“Well, with coach [Brad] Stevens it doesn’t surprise me,” said Horford, who signed a four-year deal with the Sixers last summer. “Coach, you know, he’s going to put everyone in position to be successful. I mean, even the year that we were there that Kyrie [Irving] and Gordon [Hayward] were missing and we had Shane Larkin starting or Semi [Ojeleye], he figured out how to do the most with what he had. So I’m not surprised by this.”
Horford added that last year’s squad simply had too much talent on it and not enough minutes – or basketballs – to go around, which he feels isn’t a sustainable model to win over the long-term.
“Last year was just too much,” Horford said. “There were too many guys for coach to satisfy everyone.”
The Celtics enter the night with a record of 14-5, putting them slightly ahead of the 15-6 Sixers in the Eastern Conference standings.
“I should have a higher tolerance level to endure his wild decisions defensively,” head coach Brett Brown said after the team’s contest against the Jazz. “Because they are punishing. This league is so unforgiving when you just forget, ‘Oh, I left Joe Ingles, I forgot he could shoot, and I’m just going to make any play I want — And oh, my bad.’ [Thybulle] is getting better at that and I have to allow him to get better at that.”
If Thybulle had joined the Sixers three or four years ago, he’d have plenty of court time to experiment and grow. However, this is not “The Process” version of the Sixers any longer. The stakes are much higher as the team looks to make its first NBA Finals appearance since 2001.
“I’m always reminding myself, if we woke up tomorrow and it’s April 15th, would I feel comfortable that I’ve grown him the way that I should? And I need to do more, and better, sort of within the confines of what I’ve just said,” Brown said.
Here’s more from Philadelphia:
- Thybulle, whom the team traded up in the 2019 draft to nab, isn’t taking his playing time for granted. The rookie is using his court time to learn from his mistakes and gain the reps needed to be a contributor on a playoff team. “Just being out there and seeing it live, I think, is huge,” Thybulle said (via Bodner in the same piece). “Most of these games, it’s my first time [playing against a team]. We played against [Utah] twice now, so I had a better feel for the guys. And just with each game, I get a better feel for the pace and what I can get away with, with the refs or with help-side and those types of gambles.”
- With Ben Simmons and Thybulle on the squad, the Sixers have options when defending opposing perimeter threats, Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia explains. The duo shared defensive duties guarding Utah’s Donovan Mitchell on Monday and held him to just 6-for-19 from the field.
- Some around the league aren’t thrilled with Joel Embiid and his antics on the court. Pacers assistant coach Dan Burke wasn’t shy when given the platform to discuss the big man’s style (h/t Dan Feldman of NBC Sports). “I hate that team…I think Embiid gets away with a bunch of crap the league ignores,” Burke said of Indiana’s recent matchup with the Sixers.
- A day after he recorded 13 points and four steals in a Delaware Blue Coats victory, second-year guard Shake Milton was recalled to the NBA today by the Sixers, per Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer (Twitter link). Former first-rounder Zhaire Smith, meanwhile, was re-assigned to the G League.
Former Sixers guard T.J. McConnell returned to Philadelphia when the Pacers took on the team Saturday night, marking his first time playing in Wells Fargo Center since changing teams in free agency this past summer.
“It’s good being back, seeing all of the faces and all of the people you build a relationship with,” McConnell said, according to Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer. “It’s a lot of great people here, and I miss them.”
McConnell, 27, joined the Pacers on a two-year deal last summer after spending four seasons with the Sixers. He quickly earned the respect of his coaches and fans during his stint with Philadelphia, appearing in at least 75 games in each of his four campaigns.
“Starting here, winning 10 games,” he said of the team going 10-72 his rookie season. “Then, at the end of my tenure here, you are one shot away from going to the Eastern Conference Finals. That’s a pretty incredible journey that we went on.”
McConnell has provided consistency and professionalism for the Pacers during the 2019/20 season, averaging seven points, 4.7 assists and 17.4 minutes in 17 games thus far.
There’s more out of the Atlantic Division today:
- Celtics forward Gordon Hayward will have another meeting with his doctor on Monday to determine the next steps in his recovery process, according to A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston (Twitter link). Hayward has missed the past three weeks due to a fractured hand, with his meeting on Monday set to take place over FaceTime, coach Brad Stevens said.
- Sopan Deb of the New York Times examines how the Nets keep winning without three of their best players, detailing the strong teamwork, camaraderie and togetherness the group has shown in the wake of adversity. Brooklyn is currently without Kevin Durant (Achilles), Kyrie Irving (shoulder) and Caris LeVert (thumb).
- Sixers center Joel Embiid was fueled by his first-ever scoreless game against the Raptors last week, Erin McCarthy of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes. Embiid finished that game with zero points on 0-for-11 shooting, but bounced back in the contests that followed. He scored 33 points on Wednesday, 27 points on Friday and 32 points on Saturday.
“It was a scary moment for myself,” Walker said (via Tim Bontemps of ESPN.com). “When I was in the moment, it was pretty tough to be in, obviously. I know it was scary for everybody…It was tough, but thank God I’m OK.”
Here’s more from the Atlantic Division:
- Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com (video link) hears that scouts around the league aren’t worried about Joel Embiid. Embiid has struggled this season (by his standards) with a new-look roster around him on the Sixers.
- Enes Kanter says he is “disappointed that former Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving won’t be making a return to the court in Boston today, as Justin Leger of NBC Sports Boston relays. “We’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time, and now he’s hurt and not playing? I’m really disappointed. But there’s two games, of course, and he’s going to come back. And… we’re going to welcome him somehow,” Kanter said.
- Former Celtics guard Tony Allen said he’s long been a fan of Marcus Smart‘s game and applauds Smart’s improvement from behind the arc, Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald passes along. “I won’t say he’s my protégé, really, but he’s become that 3-and-D player everyone wants,” Allen said. “With what he does defensively, he’s also become a shooter. He’s really transitioned to the new game.”
Here are Tuesday’s assignments and recalls from around the G League:
- The Celtics have assigned Tremont Waters to the Maine Red Claws, according to the team’s Twitter feed. Waters was selected in the second round of the 2019 draft.
- Jonah Bolden and Zhaire Smith are back with the Delaware Blue Coats, per Derek Bodner of The Athletic (Twitter link). The Sixers recalled the pair for the team’s trip to Toronto earlier this week.
- The Wolves have assigned Jaylen Nowell to the Iowa Wolves, according to the team’s Twitter feed. The shooting guard has appeared in two games for Minnesota this season, seeing a total of 15 minutes with the club.
- Caleb Martin and Jalen McDaniels are heading back to the Hornets, the team announced on Twitter. The recall concludes Martin’s fourth stint with the Greensboro Swarm and McDaniels’ third.
Here are Sunday’s assignments and recalls from around the NBA:
- The Hornets have assigned Caleb Martin, Cody Martin and Jalen McDaniels to the Greensboro Swarm, G League affiliate of the team, general manager Mitch Kupchak announced. It marks Caleb Martin’s fourth assignment, Cody Martin’s second assignment and McDaniels’ third assignment to the G League this season.
- The Pacers have assigned forward Alize Johnson to their G League team in Fort Wayne, announcing the news in a press release. Johnson has averaged 2.6 points and 2.4 rebounds in five games with the Pacers this season.
- The Wizards have recalled forward Admiral Schofield and guard Justin Robinson from the Capital City Go-Go, announcing the news on social media. Washington holds a 5-9 record through the campaign’s first 14 games.
- The Hawks assigned Bruno Fernando and Tyrone Wallace to the College Park Skyhawks, their public relations department tweets. Fernando has appeared in 16 games with Atlanta this season, while Wallace has appeared in 11 games.
- The Sixers have recalled Jonah Bolden and Zhaire Smith from the Delaware Blue Coats, according to Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer (Twitter link). The duo will join the team in Toronto for their game on Monday, and Pompey notes the plan is for both players to work with the team in the coming days.
- The Spurs assigned Chimezie Metu and Keldon Johnson to the Austin Spurs, the team announced on Twitter. Both players started in Austin’s game against Salt Lake City on Sunday.
- The Thunder announced that they have recalled center Justin Patton from their G League affiliate. Patton has averaged 9.5 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in six games with the Oklahoma City Blue this season.
After Al Horford left for bigger free agent riches in Philadelphia this summer, the Celtics signed scoring-oriented Enes Kanter as a cheap replacement, hoping that Daniel Theis, Kanter, Robert Williams and rookie Grant Williams could compensate for Horford’s absence piecemeal.
So far, that has proven to be the case during Boston’s 11-4 start. A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston preaches caution against disrupting team chemistry by trying to trade for a major center upgrade like Clint Capela or Karl-Anthony Towns.
Instead, Blakely notes that 7’5” rookie Tacko Fall, on a two-way contract, has impressed in the G League thus far. Blakely suggests that Fall might be an option who could shore up the Celtics’ interior defense in spot minutes. Boston should also monitor the buyout market and top Chinese Basketball Association centers, Blakely opines.
There’s more from around the Atlantic:
- After making his first NBA triple in a 109-104 win over the Knicks, Sixers All-Star point guard Ben Simmons mentioned his desire to play for the Australian national team in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, Tim Bontemps of ESPN reports. Sixers coach Brett Brown was recently announced as the Australian national team’s coach for the event.“We have a great relationship,” Simmons said of Brown in his postgame comments. “I’ve known him my whole life. I’m excited to put together a great team.”
- Prized offseason Nets acquisition Kyrie Irving has missed the past four games with a shoulder impingement. Though coach Kenny Atkinson insists that the ailment will not be a long-term issue, he concedes that Irving is not healthy enough to play, as the New York Post’s Brian Lewis relays. “We have a protocol before a guy comes back to play. Usually we’re not just going to throw you out there without seeing you. We have these kind of set standards in the past,” Atkinson notes. “We’re not at that point yet. Hopefully, he will get there soon.”
- Knicks coach David Fizdale has challenged second-year forward Kevin Knox to improve his defense, according to Zach Braziller of the New York Post. “I am definitely riding Kevin, to challenge him to go to another level, especially defensively,” Fizdale confirmed, before praising his improved offense. “His shooting percentage is up, finishing around the rim is much better, he’s seeing the floor better. But I want him to take a big jump forward defensively… He’s got the physical tools to do it.” Braziller points out that Fizdale has been quicker with the hook for Knox lately. The 6’7″ forward from Kentucky has averaged 14.7 minutes across the team’s last four contests, a far cry from the more generous 23.6 minutes he was allotted over New York’s first 11 games.
The Kawhi Leonard buzzer-beater that eliminated the Sixers from the playoffs in the spring and helped propel the Raptors to their first NBA championship was a sliding-doors moment for the league — and for star forward Jimmy Butler. Speaking to Michael Lee of The Athletic, Butler mused about what might have happened if Philadelphia had pulled out a win in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals in May.
“What happens if we win that game?” Butler said. “Do we win a championship? Am I in Philly? All of these ifs. Who knows?
“But you think about it. It’ll haunt you for the rest of your days — especially if you don’t get an opportunity — that you were that close. And then you’re like, man, one play, one possession, one anything and it easily could’ve been us winning that championship. If I ask you, who would you pick if we win that? You’d probably say Philly. Golden State is not healthy? I would say Philly. I don’t know many people who would say Golden State, if they’re not healthy.”
While it’s an agonizing what-if to consider for 76ers fans, that second-round loss ultimately opened up a path for the team to make some major changes in the offseason. According to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, the parent of one member of the Sixers told higher-ups that team chemistry felt off in the wake of the end of the 2018/19 season, and improving that chemistry has been a priority this fall, with Tobias Harris and Al Horford frequently organizing dinners that many players attend.
Lowe doesn’t suggest that Butler was responsible for last season’s chemistry issues, but he does confirm that the Sixers didn’t make the 30-year-old a five-year, maximum-salary offer during free agency, as previously reported by Adrian Wojnarowski and Shams Charania. For his part, Butler has found a new home with the Heat, telling Lee that Miami “just fits” him.
“Basketball is great here, but the people here, what they expect of you on a daily basis. The level that they hold you accountable at here, is something that I respect,” Butler said. “It’s something that I really love — not just like, really love — because it’s about having good people and doing things the right way. Because when this basketball thing is over with, you’re still going to have to have those morals. And if you don’t have that, you’re in for a rude awakening.”
Here are a few more noteworthy quotes from Butler, via Lee, on his offseason decision, his new team, and one of his former teammates:
On not teaming up with a star to form a “Big Two” this past summer, as other players did in Los Angeles and Houston:
“It just wasn’t the way that it worked out. I’m not one to go with the trend anyways. I don’t do what everybody else is doing. I’m not saying that it’s bad, it’s good, it’s just I worry about myself, first of all. I worry about the people that I’m around. And then you move down the line. I mean, I don’t care who I team up with. Organizational-wise, this was the place for me.
“Now, if you get some other people that think like I think, that go about things the way that I go about it, this is the place for them as well. I don’t know. I didn’t talk about it. … I leave people alone and do what I’m going to do and that’s what I did.”
On the Heat’s upside:
“The ceiling is a championship. And I don’t care what nobody has to say. If the stars align, we can get it done. If we figure this thing out, we stay together, we get our defense on track, we get our offense on track, and we become top five in both categories, we right there. We right there. We’ve got an opportunity to do something special and we’re working at it every single day.”
On former teammate Joel Embiid:
“That m———er is special. For real. Any time I text him, which we text plenty, FaceTime, phone calls. I always tell him, ‘Continue to show why you’re the best player in this league.’ Because I saw it. I saw it. He can do everything. Like, legit, he can do everything. He works and I respect it. … That’s how you become the best player, you’ve got to be obsessed with it. And he is. He is.”