BOSTON, MA – There were some fresh, welcomed faces back in the fold Monday at TD Garden, but if the 76ers’ third pre-season outing revealed anything, it was that the young club could still use some time to gel.
The good news for the Sixers is that on the heels of their 113-96 setback to the Boston Celtics, they have two more tune-ups left before the games start to count for real.
“I give the Celtics credit,” said Brett Brown following Monday’s loss. “I think they started the game more physical than we were.”
The C’s raced out to a 17-5 edge in the opening five minutes of the first quarter, and never looked back.
Even in defeat, the Sixers were able to throw the likes of Dario Saric and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot into the fray Monday. Both second-year players made their respective pre-season debuts, while Markelle Fultz returned to the floor after sitting out last Friday’s game.
Having the trio in the mix, Brown felt, was beneficial to the growth of the Sixers’ chemistry.
“You hope it produces that, you think it will,” Brown said.
Saric held his own on both ends of the floor, tallying 9 points (4-10 fg, 1-5 3fg) and 7 rebounds in 20 minutes. He was given off the last four days on the heels of extensive EuroBasket action in September.
Luwawu-Cabarrot supplied 7 points in nearly 14 minutes against the C’s.
As for Fultz, Brown thought the combo guard had some solid moments. He finished with 12 points (5-11 fg) off the bench, and was regularly on the attack.
“Me and Coach have an understanding, just being aggressive,” said Fultz, whose scoring total Monday was a pre-season high. “That doesn’t always mean scoring – it just means making the right play. Whatever it takes, that was my mindset coming in.”
Brown approved of another aspect of Fultz’s performance, too.
“A few times on his rise-up jump shot, I thought he looked good,” said Brown. “He gets into the paint, he rises up, he’s got that long wingspan.”
Ben Simmons paced the Sixers with 15 points (6-12 fg). He added 6 rebounds, 2 assists, and a pair of blocks as well. The Australian began Monday’s tilt as the starting point man, but was later used interchangeably at that spot with Fultz when the two were paired together.
“That’s different,” Simmons said, when asked about playing off the ball. “That’s probably the first time I’ve been doing that with [Markelle]. I’ve got to adjust, and just learn the way he plays the point.”
Which brings us back to the theme of the lede. The Sixers – despite the carryover from last season, despite the integration of smart veterans – remain very much a group that, at this stage, continues to feel itself out. Such was especially the case Monday, with Saric, Luwawu-Cabarrot, and Fultz all available, and Robert Covington and JJ Redick sitting out due to rest.
In respect to Saric and Luwawu-Cabarrot, Fultz was particularly glad to have the chance to work with the international duo in a game setting.
“It’s great,” said Fultz. “Just building the chemistry, getting together so they get a feel for me, and I can get a feel for them. They were eager to get back out there. I’m happy for those guys to get back in the groove and help us out.”
Simmons considers himself to be responsible, in part, for getting the Sixers in sync. He’s assumed a lynchpin role offensively, and believes he can do more to shore up the team’s communication defensively.
“It’s big,” Simmons said Monday, when asked about the Sixers’ chemistry. “I think we’ll be fine once we get in the flow of things.”
And at least for a few more days, time is on the Sixers’ side. They take on the Brooklyn Nets Wednesday on Long Island, then head to Kansas City for Friday’s bout with the Miami Heat. Both pre-season affairs are being viewed as valuable opportunities to iron out some kinks.
“I think that’s a good situation for us,” said Saric. “We have two more games to play to find ourselves. Once the season starts, it’s like bam, bam, bam. I think we understand that.”
Furkan Korkmaz, one of Monday’s brightest contributors with 13 points (5-7 fg, 3-4 3fg) and 6 rebounds, looks at the situation similarly.
“I think these games are important for us before the regular season starts more together,” he said, “and then to play more together.”
As the Sixers did Monday, Boston also held out a handful of key players, sitting All-Stars Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, and Al Horford.
The Sixers had a hard time finding their stroke, shooting 44.0 percent from the field, and 7 for 25 from 3-point territory.
Boston was led by fill-in point guard Terry Rozier, who went for 15 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 assists.
When it came to Dario Saric, Brett Brown’s mission Monday night was simply to reintroduce the Croatian forward to NBA game speed. The Rookie of the Year runner up splashed home both of his field goal tries in the second quarter, including this triple.
The Sixers’ week-long, three-game pre-season road trip moves along to its second stop Wednesday with a match-up on Long Island against the Brooklyn Nets. The contest will be played at the old Nassau Coliseum, which recently underwent substantial renovations. The building was the home of the New York Nets and Julius Erving during the Doctor’s championship days in the ABA.