The 2023-24 Sixers’ first preseason game at Wells Fargo Center was relatively forgettable.
With Bryce Harper leading the Phillies to a fireworks-packed NLDS win across the street, the Sixers fell Wednesday night to a 112-101 exhibition loss, dropping to 0-2 in the preseason. Both defeats have been to the Celtics.
The Sixers’ leading scorers were Kelly Oubre Jr. (18 points) and Tyrese Maxey (17 points). Boston guard Payton Pritchard had a team-high 17 points.
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James Harden, Joel Embiid, Furkan Korkmaz and Danuel House Jr. were out for the Sixers. Celtics stars Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum also sat.
The Sixers’ third of four preseason contests will be Monday night in Brooklyn against the Nets. Sixers head coach Nick Nurse said pregame it’s a fair expectation that the team would have all its players available for that game, though he joked he “wouldn’t put any money on it.”
Here are observations on the Sixers' loss Wednesday:
Just as he had in the Sixers’ preseason opener Sunday at TD Garden, Paul Reed missed a three-pointer on his first touch.
Soon after, Reed deliberated over an open jumper and passed it up. He failed to score inside on Kristaps Porzingis in between those plays.
While Reed’s instincts have often served him well defensively, he’s not yet always making natural, smooth decisions offensively under Nurse. As Reed noted after the Sixers’ practice Tuesday, one challenge is that he isn’t accustomed to having a green light behind the arc.
“The most important thing is when I’m open, not hesitating and just letting it fly,” Reed said. “And realizing where my shots are going to come from and when they’re going to be available. It’s kind of new for me. Last season, if I was taking threes I probably wouldn’t have played for, like, 10 games.
“This year, they want me to shoot the ball more. I’m still making the adjustment. It’s just realizing where my shots are going to come within the offense — just getting used to that.”
Reed had an encouraging third quarter, playing a generally sensible and more decisive style offensively. He even tossed an alley-oop dish to Oubre.
For the night, Reed finished with 10 points on 5-for-9 shooting, seven rebounds, five assists and two steals.
“I think ain’t nothing wrong with those shots I took tonight," Reed said after the game. “But at the same time, if I just do what I normally do and play my brand of basketball, things will go well. Just keep it simple. I don’t have to force shots up, because I know I’m not the best shooter on the team right now. I know we can get (sometimes) get better shots.
“I’m not scared to shoot the ball but at the same time, I understand ... who we’ve got on the court and the type of shot selection that’ll help us win games, ultimately. That’s what I’m all about so whatever I’ve got to do to win, that’s what I’m going to do. ... Maybe I have a good shot, but maybe one of my teammates has a great shot. I’m not scared to make that pass.”
Green’s still got something
Danny Green’s initial on-court action was as promising as possible.
He got a three-pointer up seconds after checking into the game and canned it. On defense, Green immediately picked off a pass and then converted a coast-to-coast layup.
Since his first stint as a Sixer, Green has likely dropped a bit on the ranking of the roster’s swiftest players. He moves as you’d expect a 36-year-old who’s come back from a serious knee injury to. Still, Green looked Wednesday like a player who continues to belong in the NBA. Over the final 3:50 of the first quarter, he posted eight points on 3-for-3 shooting, two steals, an assist and a rebound. One of those makes was a step-back three with the shot clock dwindling.
Though no one will mistake Green for speedy, his presence Wednesday didn’t hurt the Sixers’ transition offense. Green fires up jumpers quickly and has honed his feel for where to be on the floor. He even threw a long-distance diagonal pass to assist an Oubre three.
“Danny Green, we love him here," Maxey said. “He hit a couple of crazy threes, like Danny Green does. He’s a good locker room presence, too. He’s an older guy; he’s won three ‘chips. He’s someone who knows Nick Nurse. He knows how he is, knows his style, so he tells guys what Coach is thinking sometimes without (them) having to ask Coach. Danny’s a great vibe. He’s a great vibe for the team, great morale, and we appreciate Danny.”
Oubre’s scoring pop (and efficiency) was a plus, too. He gave the Sixers 16 first-half points on 5-for-5 shooting.
The lefty wing credited a recent check-in with skills trainer Drew Hanlen, who worked out with Embiid after the Sixers' morning shootaround.
“I saw Drew Hanlen earlier, honestly," Oubre said. “He told me that my shoulders weren’t squared, so I just made that adjustment and tried to shoot the easy ones. That’s the key.”
Compared to the Sixers’ preseason opener, Oubre seemed to have a sharper sense for which lanes to fill in transition and how he should attack early in the shot clock. If his jumpers drop at a decent rate and he plays focused, active defense, Oubre will presumably play substantial minutes this season.
Defensive work to do
The Sixers’ team defense wasn’t good in the first half. The Celtics scored 67 points and shot 56.1 percent from the floor before intermission. Although the Sixers had a couple of nice spurts in which they scrambled around the floor, deflected passes and made Boston uncomfortable, they didn’t have consistent success.
“Listen, the ones I don’t like are where we kind of get beat up all the way to the basket," Nurse said. “We’re not getting blown by, but we’re kind of just getting — boom, boom, boom, boom — hit. And at some point, the physicality of how can we make a play on that or how can we at least make it a little harder shot at the end of that, we certainly need to address that.”
Of course, some miscommunications should disappear soon; Maxey and De’Anthony Melton, who made his preseason debut, talked things out at one stoppage. (True to form, Melton recorded two blocks and a steal in 21 minutes.)
The Sixers should also eventually strike a better overall balance between aggressive and overzealous defense. Nurse mentioned pregame that he thought the Sixers committed too many fouls in their first game, and Maxey struggled on that front Wednesday. Late in the second quarter, the 22-year-old subbed out with four fouls. Melton was whistled for four in the game, too.
The Sixers had a bright defensive moment in the third quarter when, out of a Celtics timeout, Melton and Oubre trapped Pritchard in the backcourt, forcing another Boston timeout with 17 seconds left on the shot clock. Ultimately, Tobias Harris intercepted a long, desperate inbounds pass. Once the regular season begins, we expect Nurse will draw up more coverages along those lines when the Sixers want to shift a game’s momentum.
Jaden Springer wasn't quite as major a standout for the Sixers this time around, but he again flashed his offensive progress over the past year in a 10-point night. Springer is now 4 for 5 from three-point range this preseason, and Nurse remained pleased with his defensive approach.
“If he’s going to continue to guard the ball that hard, especially when we’re having those moments where we’re not guarding the ball very (well) ... he keeps it out there," Nurse said. “If they’re trying to out-physical him, they don’t do it very often to him, which is good.
“And then maybe one tough drive that he’s going to do here and there. And then if he could continue to shoot with the confidence that he’s shooting … because he’s probably going to end up with some shots. He got a couple of good ones in rhythm and he stepped right into all of them."