MEMPHIS — Doc Rivers’ job is a tough one in regards to building on-court chemistry.
Saturday’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies at the FedEx Forum was the sixth consecutive contest and seventh overall without his starting lineup intact.
As has been the case in most of those games, the Sixers lost. This time, the outcome was 106-104.
The Sixers dropped to 9-5. They’re 7-0 when Danny Green, Tobias Harris, Joel Embiid, Seth Curry, and Ben Simmons all play. They’re 2-5 when at least one of the starters doesn’t play. Even that’s a bit misleading, considering their two victories came against a Miami Heat squad with just eight available players. All-Stars Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo weren’t among those eight.
“You know what? I’m not letting our guys use excuses,” said Rivers, whose squad played without Embiid and Curry on Saturday. “Like, we got to get away from that.”
The coach pointed out this is going to be an extraordinary season while dealing with the pandemic and injuries.
“Get over it, and win the game,” Rivers said. “Find a way to win the game. This was a winnable game tonight. ... This game should have been won by us, and that the mentality we have to have.
“We can’t except, well we will be good when everybody is here.”
In addition to the duo’s absence, the Sixers were doomed by 23 turnovers, which led to 17 points for the Grizzlies (6-6).
“Too many,” Ben Simmons said of the turnovers. “If we don’t have those turnovers, it’s a win for us.”
The Sixers turned the ball over on two straight trips down the floor prior to Tyrese Maxey’s desperate shot after the buzzer on their final possession..
The last turnover came with 5.9 seconds left and the Sixers down, 105-104. Tobias Harris picked up his dribble and stepped on the baseline under his own basket.
The Grizzlies failed to score a basket after Dillon Brooks’ three-pointer gave them a 103-96 lead with 4 minutes, 28 seconds remaining. Yet, the Sixers suffered their seventh straight loss to Memphis at the FedEx Forum. Their last victory in the building came on Dec. 26, 2012.
Shake Milton led all scorers with 28 points two nights after finishing with a season-high 31. Harris had 21, while Ben Simmons finished with 11 points, 16 rebounds, nine assists, and seven turnovers. The Grizzlies’ Ja Morant finished with 17 points after missing the previous eight games with a sprained left ankle.
Curry has been sidelined for six games, the last five for being in the NBA’s health and safety protocol after testing positive for COVID-19 on Jan. 7. He missed that night’s game because of a sore left ankle. Meanwhile, Embiid didn’t travel with the Sixers for their two-game road trip to Memphis and Oklahoma City (Sunday) due to right knee pain.
The Sixers were also without reserves Furkan Korkmaz (left groin strain) and Mike Scott (right knee soreness). While they are both solid players, the Sixers lose a lot when missing at least one of their starters.
In regards to Embiid’s knee, Rivers said if there’s some concern or if resting him makes sense they’ll do that throughout the season. He has missed three of the Sixers’ 14 games.
“There is no concern and I can’t say this is something you will see either,” the coach said. “But when something does pop up, we are going to jump on it and we are going to be very smart this early in the season.”
Embiid’s injury history has been well documented. He has yet to head into the postseason without some type of injury. But Rivers said Embiid taking time off isn’t a matter of keeping him healthy for the postseason
“We want him to play as many games as he can play,” he said, “but, again, we have to be smart; it is a long season.
“We want everyone, not just Joel, we want everyone to be healthy and at their prime state when they get to the playoffs.”
The Sixers clung to a 26-25 lead after one quarter thanks in large part to the Grizzlies shooting 29%.
» READ MORE: Shake Milton thriving as Sixers’ sixth man
Milton, off the bench, had seven points to lead the Sixers on 3-for-3 shooting in the quarter. Dwight Howard, starting in place of Embiid, had seven rebounds, while Simmons added six rebounds, two assists, but missed all five of his shot attempts.
Simmons, however, made his first two shot attempts, in the second quarter. The first one came while drawing a foul on a reserve layup. The Sixers trailed, 40-37, after he converted the three-point play. He hit an 11-foot jumper 23 seconds later to close the gap to one point (40-39).
Simmons scored nine of points in the second quarter. But he also had three costly turnovers, giving him five for the half.
But the Grizzlies found their shooting touch in the second quarter, shooting 62.5% to take a 60-59 lead into the break. Simmons didn’t attempt a shot in the third quarter. The Grizzlies went on to extend their lead to 12 points (88-76) heading into the fourth quarter.
Simmons made 1 of 2 shots in the final quarter.
The Sixers won’t be among the teams competing Monday on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
But Rivers said before Saturday’s game that the official day of service and to celebrate the civil rights leader’s life and legacy means the world to him.
“That day, more what that man meant so much to all of us,” he said. “Not just Black American, Americans in general. I think we are starting to find that out more and more over the last two or three weeks how important, it’s not just racial equality, but it is income equality, it is equality to all.
“So I think he is a Black person for all that. And I think we all see it and it means a lot.”