noise by beating them at the buzzer, then escalated their performance against the postseason-hungry Hornets and Bucks. 

The Raptors are different, though. There is no questioning their success and potential to make a deep playoff run … again. Nonetheless, the Sixers handled this well-seasoned opponent with composure and confidence down the stretch. 

They stayed together when DeRozan hit a jumper with 1:53 to play to give the Raptors their first lead since the second quarter. The Sixers responded to the one-point deficit with a 7-0 run to push the edge up to six points with 20.7 seconds to go.

“I think it says we’re for real. It shows our consistency that we’ve built throughout the year,” Nerlens Noel said. “We’re relentless. We have a young group of guys that know how to play the game and play it the right way and will come out there and compete against anybody in this league. I think the perception should be a whole different one now.”

The Sixers showed they can compete with top talent. Their wins aren't just coming from teams at the bottom of the standings. 

"That gives us a lot of confidence," Embiid said. "Coming into the game, we had a lot of confidence. Winning against the second-best team in the East is just amazing. We’re going to keep on working."

Sixers frustrate Raptors, finding 'defensive identity'

Sixers frustrate Raptors, finding 'defensive identity'

The Toronto Raptors were the latest victims of the red-hot Sixers on Wednesday.

The Sixers held the highest-scoring team in the Eastern Conference to more than 20 points below its average in a 94-89 win at the Wells Fargo Center (see story).

The visiting Raptors were visibly and vocally frustrated after the game.

"They're a good team, they've been playing well, no disrespect to them, but we missed a lot of wide-open shots," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. "Those are shots we normally make but we knew we had our hands full coming in here. We knew it was gonna be a grind-it-out game."

Blaming it on bad luck and missing "wide-open shots" seems to be oversimplifying it just a tad. Toronto was held to 39.5 percent from the field and went just 6 of 24 from three.

A big factor in slowing down the Raptors is containing the dangerous backcourt duo of DeMar DeRozan and Villanova product Kyle Lowry. DeRozan finished with 25 points, below his average of 28.2, which was in the top five in the league coming in.

Lowry was even more frustrated by the Sixers' swarming defense. He finished with 24 points but on just 5 of 13 from the field. He also committed five turnovers, picked up a technical foul and fouled out in the final seconds. When asked what the Sixers did to slow him down, Lowry wasn't buying into the hype.

"I think we got everything we wanted," Lowry said. "We got every shot we wanted. We just didn't convert it.

"They won the game. Give them credit. They played with passion and energy. That's one thing they got us on tonight."

You don't win seven out of nine games and take down the second-best team in the conference with sheer will. The Sixers have become a strong team on the defensive end of the floor.

They're currently 10th in the NBA in defensive rating. A big part of that has been the emergence of Joel Embiid as an elite rim protector. For as great as "The Process" has been offensively, his largest impact is really on the defensive end.

He wasn't the only rookie engaged on defense Wednesday night. Dario Saric came through with consecutive blocks of Norman Powell and Jared Sullinger early in the fourth quarter, denying the Raptors a chance to cut into the Sixers' lead (see video).

"Dario never blocks shots and he had two in a row," Embiid said. "Especially at the rim like that, blocking Sullinger, that’s the type of play we need. The crowd obviously got into. I’m just glad he’s here with us like he promised he was going to be after two years."

Taking the torch from Saric, Embiid's block on a Lowry drive with 22.9 seconds left sealed arguably the Sixers' biggest win of the season, moments after Covington rejected a Lowry three (see video).

"One thing I care about is defense," Embiid said. "Everybody around me has to follow my lead because I am the last line of defense. One thing I care about in my career is winning Defensive Player of the Year. These guys know they can go for steals, and make stops, since I am the last guy there to block the shot.

"I don’t think it’s a fluke. We’re competing, playing great defense, winning games, and we found what we’re looking for. Everybody was trying to find themselves, and we all still have a lot to learn. We have some great players that are coming together."

Prior to the game, Casey had some lofty praise for the rookie big man. He compared Embiid to a former Rookie of the Year and 2016 inductee into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Shaquille O'Neal.

Casey walked away from this game even more impressed.

"He's a very talented player," Casey said of Embiid. "He made a difference at the rim. Challenging shots. Offensively, he's different because if you go out on him too quick, he's gonna drive by your big. His ability to attack the rim and shoot the three, his post play. And again, he's becoming a better passer so he's gonna be a handful. We know that."

Like any season, there are going to be ups and downs. For the Sixers, it's been mostly downs for three straight years. This recent run has breathed new life into this franchise and this fan base.

Embiid's ascension into a legitimate superstar has been a huge help. Saric coming from overseas to provide his grit, skill and basketball IQ has been key. T.J. McConnell's promotion to the starting lineup and the additions of veterans like Ersan Ilyasova and Gerald Henderson have steadied the ship.

But as Brett Brown has said many times, the Sixers' bread is buttered on the defensive end of the floor.

"I get very excited and proud of our group when they hear me talk so much about defensive identity," Brown said. "You know, who are we? How are you going to build a program? How are you going to grow the program? Words are cheap. I think results are real. And lately, they're buying in and executing our defensive game plan and they're playing with a tremendous spirit and togetherness. They really get into playing defense. That is beyond exciting for me."