Here in Philly, the 76ers’ game against the NBA-best Phoenix Suns might have been the furthest thing from many fans’ minds.
A lot of the focus was on Thursday’s NBA trade deadline and whether the Sixers will send Ben Simmons to the Brooklyn Nets for James Harden.
Heck, even the Sixers’ players are wondering about what could happen, especially since some have been mentioned as possible pieces in a deal.
Regardless, there was a game on Tuesday night against the hot Suns. It was a game in which the Sixers put up a tough fight before losing, 114-109, at the Wells Fargo Center.
Afterward, Doc Rivers addressed the trade deadline. The coach believes it will be nice to have some level of certainty after Thursday.
“Especially this year just because of the situation we are in,” Rivers said of the Simmons saga. “I know our guys are NBA players and all that, but they are human. I can’t imagine the amount of names that have been thrown in. So every single guy goes to bed tonight, thinking this may be his last night or whatever.
“That’s tough. It really is.”
The Sixers are off until Friday’s game home game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. For the most part, the players in the locker room on the night know they’re here to stay.
“From a coach standpoint, I can’t wait for that, personally,” Rivers said. “I’m really looking forward to that.”
So is Matisse Thybulle.
“I think a couple of us will finally be able to breathe,” the swingman said.
However, Rivers said this team has to get another guard. Reserve point guard Shake Milton, who’s more of a combo guard, missed his 18th consecutive game on Tuesday. As a result, swingman Furkan Korkmaz and shooting guard Seth Curry have been assigned to ballhandling duties.
“Even if Furk and Shake, we need a point guard, and we’re looking,” he said. “But they don’t grow on trees, as you know.
Tuesday’s loss dropped the Sixers to 32-22 and marked their third setback in four games. Meanwhile, the Suns improved to an NBA-best 44-10. They have won 14 of their last 15 games.
Joel Embiid finished with 34 points and 12 rebounds. The MVP front-runner made 13-of-25 shots. Tobias Harris added 30 points, with 17 coming before intermission. Tyrese Maxey had 14 points, six rebounds, and four assists. He made just 5-of-16 shots.
Curry had a night he would love to forget. He was held to three points on 1-for-9 shooting, missing five of six three-pointers.
Suns All-Star Devin Booker finished with a game-high 35 points. Former Great Valley High and Villanova standout Mikal Bridges had 23 points against the team that drafted him 10th overall in the 2018 draft before trading him to Phoenix. All-Star Chris Paul had 16 points and 12 assists, and reserve center JaVale McGee added 15 points and 12 rebounds for the Suns.
Down the stretch
Paul split a pair of foul shots to give the Suns a 100-99 lead with 3 minutes, 39 seconds remaining. Harris grabbed the rebound on Paul’s second attempt but had the ball stolen by Jae Crowder.
Crowder in turn passed the ball to Paul, who buried a 26-footer to put the Suns up four points. But Curry, who missed his first eight shots, responded with his first basket: a three-pointer to close the gap to one.
The Suns went on to take two six-point leads. The second one came on Paul’s 19-foot jumper to make it 110-104 with 1:55 left.
After Harris closed the gap to three with a three-pointer 22 seconds later, the Sixers combined for three turnovers and one missed shot over the next four possessions. Then Booker made a pair of foul shots to put the Suns up 112-107 with 20.1 seconds left. Embiid pulled the Sixers within three (112-109) with 13 seconds left.
But as he did on his last trip to the foul line, Booker buried a pair of free throws to make it a five-point game with 11.4 seconds left. On the ensuing possession, Harris had a layup blocked by Booker. The Sixers regained possession as the ball went out of bounds. Then Embiid missed a three-pointer with 0.8 seconds left.
Dealing with trade rumors
But this is definitely a week when games are secondary.
Rivers was asked before the game if he had to speak to his players, who might see trade rumors on social media.
“Everybody is different, each individual,” he said. “There’s just so many bad rumors, honestly, and so much noise and talk with every team, I guess — obviously us with the Ben situation. You talk to guys individually — you don’t do a lot of team talk because I think that’s the [best] way, and you just go out and play.”
Rivers among NBA’s 15 greatest coaches
Rivers was named among the league’s 15 greatest coaches on Tuesday as part of the continuing celebration of the league’s 75th anniversary season.
Rivers, Gregg Popovich, Steve Kerr, and Erik Spoelstra are the only active coaches on the list. Former Sixers coach Larry Brown, Red Auerbach, Chuck Daly, Red Holzman, Phil Jackson, K.C. Jones, Don Nelson, Jack Ramsay, Pat Riley, Jerry Sloan, and Lenny Wilkens are the others.