Ever since the 2018-19 Sixers schedule was released, one particular stretch stuck out to Philly fans at large. The string of games was to begin on January 17th and end on February 12th, pitting the Sixers against a difficult opponent (in one way or another) each night. From the upstart Sacramento Kings to the defending champion Golden State Warriors, this figured to be a hellacious span that could truly define the season for better or worse. Most Sixers fans hoped the team could merely tread water and end up winning six of the 12. Let’s take a look back and start at the beginning, way back in January. The Sixers had just blown out the Timberwolves, Halsey had the #1 song in America, and nobody knew that Jonathon Simmons’ name was spelled Jonathon.
1/17/19: Sixers 120, Pacers 96 (1-0)
The Sixers started off on the right foot, beating the Pacers on the road in a wire-to-wire victory that saw the team truly pull away in the second half, beating the Pacers by nine and 11 points in the 3rd and 4th quarters, respectively. For the Sixers, Joel Embiid had a well-rounded, 22/13/8/3 performance, and Jimmy Butler posted an efficient 27 points. A gentleman named Mike Muscala had 11 points off the bench. For the Pacers, former Sixer Thad Young put up 27 points, as the Sixers held star Victor Oladipo to 15 points on 6-for-20 shooting.
1/19/19: Thunder 117, Sixers 115 (1-1)
This one was a heartbreaker. A back-and-forth, daytime Saturday national TV game really lived up to its potential in a hotly contested clash of the stars. Russell Westbrook pretended to want to fight Joel; it was great. This came down to the wire, as Jimmy Butler (in the midst of a poor shooting night) stole an errant pass from Thunder guard Dennis Schroder and laid it in to put the Sixers up two with 6.9 (nice) seconds left. The Thunder called timeout, and on the other end, as JJ Redick for some reason guarded the inbounder, Paul George hit a 3 while being fouled by Butler. He sank the free throw to clinch the game for the Thunder. The Sixers have not beat the Thunder for 11 years.
1/21/19: Sixers 121, Rockets 93 (2-1)
The Corey Brewer Game! This was awesome. After signing a 10-day contract with the Sixers, the veteran journeyman became a short-lived cult hero in Sixers lore after annoying the hell out of James Harden (who had 37) all game. Brewer was flailing his arms, laying the ball up awkwardly, and guarding Harden when he was laying on the ground. The fans chanted his name in unison. This was a drubbing by the home team Sixers, opening up a lead so comfortable against one of the Western Conference’s elite that they could afford to play Embiid, Ben Simmons and Redick only about 28 minutes apiece. Butler missed the game with a sore right wrist. Brewer, fresh off playing superheroes with his kids, logged 33 minutes.
1/23/19: Sixers 122, Spurs 120 (3-1)
This was a great comeback win for the Sixers. Embiid (who was questionable with a sore back) gutted this one out over 40 minutes, putting up a 33 and 19 night that included a stretch of 16 consecutive points for his team. The Sixers were hugely helped by two integral 4-point plays down the stretch from JJ Redick and our dearly departed Landry Shamet. Speaking of dearly departed, this game featured a surprisingly spry effort from Wilson Chandler, who had an awesome block on the Spurs’ DeMar DeRozan in the waning moments. The Sixers delighted the sold-out crowd by ending the game on a 10-0 run to win it by two, as Ben SImmons (who notched a triple double) stole the inbounds pass as time expired.
1/26/19: Nuggets 126, Sixers 110 (3-2)
This one was doomed from the start. With Joel Embiid getting a scheduled rest game off, the Sixers were also short starters Jimmy Butler (wrist) and Wilson Chandler (hamstring). Against one of the best teams in the West, Simmons, Redick and co. couldn’t keep it close in Denver. Nuggets star Nikola Jokic, fresh off of a one-game suspension, tallied 32, 18 and 10. Moving on.
1/29/19: Sixers 121, Lakers 105 (4-2)
Back at full strength, the Sixers went into Los Angeles and took care of business against the Lebron-less Lakers. Embiid feasted on the LA frontcourt, going to the line 15 times en route to his 28 points. Butler had an efficient 20 points on 9 shots, and Moose came off the bench for 17 points. For the Guys Lebron Tried To Trade, Brandon Ingram had a career-high 36 points, as Kyle Kuzma missed the game with a hip strain.
1/31/19: Sixers 113, Warriors 104 (5-2)
Statement win! This one was fun. Sure, the Warriors were short Klay Thompson in their starting lineup, but the road Sixers had to withstand a flamethrower Steph Curry performance, as he hit 10 threes and ended with 41 points. How’d they pull it off? How’d they pull it off especially with Joel Embiid and Jimmy Butler shooting a combined 11-for-36 from the field? The answer, in short, is Ben Simmons. The LSU product had what was widely regarded as his best game as a pro, putting up 26 points and playing all-world defense wire-to-wire. The Sixers needed every bit of him, and he delivered.
2/2/19: Kings 115, Sixers 108 (5-3)
Trap game. There was no way, after big wins against LA and the Warriors, that the Sixers weren’t letting up and getting beat on the road by a frisky Sacramento Kings team. It was written. Without JJ and Chandler, the Sixers went cold from 3, shooting only 21 percent for the game. Down the stretch, the Sixers stayed in it only because of the heroics of Jimmy Butler, who hit a number of tough shots in the fourth on his way to 29 points in the game. For the Kings, they were led by a seven-3 performance from Buddy Hield, who had 34 points (and possibly is 34.)
2/5/19: Raptors 119, Sixers 107 (5-4)
In the final game before the trade deadline, the Raptors proved too much for the home Sixers. The game got off to an inauspicious start, as the Sixers allowed the Raps to put up 40 points in the opening frame. Embiid, who had 37, did his best to single-handedly keep the Sixers in the game down the stretch, but alas, came up short. With JJ a gametime scratch due to illness, Embiid, Butler and Simmons all logged just about 40 minutes as Brett Brown tried his level best to steal a win. For the Raptors, Kawhi Leonard paced the team with 24 points, despite shooting only 3-for-11.
2/8/19: Sixers 117, Nuggets 110 (6-4)
Ho man. Following an extremely eventful inaugural trade deadline for Sixers GM Elton Brand, the team entered Friday’s rematch with Denver with new additions Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic, Mike Scott and James Ennis (Jonathon Simmons was en route). Gone from the rotation were Wilson Chandler, Landry Shamet and Mike Muscala. Markelle Fultz was on his way to Orlando. Harris gave the Sixers quite possibly the second-best starting 5 in the NBA, and this game showed the earliest glimpses of how that might come to pass.
Harris hit an early transition 3 that got the crowd going, then quickly found JJ for a transition 3 of his own. The Sixers hunted offensive mismatches as much as they could, given the off night from Joel Embiid, who played through sickness. New pieces aside, the Sixers were saved on offense by a virtuoso performance by JJ Redick, who hit 6 threes for his game-high 34 points. Butler had 22 points. The building was rocking, everything Boban did was hilarious, and Sixers fans left the Wells Fargo Center dreaming that this was merely a sign of things to come for their contender.
2/10/19: Sixers 143, Lakers 120 (7-4)
The Lakers entered town for a Sunday matinee in Philly, and the Sixers starting lineup showed out. On the whole, the Sixers got what they wanted on offense, as they shot nearly 58 percent for the game. Joel Embiid continued his dominance of Tinseltown, putting 37 and 13 on the Lakers in 32 minutes. Tobias had an efficient 22 points, JJ had 21 points whilst hitting the most difficult shot TJ McConnell has ever seen anyone hit. Ben Simmons attempted a real 3-pointer and played great defense on Lebron in the blowout. Good times.
2/12/19: Celtics 112, Sixers 109 (7-5)
Listen, playing the Boston Celtics is a horrible, godless effort that sends an earthquake through Sixers Twitter, awakens the Fire Brett Brown clan, and causes severe harm to my own personal relationships. In this particular game, the Celtics shot the lights out from deep (44.8 percent), most notably due to the heroics of Proud Boy Gordon Hayward going 6-for-7. Al Horford tormented Joel Embiid on both ends, forcing Jo into 9-for-22 shooting, 5 fouls, and only 4 free throw attempts (he was somehow still a +3). Brett Brown went with Bobi off the bench in an effort to assess one of his newest players, but going forward the backup 5 minutes against Boston ought to be Jonah Bolden’s. Mobility is of the utmost importance against this Celtics team. As much as we all love Boban, I’ve seen golfers with better lateral quickness.
On one hand, you could say: the Sixers only lost by 3 to the Celtics in a bad Embiid game when Tobias couldn’t hit anything and Jimmy missed a few key free throws. On the other hand, you could say: the Celtics didn’t even have Kyrie, the Sixers never beat the Celtics, and we all die alone eventually. So it’s a toss-up.
In conclusion: if you had been promised seven wins in this 12-game-stretch, the majority of Sixers fans would have taken it. Not to mention that included in those seven wins are blowouts of Houston, Indiana and Los Angeles, and close W’s against the Spurs, Warriors and Nuggets. But it is a bummer that they couldn’t come away with a victory over the Celtics or Raptors, and ended on such a sour note. All in all, this was an impressive stretch of Sixers basketball against some stiff competition. The team sits at 36-21, and now has 25 games left in the season to mesh in time to exorcise the ghosts of Sixers past come this spring.