Big Plays in Big Moments – Observations from Sixers 117, Nuggets 110

Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

On a night when Joel Embiid was dealing with illness, having had recent trouble holding food down, according to Brett Brown, JJ Redick did the heavy lifting for the Sixers.

Redick poured in a season-high 34 points, carrying the new-look Sixers into the fourth quarter, where the entire starting unit made contributions to close out the second best team in the west, a Denver squad playing without the services of Gary Harris and Paul Millsap.

With the Sixers holding a four-point lead at the 1:52 mark, two huge sequences won the game:

  1. A bread-and-butter ’12’ pick and roll that resulted in a dunk and free throw for Ben Simmons
  2. A massive Embiid block on Malik Beasley, with Tobias Harris keeping the loose ball alive. The Sixers came down the floor, Embiid hit another jumper, and the game was essentially over.

Big plays at the biggest moments. That’s how you win against top teams like the Denver Nuggets, especially when you’re trying to incorporate four new players who were just acquired this week and haven’t even had a chance to practice yet.

Play #1, which I mentioned above, is the same exact play they beat San Antonio with, the same blown defensive sequence, only this time Simmons was the guy given the space instead of Redick:

Instead of a blown switch, Denver blew the non-switch and Simmons took it himself.

I asked both Ben and JJ about the play.


That’s the first time we’ve run that in a while, so I was kind of excited to get that back. As soon as I saw an opening, I took it to the rim. But there are so many different things we can get into and we’ve got to continue to build with the chemistry we’ve got here, Tobias and I, Boban, everybody we’ve got now, things are gonna keep going and we’re gonna get better.


It’s just one of our finishing plays. That’s the same play where I got the four-point play to beat San Antonio. It’s just about putting the defense in a position to make difficult choices. They opted not to switch. I can listen to what my guy is calling. Sometimes he calls ‘switch,’ in which case I’m going to slip. If he’s calling ‘slip,’ then I know I can set a screen and Ben can make the decision. Sometimes that’s kind of hesitation and a late drive, sometimes it’s hesitation where the defense has a screw up and I’m able to slip for a late three.

At that point, Jimmy Butler jumped in and said, “there’s a lot of ambiguity to that play,” to which Redick replied, “I taught Jimmy that word the other day.”

As for the Embiid block and bucket, here you go:

Great defense from all five guys on the floor, and Joel is there to meet Beasley when Redick is beat off the drive. Harris keeps the ball in play, they move it up the floor, and I like the mental acumen there to slow it down and get the ball in Joel’s hands for the dagger. Embiid did all of that while being really damn sick last night. Before the game, he had a band aid over his left arm where the Sixers staff had hooked him up to an IV for fluids.

Gutsy performance from Joel last night at much less than 100%, a solid win, and great atmosphere at the Wells Fargo Center.

More observations:

Tobias Harris

They ran him through a horns set on the first play of a game, but couldn’t get a tough bucket near the rim. Still, it was the same way they incorporated Jimmy Butler, by getting him at least one call on the play sheet for his Sixers debut.

Harris hit his first shot on a transition three coming from a cross-court Simmons pass, then backed down Will Barton on the next possession to get a five-footer to fall. His next play was an assist on a Redick three, forcing a Denver timeout at 14-6.

It’s great to see your 6’9″ power forward identify a mismatch, back his guy down with relative ease, and get a shot to fall:

In the second quarter, he had another nice dribble-drive against a mismatch and then threw a cross-court pass to James Ennis for three ball on the next sequence. His ability to put the ball on the floor is excellent, night and day compared to watching Dario Saric try to do the same thing last year.

Harris finished with 14 and 8 on 6-12 shooting last night while hitting 2-3 from deep. He had some good things to say after the game about the crowd, the feeling of appreciation, and how every guy in the starting unit made plays down the stretch.

Harris on the starting five:

Especially coming out in the fourth quarter, I think that’s the big thing about our game today, you can play all types of ways, but when the fourth quarter comes its like well who’s going to get the looks, who’s going to get the shots for the team? What I really liked about the fourth quarter is just kind of like, ‘OK, it’s your turn, no it’s your turn, no it’s your turn, no it’s your turn,’ and we were all able to make plays and live with those plays, so I thought that was awesome to see in the fourth quarter to have the ball continue to move and hit the right hands and make the right shots, so that was big for us.

A story:

After the game somebody texted me and had a video of me smiling after a play. They said, ‘this is literally the first time I’ve seen you actually smile in a game,’ and I was like, ‘you ain’t lying.’ So it was cool to see that. I really had a lot of fun tonight. Just the team, the potential of us, the reaction from the fans. It feels good to be appreciated. I really felt that tonight and it was big for me.

Welcome aboard.

Boban Marjanovic

First big off the bench last night, and it made sense since Denver has been playing rather large through both Jokic and Plumlee. On other nights, Boban is not going to be the best matchup against smaller units.

He scored his first bucket as a roll man on a Butler PNR:

He’s a pretty good roller, isn’t it?

His first shift was about four minutes, then he back in around the seven minute mark of the second quarter and put together a couple of decent defensive possessions against Nikola Jokic.

But you see he’s pretty slow and fairly limited. He’s not gonna close out anyone on the perimeter, and I think he got whistled for a defensive three second call last night. Brett played him 14 minutes or so, and I think that’s probably on the higher end of what you’re going to get from him this year. If they can keep him in the 10-14 minute range and use him to spell Embiid and keep him fresh heading into the playoffs, that’s probably the best course of action with a massive guy who is a great rim protector but historically has had problems when people are able to move him around a bit.

James Ennis

He came off the bench with Boban in a swap for Joel Embiid and JJ Redick.

I thought he quietly had a really nice game, hitting a pair of open corner three pointers and grabbing three rebounds in 14 minutes of play. Both three pointers were chucked from the weakside corner on plays where Tobias Harris and Jimmy Butler sucked in the defense off the dribble-drive:

You’ll take that all day long from a veteran wing coming off the bench.

Ennis’ pick and roll and perimeter defense was very good on the evening and he got the admiration of the crowd with a nice second quarter hustle play and third quarter steal. He’s been around for a while, and if Ennis does what he did last night, that’s exactly the kind of bench production the Sixers have been lacking for some time now.

Mike Scott

The last of the new guys to come on, he was later put into a lineup looking like this:

  1. T.J. McConnell
  2. J.J. Redick
  3. Furkan Korkmaz
  4. Mike Scott
  5. Joel Embiid

Those Korkmaz minutes will likely go to Jonathon Simmons moving forward. I think Simmons will make his debut on Sunday against Los Angeles.

Quiet night for Scott, who only shot 1-4, but he gives you some grit and some defense off the bench, and if he shoots anywhere remotely close to the 39% he’s averaged from three over the last three years, then it’s an upgrade over Mike Muscala and/or Wilson Chandler coming off the pine.

Other notes:

  • There was a portion of the third quarter where Brown ran out Butler with four bench guys (Scott, Ennis, McConnell, Boban). Not sure I’d put out any lineup without two starters on the floor, especially on a night like this one where you’re trying to work in a couple of new guys. Kyle Neubeck asked about it after the game and Brett Brown was a little bit flippant in his response, joking about how “you guys love to point that out,” or something along those lines. Funny, sure, but when you’ve got four stars in your rotation, shouldn’t two of them always be on the floor at the same time? I dunno, it’s the first game with a new group, so he’ll figure out the rotation moving forward.
  • Allen Iverson was REALLY into last nights game. On a late Tobias Harris three-pointer, he got out of his seat, walked 10 feet down the floor and said “mother fucker.”
  • Some dude in the lower bowl was being an insufferable prick, yelling at the dunk squad and telling them to sit down, yelling at the crew bringing in the Moses Malone halftime ceremony equipment, and yelling grade school level insults at the Denver bench. At some point, the guy sitting next to him (might have been his dad), caught a loose ball and rifled it back at the security guard before mouthing a cuss word at him. Both guys were total clowns.
  • Embiid shot 4-17 from the floor, but finished with 15 and 12 on the strength of 7-8 free throw shooting.
  • The Sixers were excellent from the foul line overall, hitting 29 of their 32 looks. That’s good for 90.6% and fifth best free-throw shooting night this season.
  • Korkmaz and McConnell didn’t miss last night, going 4-4 from the floor in limited minutes. Furkan had a nice put-back dunk to end the first quarter.
  • Butler took the fewest shots of the starting group, just 9, but went 14-14 from the free-throw line, which is ridiculous. He was again somewhat deferential shooting the ball, but contributed 22 points to finish behind only Redick last night.

I’d like to wish a happy weekend to everybody except that one guy in the comments section.

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  • Kevin Kinkeads Hair February 9, 2019 at 11:39 am

    I’m doing a home perm today !!!

    • Ed Snider's yarmulke February 9, 2019 at 11:45 am

      Kevin Kinkead’s Kinky Kurls.

      Say that 5 times real fast.

  • So Jo Jo had a craving for White Castle sliders February 9, 2019 at 12:24 pm

    He went up to NYC ate a bunch and ending up sitting on the bowl for two days. Bro, you got to watch your diet during season. Your no good to anybody if you have the runs and your not on the court.

  • I was listening to Doris do the color on the four letter network February 9, 2019 at 12:32 pm

    It came real close to me switching back Zoo and Ala but I didn’t. Just can’t deal with those two homers screaming and yelling like it’s game 7 of the finals. I prefer Doris on the sidelines as a court reporter. What you get from Doris is she knows all the players from both teams. I want a straight unbiased broadcast.
    Her style is just grating. She talks way too much and you don’t get enough of the play by play.

    • Ronnie limo February 9, 2019 at 12:38 pm

      The problem was the play by play guy talking too much, not Doris.

  • Is 9 turnovers a lot... February 9, 2019 at 12:37 pm

    For a ‘generational’ talent?

    • Hater ^^ February 9, 2019 at 2:21 pm

      He is epic. An amazing player.

      A point guard that turns it over a lot and can’t shoot is transcendent.

      On another note – they are the biggest starting 5 in the league. Lose the Globetrotter act and they could bully their way out of the east. So tired of watching Embiid and Simmons trip over themselves and dribble it off their knees.

      Still searching for a sack.

    • Chuck February 9, 2019 at 3:10 pm

      When are the coach and management going to figure Ben out? He spent the night before wining and dining Kendall in Manhattan. He had the energy and drive of a sloth. They should marry so Ben can focus on his career as this was an embarrassing night. I dont mean the night before. If he stays in Philly they win by 25.

  • That dude in the lower bowl was none other than Campus Slumlord February 9, 2019 at 12:37 pm

    The towel waver on row one. My friend over in University City is still waiting for him to turn on the power, heat and water. He said he will get around to it after the C’s game on Tuesday.

  • Knack February 9, 2019 at 12:54 pm

    That was an excellent summary of the first game for the new guys. Well-written and easy to follow…great work. It feels like the Sixers’ potential this season can only be limited by Brett..for better or for worse.

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