Sixers/Wizards Game 1: From The Other Side — A Different Kind of Moral Victory | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Sixers/Wizards Game 1: From The Other Side — A Different Kind of Moral Victory

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Updated: October 19, 2017

Last year when the Philadelphia 76ers stepped on the court, opposing coaches pretty much knew what to expect. When Joel Embiid was on the floor, his talent (combined with the grit and high-effort play of his significantly less talented teammates) made the Sixers a threat to defeat any team in the NBA.

When Embiid was not on the floor, and he joined Ben Simmons on the team of nice-suits-on-the bench, the supporting cast of Jahlil Okafor, Robert Covington, T.J. McConnell, and Dario Saric would still give a top-notch level of effort, but more talented teams—especially if they matched the Sixers in that department—would end up victorious; meanwhile, the Sixers were left with a dreaded moral victory. The Sixers won 28 games last year but their moral record was 54-28.

Prior to last night’s game against the Wizards, Sixers coach Brett Brown was asked when he’d have a good grasp of how good or bad his team would be—he said after Christmas, which to him represented the first third of the season. In that same response, Brown was quite dismissive about whether anything positive or negative could be gleaned from game one.

“For any of us to make a judgment after opening night is really unintelligent, like it’s just not wise. We’re all going to have a greater sense of what we think . . . but it’s based on time.”

If this were the 2016-17 season, Coach Brown could probably downplay expectations and curb everyone’s enthusiasm, but that approach is less believable in 2017-18. Embiid’s minutes are less restricted than last year; Ben Simmons is taller, healthy and starting; Markelle Fultz is on the team and on the brink of starting once he gets the reps that eluded him during his injury-filled preseason; and, oh, by the way, J.J. Redick was brought in to stretch the floor and repeatedly tickle the twine. Both the talent and expectation levels are sky high.

After last night’s game—a game which saw the Sixers lose 120-115 after trailing by just two points with 1:18 left in the game—Coach Brown sounded like a man who was willing to embrace an upgraded version of a Sixers moral victory:

“I was proud of them. I think to come into this building and play a team like that, a veteran team, a team that’s been in the playoffs—deep in the playoffs some years—and on opening night look up and with 1:30 left be down two [points], that’s a good reason to be happy with a lot of what you saw.

“You get upset toward the end, where we had those two crucial turnovers when we were coming back, but by and large, my sort of immediate thoughts leaving the building are there are lots of positives.”

In the locker room after the game, it was clear that Brown discussed that sentiment with his team. Every player made available to the media—whether it was Embiid, Simmons, Fultz, or Covington—mentioned how good it felt for the unproven Sixers to give a significant scare to the proven, playoff-tested Washington Wizards. And quite honestly, the Sixers organization had every reason to feel like they could build on this 2017 version of a moral victory.

Embiid may have been miffed about his minutes restrictions of just 18 minutes one day before the game, but Brown played him 26 against the Wizards. More importantly, with 5:18 left in the game, when Embiid had already played 21 minutes, Brown asked Embiid to return to the game for the stretch run to help the Sixers win. They ultimately fell short, but he put up 18 points and 13 rebounds. But Embiid wasn’t the only star.

Ben Simmons, in his NBA debut, had 18 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, and two steals in 34 minutes of play. He was the primary ball-handler when he was in the game, and he demonstrated that he not only had the vision to get his teammates the ball in scoring position, but he could also get to the basket for his own scoring opportunities. There was still no trace of a jump shot, which has always been the criticism of his game, but that feels like nitpicking after just one regular season game.

Markelle Fultz, the Sixers top draft pick in the 2017 draft, missed the final two games of the preseason with a sore knee, and as a result, was kept out of the starting lineup for last night. He played 17 minutes and scored 10 points on 5-for-9 shooting. Wall embarrassed him a few times, but Fultz also held his own with a drive on Wall and a pretty block of Kelly Oubre. After the game, Fultz characterized his performance as simply “decent.”

The star of the game for the Sixers was clearly Robert Covington, who had 29 points on 7-for-11 shooting from the 3-point line. He hit both open and contested 3-pointers, and he took full advantage of the Wizards choosing to focus on Simmons, Embiid and, to a lesser extent, Fultz and Redick. Said Covington after the game, “When we have all those shooters on the floor, they can’t focus on everybody.”

On the surface, it’s no wonder that Brown found the silver lining in an opening night loss. One of his blue collar players from last year (Covington) led the team in scoring, two of the players who were mostly hurt last year (Embiid and Simmons) played well together in limited minutes, this year’s number one draft pick showed promise in a limited sample size, and Redick hit big shots when they were needed. But there were some negatives that cost the Sixers the game—mainly turnovers.

Before the game, Coach Brown said his team had to take care of the ball because to turnover the ball around Wall and the Wizards was like adding “kerosene to a fire.” And in the first half, the Sixers held the Wizards without a fast-break basket, while committing just four turnovers of their own, which is why they led 59-56 at halftime.

But in the third quarter, when the Wiz outscored the Sixers 34-23, Philadelphia committed eight turnovers and allowed Wall and Beal to combine for 25 points. Yes, the Sixers cut into the lead in the fourth quarter, but as the cliché goes, because they expended so much energy in erasing the deficit, they did not have enough left to put the Wizards away. As Brown said, that is something that can be resolved with film study and more game reps. But that does not discount the moral victory the finally healthy Sixers earned last night.

We’ll let Joel Embiid get the last word.

“Washington is one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. The positives I see after this game is just [they’re] one of the best in the East and we stacked up with them and that’s when we play fewer minutes.

“I thought we were okay. We just need [more] defensively. I think that’s the main thing we need more defensively—too many turnovers, that’s big. That’s been the talk in the locker room. Got to work on that.”

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Rashad Mobley
Reporter/Writer at TAI
Rashad has been covering the NBA and the Washington Wizards since 2008—his first two years were spent at Hoops Addict before moving to Truth About It. Rashad has appeared on ESPN and college radio, SportsTalk on NewsChannel 8 in Washington D.C., and his articles have appeared on ESPN TrueHoop, USAToday.com, Complex Magazine, and the DCist. He considers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar a hero and he had the pleasure of interviewing him back in 2009.