Sixers lose to Raptors; Twin Towers less than towering
Brett Brown wants it all - especially in year four. That's why the 76ers coach opted to start both Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor on Wednesday night against the Toronto Raptors at the Wells Fargo Center.
Brett Brown wants it all - especially in year four.
That's why the 76ers coach opted to start both Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor on Wednesday night against the Toronto Raptors at the Wells Fargo Center.
Brown said pairing the two centers was a decision in which winning and the development of players were both paramount.
"Our first year, development ruled the day," said the fourth-year coach, whose squad lost, 123-114, to the Raptors. "We are now three years further along. We want to win games. And so this isn't in a way [that] hurts that."
Brown hoped to pull it off Wednesday. It was something he wanted to and needed to try. So in his mind, the easy decision was to start the two and see what happened.
While the Embiid-Okafor pairing had a so-so result, the Sixers (6-19) played with energy and nearly battled back from a 19-point deficit, pulling within five points twice in the final minute.
The loss snapped the Sixers' two-game winning streak. They also extended a pair of skids. This marked their 14th consecutive series loss to the Raptors (18-7). It also was their seventh straight home setback.
But most of the attention went to the pairing of Embiid and Okafor. Embiid lined up at power forward, where he squared off against Pascal Siakam and Patrick Patterson in the Twin Towers set. Okafor played center and battled Jonas Valanciunas.
The two played 17 minutes together and graded out at a minus-four in their first time starting together. It started off well, as the duo combined to score five of the Sixers' first eight points.
The 6-foot-11, 265-pound Okafor finished with 17 points, four rebounds, three assists, and two blocks. Embiid, who had two scares, added a season-low nine points to go with six rebounds, five assists, one steal, two blocks, and four turnovers. The 7-2, 275-pounder twisted his left ankle during pregame warmups and rushed to the locker room. There was a concern that he wouldn't play.
But he did and retwisted it during the game.
Embiid also went to the locker room with a bloody nose after being accidentally hit in the face with 4 minutes, 39 seconds left in the half. He returned after halftime.
He looked out of sync, however, while playing out of position alongside Okafor. Embiid did not attempt his first field goal until the 11:30 mark of the second quarter. He scored on his second attempt - a one-foot tip-in - with 8:52 left in the half.
"I think for once since I've been a Sixer, I didn't trust the process tonight," Embiid said. "I was just standing. I wasn't moving. I was just standing on the perimeter. I wasn't active on defense."
Meanwhile, Okafor was more comfortable, especially in the early going. Nine of his points came on 4-of-5 shooting in the first quarter. He was held scoreless in the second quarter after missing his two shots before adding eight points in the second half.
This was the third game in which the Sixers paired Embiid and Okafor. The first two times came in matchups against the Orlando Magic. But as Wednesday's performance indicated, they have some work to do.
Their spacing was bad. They often ran to the same spot while being confused on where to go.
"It's all a learning process," Okafor said. "It's the first time playing together [in the starting lineup]. So we are all trying to figure it out.
"I think Joe did well. I did well. It's new to both of us. . . . We are going to get it down."
Brown appeared to be satisfied with their performance - at least publicly.
"I thought it was OK," the coach said. He added that "there were some good things that we saw. All of us would admit that Jahlil had a bounce."
But Embiid said he would have to watch the tape to see how he and Okafor played together before giving his opinion of the Twin Towers.
Asked if he looked forward to pairing up with Okafor again, Embiid responded: "Whatever the coaches want me to do, I'm going to do it."
The next step is seeing how Embiid pairs with Nerlens Noel. The reserve center missed Wednesday's game with a sprained left ankle. He's expected to return Friday against the Los Angeles Lakers. There's a thought that Noel, a rim protector, will match up better with Embiid than Okafor.
"I am excited to look at that," Brown said of pairing Noel and Embiid. "We have two 22-year-olds in Joel and Nerlens and [Thursday] Jahlil will turn 21. If we all take a deep breath and recognize that number and drape it over the NBA's world, they're just in their infant stages."
The Sixers will learn sometimes that different pairings will struggle, he said.
"We're in a whole new season, a whole new world," Brown said. "When Nerlens comes back, we will look at Joel and Nerlens together. How can that not be defensively exciting?"
Raptors shooting guard DeMar DeRozan had a game-high 31 points even though he sat out the fourth quarter. Villanova and Cardinal Dougherty product Kyle Lowry added 20 points and seven assists, while Valanciunas had 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Robert Covington led the Sixers with season highs of 26 points and 12 rebounds.
Injured first overall pick Ben Simmons joined the Sixers on the sideline for the first time this season.