Process Trusters couldn't help but talk ourselves into the Philadelphia 76ers picking up their first win of the season last night against the Utah Jazz. The Jazz were on the latter end of a back-to-back after playing Sunday afternoon in Nnew York, missing starting point guard (and leading scorer) George Hill, and seemingly vulnerable against a Sixers team that had nearly just knocked off the defending champs. But though Philly managed to keep it competitive for most of the first three quarters, it was clear pretty quickly that they were out of their league against the size, skill and cohesion of Utah, and it would only be a matter of time before the Jazz found separation. Final score: Jazz 109, Sixers 84.
It was a very tough night for some of our guys. Sergio Rodriguez's wizardry was seemingly nullified by the Jazz's length, gumming up the passing lanes that have been available to him for most of the season, and bothering his jumpers into a 3-9 shooting night. Dario Saric could get position around the basket but couldn't figure out how to squeeze it in from there among the tall trees of Utah. Gravity finally sucked Ersan Ilyasova back to replacement-level earth, with a 2-12 shooting night. And Jahlil Okafor posted an OK box score line (15 points on 7-14 shooting), but was an absolute catastrophe in pick-and-roll defense, unable to get out to Utah's shooters at the elbows or stop their roll men at the basket. When Joel Embiid got into foul trouble and had to sit for extended stretches in the second half, that was basically it for Philly.
So that was the bad stuff, and we should've spotted most of it coming all the way down I-95. But there was good stuff, and of course, it starts with Joel Embiid. JoJo had a rocky start, only hitting one of his first five and generally struggling against Jazz center Rudy Gobert, one of the few NBA players with the size, strength and athleticism to really bother our big-man superhero. But he adapted, he boarded, and he unleashed one jaw-dropping Dream Shake against former KU teammate Joel Withey. Foul trouble shortened his night to 19 minutes, and certainly five fouls and five turnovers in that limited a run is unsustainable, but he drew a lot more fouls than he committed -- getting to the line nine times -- and ended with 14 and nine on the night. As always, he was worth the prices of admission.
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Perhaps more importantly from this one, Robert Covington finally snapped out of his shooting funk, hitting 4-5 from the field and 3-4 from deep -- nearly matching his field-goal totals from the season to date. Cov has always been a streaky shooter, so a showing like tonight is encouraging that his early-season slumping wasn't indicative of anything more than a typical low he'll soon climb out of. And though Jah was pretty bad tonight -- so much that Brett Brown had to yank him for Richaun Holmes in the third quarter -- he did have an uncharacteristic posterization of Gobert that'll likely go down as a season highlight for the Sixers, if an ultimately meaningless one:
He even got Gobert again on the next play, in a less-resounding but just as authoritative announcement of his presence.
Anyway, two games against the Pacers to come this week, and perhaps it's just self-preservational naivete, but I still like our chances of stealing one of those two from Indy. Give your old buds a hand, Thad -- even if you didn't actually play with a single one of 'em besides Hollis.