Everything felt a little flat last night.

The shots weren’t falling for either team. The crowd seemed a bit hungover from the Eagles win. The loudest arena pops were for Alshon Jeffery, LeGarrette Blount, and the t-shirt cannon.

And then the game started to open up in the third quarter. Ben Simmons hit 6 of 8 shots en route to a career-high 27 points, shrugging off a 2-8 first half mark. He went 4-6 in the fourth quarter to finish 13-24 overall, adding 10 rebounds, 2 assists, and 4 steals in 34 minutes of play.

Despite the sluggish start, the Sixers slowly built a double-digit first half lead. Utah hit some shots in the second, but this game never felt like it was close. Brett Brown’s team wasn’t close to firing on all cylinders but comfortably dispatched a lesser squad to improve to 9-7 on the season.


1) No Gobert

The big wrinkle was the absence of Utah center Rudy Gobert, which Brown spoke about before the game:

“They run more pick and rolls than anybody in the NBA. So we have to be able to guard the pick and roll with different coach-speak concepts, and do a good job of that. The difference of having Gobert and not having Gobert is massively different when you’ve got like Derrick Favors now at a five, he’s more of like a pick and pop type of five and a good five, a completely different five. You’re going to see a quicker pivot to small ball. You’re going to see I think, more Ben at four and Robert (Covington) at four. It might be a hard game for Dario (Saric) to chase Joe Ingles around a lot. I think with (Jonas) Jerebko it’s more of a natural pairing. But they’re different because of no Gobert and Favors as a five. It materializes quicker into a small ball game.”

For the most part, the Sixers did a nice job defending those pick and rolls:

T.J. McConnell fights through the screen, stays with the play, and disrupts Donovan Mitchell’s dish to Favors, which allows Amir Johnson to contest the shot.

Here, Joel Embiid does a nice job to close the gap and get a hand on the ball:

Same thing. Active hands. Embiid disrupts the pass and Favors can’t corral the ball, which JJ Redick pounces on in the paint.

They did well overall defending those designs when Favors was involved. He finished with 9 points on 3-8 shooting while Mitchell went 6-19 and 1-7 from three-point range. Ingles finished with 8 points at -20 and Jerebko added 3. Ricky Rubio had 2 assists and 6 turnovers.


2) Big contributions

Amir Johnson had a great game for the Sixers, coming off the bench for 8 points, 13 rebounds, and 4 blocks in 21 minutes. He finished 4-4 from the field and committed just one foul and one turnover.

The crowd particularly enjoyed this play, with Johnson in isolation and nailing a hook shot despite almost losing the handle a couple of times:

Johnson played his best game since November 1st, when he went for 12 and 8 against the Hawks.


3) Meaningful minutes

It wasn’t just Amir who helped out off the bench. The Sixers got meaningful contribution from T.J. McConnell, who was defensively sound while adding 8, 3, and 5 in 34 minutes. Jerryd Bayless returned from injury to add five points and 2 rebounds while showing obvious rust on a few turnovers. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot scored 6 points on 3-4 shooting in 16 minutes. Richaun Holmes, though available, was not called on.

The bench contributed 27 points on 12-18 shooting and really propped the team up until the starters began hitting shots in the second and third quarter. And that’s the key here, they don’t need a sixth man to drop 19 points off the pine, they just need enough to spell the starters, give them a rest, and keep things afloat. The difference between a nine-man rotation and eight-man rotation is significant and probably a low-key reason why Simmons was able to hit a career high in only 34 minutes last night.


4) Getting riled up

Whereas the Jazz didn’t have the services of Gobert, the Sixers did have Joel Embiid for this one. He didn’t play the first time around in Utah.

Joel, who was listed as a game-time decision last night, started and played 27 minutes, going for 15 and 11 with 3 assists and 2 blocks.

If there was any lethargy remaining in the crowd, it went away after this laughable sequence:

Did he flop there? Absolutely, but it resulted in a technical against Utah and nothing against Philadelphia. He swatted Mitchell, got in his head, took the shove and earned the tech while firing up the crowd at the same time.

Three birds, one stone.

We’ve asked Brett Brown about these kinds of situations involving Embiid, and he’s been consistent in his answers. He’s okay with the histrionics if kept under control:

“I mean, I’m always mindful of, ‘how do we stay disciplined?’ How do we stay disciplined? Jo understands that it’s risky if you taunt. I like our guys playing with an edge. I want them to feel some level of swagger and feel good about themselves. I think I can see it more, when I look at it. But I thought Jo, the limited time I thought I was going to have him, I thought he was good and that was a big play. It certainly got the crowd involved.”

Jazz coach Quin Snyder didn’t make much of the sequence, either:

“It’s just basketball, Donovan went in and Joel said something and Donovan responded, I don’t make anything of it one way or another…he said something to him and Donovan responded and I don’t know what he said, I don’t think it really matters. It was such an inconsequential play in my mind. You have two guys that are really good players, and Joel is one of the better players in the league and he’s competing and Donovan reacted, he’s a competitor too. That was not a big deal to me.”

And Mitchell:

“It was all me, I just pushed him, in that moment you don’t really think. I should have just kept playing and let it go.”

Embiid conceded that he felt flat last night, but got a lift from the crowd in the second half:

“I think it goes both ways. They feed off me and I feed off them. When the crowd is into it, I love getting them going. It helps elevate my game to another level because I know they are cheering for me. That means I’ve got to back it up and show them something.”


5) Meat Pie Review

Shout out to the Sixers PR staff for bringing these bad boys to the media room at halftime.

The verdict:

They’re good. They are as advertised. It’s meat and gravy inside of a flaky pot-pie looking crust. In a world where arena food is becoming fancy and more complicated, sometimes less is more.

Apparently you’re supposed to eat these things with ketchup or hot sauce, but I’m not much of a condiment person, so maybe that makes me weird. Even plain, the pie was pretty good. It’s a little messy though, might get iffy trying to eat one in the stands.

One thing I didn’t expect was 5 grams of fiber on the “nutrition” label. So if you ate Raisin Bran that morning, stay away from the meat pie unless you trust your digestive system.

I give them a 7.7 out of 10.