In Review | In London, Strong Start Not Sustained
LONDON - The early stages of the 76ers’ midweek trek to England was as much about experiencing a different part of the world as it was about basketball. But by Thursday, there was no doubt that the game of basketball had taken center stage.
Playing in front of a spirited, knowledgeable, bipartisan sellout crowd at the 19,078-seat O2 Arena, the Sixers’ level of play lived up to the atmosphere. Their early dominance, however, was not to be sustained, as the Boston Celtics roared back in the second half to post a 114-103 triumph in the NBA London Game 2018.
The loss, which came in the Sixers’ first-ever regular season contest outside of North America, halted a four-game winning streak, and resulted in the Celts clinching a victory in the rivals’ annual season series. The division foes will meet for a fourth and final time this year next Thursday in Boston.
The Sixers were paced Thursday by JJ Redick, who got off to a torrid start. Behind a 6 for 7 first-half shooting display, the veteran guard went into intermission with 18 points. He finished the evening with a game-high total of 22 (7-12 fg, 5-9 3fg, 3-3 ft).
Also instrumental in the Sixers’ promising start Thursday was Ben Simmons. The Australian point man pumped out 12 points in the opening half, helping steak the Sixers to a lead as large as 22 points midway through the second quarter.
The margin stood at 57-48 at the half.
Joel Embiid supplied the Sixers with 15 points (6-17 fg, 1-5 3fg), 10 rebounds, and 5 assists. The double-double was his 17th in 30 games.
T.J. McConnell emerged as a key spark off the bench, tallying 12 points (6-11 fg), 5 assists, 4 boards, and 3 steals.
En route to their seventh straight win, and NBA-best 34th overall this year, the Celtics ratcheted things up in the third quarter, which proved to be the decisive frame. They outscored the Sixers 37-22 in the period, and 66-46 over the final 24 minutes of regulation.
Jaylen Brown topped Boston with 21 points (8-15 fg, 2-4 3fg). Kyrie Irving scored 20 (7-20 fg, 3-10 fg) in the Celts’ seventh win in a row.
Redick Goes Off in First Half
At the outset of this year’s London Game, JJ Redick couldn’t miss. A contested 19-footer at the top of the key about 90 seconds into regulation got him going, and he pretty much went on an unconscious tear from there. The 33-year old was responsible for all but two of the Sixers’ first seven points, and buried his first six shots, too.
After getting a breather for a bit, Redick returned to the floor with under three minutes to go in the first quarter. At that juncture, Boston was nipping at the Sixers’ heels, having trimmed the deficit to two, 23-21.
On the Sixers’ ensuing trip down the court, Redick found Trevor Booker for a timely alley-oop lay-up. Joel Embiid then delivered a crowd-stirring block on Kyrie Irving. Redick took the energy from the sequence and ran with it, canning a triple that reestablished some breathing room, at 28-21.
Before subbing out for a second time in the second period, Redick nailed another three, and went into the locker room with a plus-18 rating.
The Celtics had more success tracking Redick following the break. Still, with 22 points, he matched a career-long streak with his fourth straight 20-point outing. He did so previously in March of 2015, during his stint with the LA Clippers.
Second Half Shift
A tale-of-two-halves is what played out Thursday at O2 Arena. The Sixers were unquestionably the tone-setters, with Ben Simmons’ 17-foot jumper increasing their lead to a resounding 22 points, 49-27, with seven minutes left in the second quarter.
By that point, it looked like the Sixers could do no wrong. They were moving the ball, converting better than 63.5 percent of their shots (21-33 fg, 6-9 3fg), keeping turnovers down, and defending effectively, both with and without Joel Embiid on the court.
In the second half, quite the turnaround unfolded. It was Boston that began hitting its shots, while stepping up its defensive intensity. The Celts went for 57.1 percent between the third and fourth quarters (24-42 fg, 9-17 3fg), scored inside and out, and commanded the glass.
Over the course of what to-date has been an impressive campaign, the Celtics’ victories have come in all different shapes and sizes. Thursday was no different.
International Stage for Internationally-Influenced Clubs
It was only fitting that for the NBA’s eighth annual London Game, the league presented to the enthusiastic English and European hoop heads a match-up loaded with foreign-born talent.
Between the Sixers and the Celtics, 10 players involved in Thursday’s affair claimed international affiliation. The contingent consisted of Joel Embiid (Cameroon), Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (France), Dario Saric (Croatia), and Ben Simmons (Australia) from the Sixers; and Aron Baynes (Australia), Al Horford (Dominican Republic), Kyrie Irving (Australia), Abdel Nader (Egypt), Daniel Theis (Germany), and Gershon Yabusele (France) from the Cs.
Throughout Thursday evening, chants of “Trust the Process” and “Let’s Go Celtics” blended into one loud chorus. Supporters for the Sixers and Cs seemed to be split down the middle.
Spotted in the stands was a trio of fans decked colonial garb, holding up red, white, and blue flags that spelled out “Trust the Process.”
A Croatian flag, a nod to Saric, hung in a section behind the baseline closest to the Sixers’ bench.
At the end of the night, the sold-out arena saluted both clubs, which had travelled from an ocean away to participate in Thursday’s contest.
In the British capital Thursday, Ben Simmons most definitely elevated his game, delivering this landmark-worthy dunk in the third quarter.
Hey look kids, there's Big Ben. pic.twitter.com/i7Pjsrd0Pp
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) January 11, 2018
Upon returning stateside, the Sixers will have a few days to catch their breath. But when they return to action Monday at The Center for a Martin Luther King Jr. Day matinee, the difficulty of the schedule won’t lighten in the least. The Toronto Raptors will be in town for the second and final time this season, and will bring a sterling record with them. As of Thursday, the Raps, which have beaten the Sixers twice this season, ranked second in the Eastern Conference. They’ll arrive in South Philadelphia on the heels of playing consecutive games against the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, each champions of their respective conferences three seasons running.