Philadelphia 76ers’ Matisse Thybulle (22) goes up for a dunk during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons, Wednesday, March 11, 2020, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
PHILADELPHIA—Joel Embiid swished a 3 from the top of the arc and stretched his arms toward a wildly cheering crowd.
The roar of the fans in another 76ers’ victory has been muted, and the NBA is on hold after it suspended its season “until further notice” after a Utah Jazz player tested positive Wednesday for the coronavirus.
“It’s important that the fans, players, coaching staff, our staff here at the Sixers remain healthy and we do everything we can,” 76ers general manager Elton Brand said. “But we believe in the leadership of the league.”
Embiid had 30 points and 14 rebounds in his return from a sprained left shoulder, leading the Philadelphia 76ers to a 124-106 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday night.
The players had just hit the locker room when news of the suspended season broke and they were not made available to the media.
Coach Brett Brown defended the decision to play the game — the 76ers announced a sellout crowd of 20,172 – in the wake of the virus that has spoiled sports around the globe.
“The instruction was to come in and play the game,” Brown said. “If you look at the proactive measures our club has taken, and that the league has taken, I think they should be applauded. It’s a sensItive issue, obviously. It must be a very serious situation for the league to make the decision that they have made. We look forward to learning more over the next few hours, really.”
The NBA’s break made Embiid’s return from a five-game absence an afterthought for the Sixers.
All-Star guard Ben Simmons will miss at least three more weeks with nerve issues in his lower back. Former Sixers star, and current Miami Heat guard, Jimmy Butler popped off at Brown on a podcast and criticized the way the Sixers coach used him in the postseason. And, the Sixers and Pistons played in front the last game with fans at the Wells Fargo Center for an undetermined time.
Brown didn’t need a quiet arena to hear the reverberation throughout Philly when Butler went on former Sixers teammate JJ Redick’s podcast and ripped his coaching style. Butler, who played the final 55 games of last season with the Sixers, said, “On any given day, me as a person, as a player, I didn’t know who the (expletive) was in charge. I think that was my biggest thing.”
Butler said players watched film sessions in silence and became peeved when he said he learned the organization wanted Brown to “control” the All-Star guard. Butler decided not to return to the Sixers and landed in Miami on a sign-and-trade deal.
“I heard about, I understand what he’s saying,” Brown said. “I have not listened to it and I doubt I will.”
Simmons missed his eighth straight game and will continue to undergo daily treatment for his nerve impingement. He is gradually increasing the activities in his strength and conditioning program and there’s a shot the 23-year-old Simmons is back for the playoffs, should they resume.
“There’s no timeline on it,” Simmons said before the game. “Whenever I’m back, I’m back. Whenever I’m 100 percent, I’m coming back. I’m not here to sit and just wait. When I’m healthy, I’ll be playing.”
Simmons said he feels no pain in his back and hasn’t considered surgery if there’s not much more improvement.
“To know where I am compared to two weeks ago, I feel much, much better,” Simmons said. “I’m very confident.”
So that left Embiid to raise the spirits of maybe 15,000 fans at the Wells Fargo Center, a night after the NHL’s Flyers hit 19,000 in the same arena. The Sixers averaged 20,643 this season, and the priciest tickets in town dipped faster than Detroit’s shooting percentage. StubHub had tickets for sale on the lower baseline at $15 a pop and seats in one club box were going for $20. That’s hundreds less than usual secondary markup.
Pistons coach Dwane Casey on how he might change his approaching coaching in an empty arena: “Probably cuss less.”
Christian Wood led the Pistons with 32 points.
Sixers guard Josh Richardson also returned to the lineup after he missed three games while in the concussion protocol.
The fans who did show — including director M. Night Shyamalan and Food Network celebrity Guy Fieri — saw the Sixers improve to a stunning 29-2 at home.
The NHL’s Flyers offered refunds and ticket exchanges to any fans who did not attend Tuesday’s game because of health concerns. Comcast Spectacor declined to say how many fans took them up on the offer. The Sixers said of Wednesday’s ticket holders: “We will manage on a case-by-case basis and work closely with our fans toward finding another game for them to attend in the future.”
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