That felt like a “professional win.”
I don’t know how to describe that phrase other than to say that the Sixers took care of business against an above-average team on their home floor, and they did it by answering runs with some tough buckets, playing solid defense, and coming up with key momentum plays at the right time.
Memphis isn’t a bad team. They were 13-8 coming into Sunday’s matchup while sitting at 5th place in the west. I doubt they’ll score enough points to be be a consistent playoff contender as this season progresses, but they’re a tough defensive team and they just sort of grind out results while making opponents work on almost every possession. They don’t blow teams out and they don’t get blown out; they just sort of find a way to be competitive in almost every game they play.
To that point, Joel Embiid didn’t have an amazing night – just 4 of 13 shooting for him. JJ Redick didn’t get started until the 2nd quarter and Jimmy Butler didn’t really start rolling until the fourth quarter.
Ben Simmons, however, was on his game from the tip-off and really had an aggressive night attacking the rim, posting up various Grizzlies, and playing staunch defense.
He had two incredibly important plays in the fourth quarter, two that I think really helped swing momentum back in the Sixers’ favor and solidify the win.
The first one took place at 84-81, with Memphis starting to find a rhythm and the Sixers stagnating a bit. After a Grizz bucket, JJ Redick threw the ball away, only for Simmons to somehow keep it in play:
Scrappy play, and one that kicked off an 8-0 Sixers run with that really difficult Butler finish.
I asked Jimmy about this sequence after the game:
It starts with (Ben’s) hustle, you know what I mean? If he just says “F it” and let’s the ball go out of bounds, the game could go either way. But because he put in that extra energy and kept the ball in and we made the bucket, we were able to go down on the other end and get a couple of stops. But it all started with that play right there, and if he doesn’t do that, we don’t go on an 8-0 run.
The other play I picked out took place a few minutes later, with Memphis cutting the lead back down to four with an 8-1 run. On the ensuing possession, Butler had the ball slapped away, Memphis found a quick outlet, and Simmons was able to chase down MarShon Brooks and poke it away from behind:
The Sixers came back down the floor, got the ball to Butler, and earned a couple of foul shots to extend the lead back to five with about 90 seconds remaining on the clock.
Brett Brown brought up that play, unprompted, after the game:
What I do know is this: There were a few things that happened tonight that were sort of, not being overly dramatic, defining moments in small ways, if you will. The back tip and coming up with the steal in transition, like you know, the game’s kind of in the balance, but he stalked that down and his breakaway speed we’ve seen on offense, but you saw it on defense, as like a typical college drill would do. Just stalk you down and he tipped it and came up with the play. His defensive mindfulness, his commitment to playing defense, for way more possessions in a game than we’ve seen lately. His willingness to slide over to the four and let T.J. have the ball and make passes out of the elbow and do stuff. Like all of those things stood out and I agree with you that he’s moving in a really clear, positive direction. For me I feel it, I see it as well, but I feel it. He was our bell ringer tonight.
Ben had a wonderful game, maybe one of the 2-3 best performances he’s put in this year. He finished with 19 points, 12 rebounds, and 6 assists while shooting 8-10 from the field. Really the only blemish on an otherwise outstanding effort was his 3-8 mark from the free throw line. Otherwise, he was getting down in the paint, swapping between point guard and power forward, and just doing the Lord’s work on both sides of the floor.
“Oh my God, I’m gonna get a layup on this play”
There was a third key play involving Simmons, but it was more about Redick and it deserves its own section in the recap.
It was 97-89 with about 49 seconds on the clock when T.J. McConnell was judged to have fouled Marc Gasol on a made bucket from about 10 to 12 feet out. I personally did not think it was a foul, but I’m not the ref. T.J. may have impeded Gasol, who came close to taking McConnell’s head off with an elbow, but I honestly would just not have blown the whistle at all and allowed play to continue.
Either way, Gasol missed the free throw, Jaren Jackson got the offensive rebound and scored a layup, and Memphis ripped off a four-point possession to cut the lead back down to four.
Philly called a timeout and came back with this:
Wonderful bit of improvisation there from Redick, and a great stuff from Simmons to hit him with the perfect pass. That made it a six-point game with 37 seconds remaining and essentially secured the win.
Brett Brown explained that they weren’t looking for a cut to the rim here, it was just one of their basic “get in” plays from a sideline out of bounds situation:
I try to take four players, and we move them around from time to time, but the objective is simple; it sounds like that’s the only go, and yes it is, is just to get it in. If you can just get it in in that environment, that’s a good thing, and you expect them to trap you and probably not hack you and stop the clock. Most teams in that environment will have one aggressive trap, make you throw it out, try to steal behind it, then foul. JJ went into the spot that we have him going into, Ben made a hell of a pass, I was surprised he was as open as he was, but there was a lot going on in that environment with the objective being to get it in. I’d be lying to say that’s the thing we thought was going to be there. That’s not true. But the space and the speed create our ability to get it in.
And here’s JJ elaborating on that:
That was just our ‘get in’ play. It wasn’t meant to be a layup. Jimmy and I are kind of looking at each other like, ‘are they really going to guard it this way?’ We normally wouldn’t see them line up to guard it that way because normally we have everybody above the three point line. But I kind of just looked at Ben, and before he even threw it in I was like, “oh my God, I’m gonna get a layup on this play.” I don’t know if they were supposed to switch or what they were supposed to do, but they messed it up.
I asked JJ if there were any similarities on this play to what Jimmy Butler and Ben Simmons did against the Jazz a few weeks back on that SLOB sequence, but he explained that the backdoor in that game was part of the scheme and not necessarily a read of the defense or an audible.
That was more by design (the Jazz play). In general, if a team is gonna switch, they might have the big, whoever is on Joel, sort of drop back near the free throw line. In general, when I catch that ball, it’s generally more on the Malone spot, sort of mid-wing or open-corner. It’s not to get a play at the rim. It’s just to get the ball in. They’re either going to foul or we’re going to run a play to milk clock.
Like Redick says, there’s generally going to be a center or power forward sitting on the foul line, and Redick I think usually just cuts above him to catch the ball on the near side in that foul-line extended or low corner area:
Memphis plays this in a funky way so Redick just backdoors into the white circle and gets an easy layup instead.
- there was a sequence in which Ivan Rabb picked up 3 fouls against Joel Embiid in something like 45 seconds
- Wilson Chandler was unavailable last night due to the knee vs. thigh he suffered on Friday night. Mike Muscala started, played 27 minutes, and scored 8 points on 2-4 shooting while grabbing 7 rebounds and tossing 5 assists. Amir Johnson played 10 minutes off the bench and Simmons got a good chunk of time at the four.
- Embiid definitely took a swing at Shelvin Mack in the third quarter on a transition opportunity when Mack was holding him to slow him down. There was a slight elbow after the whistle, too. Joel looked a little tired last night, in my opinion.
- Furkan Korkmaz hit a pair of three pointers last night and I feel like his defense is improving slightly as well. Brett had a good quote on that which I’ll use for a sidebar story in the future.
- Butler did most of his scoring in the fourth quarter and hit some pretty tough shots. He can be quiet for 3 quarters if he’s going to give the Sixers clutch shot making in the 4th. That’s why you traded for him.
- +16 for McConnell, who closed out the game at point guard with Simmons at the four. He had a solid performance.
- All of these home wins are nice, but we’re judging this season on what happens against Toronto, Boston, and Milwaukee. The Sixers get another “barometer” game in Canada this week, so we’ll see how far they’ve come over the first quarter of the season.