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Sixers fall to Celtics 102-92 in brutal refereeing exhibition, game

The Sixers struggled in a soul-stealing whistlefest.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Celtics outscored the 76ers 33-20 in the fourth quarter of a game the Sixers led after three, winning 102-92.

The game was marred by 54 foul calls. The officials, but especially one official, made the first half a Ref Show. Fans chanted “refs you suck” after bad calls and “you still suck” after bad calls that went into the team’s favor. I’d find more humor in that if I didn’t also have to sit through the entire game.

I would not be surprised if the league asked the officials to call the game tight. This is the third game between the teams in the last three weeks, including the two preseason contests. In preseason, Richaun Holmes was injured after hard contact from Aron Baynes. Baynes then sprained his knee in the second preseason affair. There were also several hard fouls in those preseason games that seemed out of place. I don’t think the teams like each other, and the officials certainly called the game as such.

That being said: good lord were the officials awful, especially crew chief Kane Fitzgerald. Some of the calls were just due to sloppy play. But there were several decisions early which were flat-out wrong, including a botched travel call on Dario Saric, a technical call foul on J.J. Redick for asking for a foul which stopped a favorable situation for the Sixers, a phantom foul on a box-out that resulted from Celtics forward Abdel Nader pulling out an impersonation of a wacky waving inflatable tube man, and a couple of ticky-tack foul calls on T.J. McConnell. The Sixers also benefitted from phantom foul calls on the other end, including a “shove” on Al Horford which negated an and-one for Terry Rozier.

But all night, the Sixers lacked execution and energy. Joel Embiid struggled, shooting just 4-16 overall. He looks a step slow, maybe as he hasn’t been game-active for most of the camp period. He mostly played on the perimeter. That may have been due to fatigue, but part of it was also because the Sixers need to keep the paint unclogged while Ben Simmons runs the point.

Embiid will sit out tomorrow night for rest, as he is not cleared to play in back-to-back games. Hopefully that rest helps him bring the level of energy he needs to play his best in a couple of games.

That being said, the Sixers led until the fourth quarter, when Shane Larkin (!?!) took over for the Celtics. The Sixers couldn’t contain spread pick and roll offense led by Larkin and Al Horford. Jerryd Bayless and Dario Saric could not establish the right communication on defense, and Bayless’s refusal to fight over screens when not defending Kyrie Irving made it easy for Boston to get whatever shot it wanted. Boston additionally hit some tough shots and took advantage of fouled jump shooters on five occasions to squeak out enough points to win.

For the Sixers’ home opener, it was a disappointing effort, a disappointing result, and most importantly a disappointing show.

Six(ers) Notes:

  1. Markelle Fultz being a mini-Ben Simmons with his shot confidence is making him a more difficult fit on the offensive end of the court than he needs to be. Fultz passed up open long jumpers for contested shorter shots, and his 2-9 shooting line shows that he needs to be more versatile offensively if he wants to reach his potential. Maybe Nik Stauskas can hook him up with his sports psychologist? Fultz did score on both of his free throw attempts in the game.
  2. The Sixers reduced their turnover count from 20 against Washington to 16 this game, but most of those were unforced, making it seem worse by comparison. Saric and Embiid combined for 10 of them.
  3. J.J. Redick and Bayless combined for 37 points. The guards scored well, even if their defense leaves a lot to be desired.
  4. Fans chanted “SUCKS!” after each Celtic was introduced, which I hope becomes a tradition at all games going forward.
  5. Aron Baynes did a more than credible job defending Embiid in his limited on-court time. Baynes ended up committing five fouls, but none were typical of fouls opposing bigs usually commit on Embiid. Baynes didn’t jump on Embiid pump fakes, and he kept his arms up to avoid Embiid’s patented swing-through move in the post, forcing Embiid to either dribble by him or shoot over him. It was a mostly successful strategy. The Sixers intentionally tried getting Baynes in foul trouble using their entire roster, as Redick and McConnell both drew fouls on Baynes to create a more favorable matchup against the Celtics’ bench. The next biggest Celtic is Horford, and beyond that the team lacks large humans.
  6. Not yet mentioned above, except in passing: Ben Simmons. Simmons finished with 11 points, 11 rebounds, and 5 assists to 4 turnovers. He did not attempt a shot outside the paint, and the Celtics defended him as if they knew he could only hurt them if they gave up the paint against him. As the league adjusts to his play so far, you have to wonder when he finally gives the jumper a regular try. The Celtics also committed an intentional foul on Simmons at the end of the second quarter, forcing him to shoot free throws. Simmons finished 3-6 from the line, but between Simmons and Fultz, the Sixers suddenly are a team where free throw competency is a big deal.

So, there are some things to worry about, but there are positives to take from the game. We’re back at it tomorrow night, sans Embiid, in Toronto. Expect to see some Jahlil Okafor - with Amir Johnson’s first two games offering very little in terms of on-court value, I’m not actually mad about that.

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