Sixers ride Anderson, Wroten in overtime win

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Sixers ride Anderson, Wroten in overtime win

BOX SCORE

To be fair, not even the Sixers saw this coming. Especially coach Brett Brown.

Nine games into a season in which the roster was quickly cobbled together with no active players older than 25 and a coach who wasn’t hired until August, and the Sixers are 5-4 following a thrilling 123-117 overtime victory over the high-scoring Houston Rockets on Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center (see Instant Replay).

The Sixers pulled it off thanks to a triple-double from guard Tony Wroten (18 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds) in his first NBA start and a career-high 36 points from James Anderson, who hit six three-pointers and shot 12 for 16. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Wroten is the first player since the league kept track of triple-doubles (1970-71) to get a triple-double in his first career start.

Anderson and Wroten?

It was that duo that saved the game for the Sixers with seconds left in regulation. With the Sixers down by three points after a pair of foul shots from Patrick Beverley, Wroten told Anderson to be ready for a pass in the corner. But when the Rockets forced Wroten into the far corner and Anderson strayed away from the opposite one, it appeared as if the Sixers were trapped.

But Wroten turned, leapt and fired a two-handed pass over the top of the defense. Amazingly, Anderson caught the pass, squared up and rose for the game-tying 25-footer from the top of the three-point circle.

Splash!

After the game, Wroten said he noticed that Jeremy Lin was face-guarding Anderson so he thought if he put the pass high enough, Anderson could come down with it.

“Out of the timeout I told him, ‘I’m going to come off the screen and I’m going to hit you in the corner,’” Wroten explained. “But he wasn’t open, so I kept probing and ran out of options. But he was hot, so I just threw it up to him and it’s fortunate for him to make that.”

Anderson said the toughest part of the play was catching the ball. Once he got his hands on it, Anderson knew he’d have a clean look at the hoop.

“Tony told me he was going to look for me, but I was in the wrong spot,” Anderson said. “Somehow he still found me and I was just fortunate to get a shot up.”

Anderson went into the game with 55 points for the season and was shooting 9 for 27 on three-pointers. He also had garnered a tag that he was player that was good at a lot of things but great at nothing. Still, Brown, who was with the Spurs when the team drafted Anderson, said it was just a matter of time for him to find his stroke.

“We drafted him with the idea that he was a scorer. He was an athletic wing,” Brown said. “Maybe he was a shooter, maybe he was a driver, maybe he was a good offensive rebounder. He was all those things, but he was a scorer and to see all the different ways he scored tonight, that’s the way he was at Oklahoma State and that’s why he was drafted.”

The Sixers were fortunate Anderson’s shot went in. From that point, the team committed just one more turnover and hit 11 out of 12 foul shots to slip past the Rockets. The catch and the shot saved the day.

The pass? It worked out, too.

So coach, this 5-4 start to the season with victories over Miami, Chicago and Houston is kind of surprising … right?

“Yes,” Brown said.

Or is it?

OK, a win over the back-to-back NBA champion Miami Heat was a stunner and so was the come-from-behind victory over the Bulls in the second game of a back-to-back. But to beat the Rockets without rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams in a game in which Lin set a floor record with nine three-pointers and the Sixers committed seven turnovers in the fourth quarter … that’s pushing it.

But there it is. The young Sixers have shown a late-game tenacity and toughness that belies their age. It seems as when the action gets more heated and the margin for error is paper thin, the Sixers pull together even tighter.

How can a team that has been together a little more than a month have such great chemistry?

“I feel proud of them in regard to their competitive spirit,” Brown said. “I think when you just throw people together -- some players, a coach, a team -- we have no right to have an inherent chemistry or comradery. We’ve just sort of been introduced the past few months. So to manufacture anything like that and think that’s how it happens is very naïve. And I think there are signs that the group trusts each other and enjoys playing with each other and has each other’s back. We’re not going to roll over.”

Down by 10 points with nine minutes left in regulation, the Sixers tightened up on defense and didn’t roll over. Though Lin made those nine three-pointers for 34 points to go with 12 assists in a spot start for James Harden (out with a sore foot), the Sixers forced him to turn it over eight times.

Meanwhile, three Rockets had double-doubles, one by Dwight Howard, who had 23 points, 15 rebounds, six assists and six blocked shots. On top of all of that, the Rockets attempted just five long two-pointers and made 15 three-pointers.

And yet the Sixers had all the answers when it mattered most.

Next, the Sixers hit the road for three games in four days. They open the trip in Atlanta on Friday followed by a game in New Orleans on Saturday. The trip ends on Monday in Dallas before the Sixers come home to face the Raptors next Wednesday.

Robert Covington, Sixers show 'swagger' without Joel Embiid in comeback win

Robert Covington, Sixers show 'swagger' without Joel Embiid in comeback win

BOX SCORE

The Sixers began the season looking lost without Joel Embiid. Now they are finding ways to win when he is not on the court. 

Embiid suffered a left knee contusion in the second half of Friday’s 93-92 win over the Trail Blazers (see story). He was sidelined for the decisive 8:50 of the game (see Instant Replay).

The Sixers trailed, 81-78, when he subbed out for the second time because of the injury, and outscored the Trail Blazers, 15-11, from that point on.

So how was this team that battled with inconsistency and reliance on Embiid able to pull out a comeback win punctuated in the final seconds? Ask the Sixers and they’ll give varying answers, a sign they are getting the job done in multiple ways and aren’t relying on just one key to success.

The most glaring difference was the hero of the game. Robert Covington drained two three-pointers in the final 40 seconds. His trey from Dario Saric with 38.2 remaining cut the Trail Blazers' lead to just one, 91-90. With 4.5 to go, he nailed the game-winning three from T.J. McConnell to give the Sixers their eighth victory in 10 games (see feature highlight).

“That’s resilient Cov,” Nerlens Noel said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a good shot or a bad shot; he’ll pull it in your face. That’s the confidence he has and that’s the confidence we need him to have. He steps up and makes two big shots like that, that’s enough said. He won us that game.”

Critics have called out Covington’s up-and-down performance from three all season. (They’ve made their feelings known with loud boos at home games.) Covington shot 5 for 12 behind the arc on the night but his 2 for 3 performance in the fourth was what mattered most. 

“I am a fighter, that’s what I have been my whole life,” he said. “Just because fans are booing me at one point doesn't mean anything. I just keep working. I am not going to let that deteriorate my game. It goes in one ear and out the other.”

Without Embiid in the game, the Sixers had to rely on a total team effort. After he went to the bench, the final points were scored by a combination of Covington, Gerald Henderson, Noel, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and McConnell.

“Ball movement,” head coach Brett Brown said. “We had 25 assists out of 36 made baskets. It’s not like we’re going to give the ball to Damian Lillard (guard for the Blazers). That’s not who we are. Whatever we do, it has to be done by committee, by a group, by a team. It’s even more exposed when Joel isn’t in the game. They did that. Unlikely people ended up with the ball sometimes in unlikely spots. … You have to move the ball. That’s what the team has learned without Joel.” 

Several of the players on the court in critical moments were from the second unit. Since Brown locked in on his rotation, the reserves don’t have a drop-off in confidence from the starters. 

“It’s the mentality,” Covington said. “Everybody has that swagger about us right now because once Joel comes out, the next person steps in and fills that void. It’s a matter of that contagious feeling that trickles into the second unit that’s making us that much more valuable.”

Then there's always defense, the foundation of any solid NBA team and a focal point for the Sixers. Noel saw that as the difference-maker when subbing in and out. The Trail Blazers scored just two points in the final 1:56. 

"The second unit goes there and does a great job guarding the yard, not letting up easy baskets," Noel said. "The offensive side is fluid motion. Guys get shots, pick-and-roll, it opens up open threes for guys, driving lines, pump fakes, it’s a great unity."

Embiid liked what he saw from a distance. He will not travel with the team to their game on Saturday against the Hawks in Atlanta. 

"I’m just happy we’ve been closing out games, and the main thing I’m really happy [about] is they’ve been able to do it without me," he said. "That’s going to give us a lot of confidence when I’m missing back-to-backs. My teammates are going to have more confidence to come in and play the same way."

Joel Embiid feels 'great' after injury scare to left knee

Joel Embiid feels 'great' after injury scare to left knee

Of the nearly 20,000 people in the Wells Fargo Center on Friday night, Joel Embiid was seemingly the least concerned when he came down and injured his left knee. 

Fans held their breath and the Sixers looked on anxiously as the standout big man got up in visible discomfort and limped off the court (see highlights). Embiid, however, wasn’t worried. 

“I knew it was OK. I just landed the wrong way,” he said after the Sixers' 93-92 win over the Trail Blazers (see Instant Replay). “I’m great. The knee’s fine. They did an MRI and stuff, everything looked good.”

Embiid ran off the court on his own, was diagnosed with a left knee contusion and was cleared to return to the game. He aggravated his knee again driving to the basket and this time, the team held him out to be careful.

“The review is that he hyperextended his left knee,” head coach Brett Brown said. “There was a minor tweak again, and for precautionary reasons only, the doctors did not allow him to return. There will be more information given as we know it. But quickly, that's what we know.”

Embiid understood the team’s decision to sideline him for the final 8:50 while the Sixers went on a comeback run (see feature highlight). He still finished the game with an 18-point, 10-rebound double-double, five assists and four blocks in only 22 minutes.

“Obviously those guys, the front office, they care about my future, so they just shut it down,” Embiid said. “But I was fine.”

Embiid will not travel to Atlanta for Saturday’s game against the Hawks (pre-scheduled rest). He expects to be available for Tuesday’s home matchup against the Clippers. 

"You know how tough he is," Nerlens Noel said. "If it isn’t anything serious, he’ll be right back. At the end of the game, he was telling me was he was feeling great and there was no pain. He wanted to come back in the game … he’s a trooper. He always gives it his all and always plays hard."

Injuries to any player are worrisome, especially a franchise centerpiece with two years of rehab (foot) behind him. The Sixers have been methodical and cautious with his playing time. Embiid is on a 28-minute restriction and can play in only one game of a back-to-back series. 

The same player who is so closely watched, though, also plays with sky-high energy that doesn’t have a brake pedal. 

“You're concerned,” Brown said of seeing Embiid get injured. “It's clear to all of us that he plays with such reckless abandon. I think that we're all going to be seeing this and feeling this regularly. From flying into stands to stalking somebody in the open court to block a shot to the collision he often is in trying to draw fouls. That's just who he is. 

“I think that as he just plays more basketball and continues to grow, to not necessarily avoid those situations, just to perhaps manage them a little bit more. Right now, he's just a young guy that's just playing that doesn't know what he doesn't know and has a fearless approach underneath all that attitude.”

Fearless is an accurate description considering Embiid's trouble-free reaction to the awkward way his leg bent (he hadn’t seen a replay). 

“I kind of had that in college, too,” he said. “I think I’m flexible, so it’s supposed to happen.”