You’ll take 143 points and a double-digit home win on national television any day of the week.
Consider the fact that 42 of those points were scored by a combination of players who have been in Philadelphia for a whopping 72 hours, and it was a pretty good Sunday afternoon for Sixers fans.
They clubbed the Lakers behind an incredibly efficient 37 points from Joel Embiid, improving to 7-4 through 11 games of this 12-game hell stretch. A win tomorrow against Boston would get them to 8-4 and really brighten the outlook heading into New York and the All-Star break, though I fear what the response might look like if they stumble against the Celtics on their home floor.
But we’ll leave that for tomorrow.
One of the key takeaways from Sunday’s win was how Brett Brown worked in his new players, and beyond the starting unit he split up his “big four” into pairs, rolling with two separate lineups.
The first one looked like this:
- T.J. McConnell
- JJ Redick
- Jimmy Butler
- Mike Scott
- Joel Embiid
And the second group looked like this:
- Ben Simmons
- James Ennis
- Furkan Korkmaz
- Tobias Harris
- Boban Marjanovic
That was the 10-man rotation for the large majority of the game, before Jonathon Simmons came in to make his Sixers’ debut during garbage time. Brown linked the minutes of Tobias Harris and Ben Simmons while allowing Jimmy Butler and Joel Embiid to share their rotational minutes alongside JJ Redick.
Said Brett post game:
“I still think that what we’re trying to do, when you start platooning and you start pairing, you look out and, to your point, you have Joel and Jimmy against their bench. So when you start shuffling the deck and trying to figure out how we’re gonna sub our team, we oftentimes are in that situation. And I think the growth of the pairings is still evolving. We’re still learning who pairs with who the best. The introduction of Tobias is a really good problem to continue to figure that out. But today I liked how we brought our guys in.”
Moving forward, I still think Jonah Bolden gives you a flexible big option on bad Boban matchup nights (Boston is one of those), and you’ll of course have Simmons available to play Furkan’s minutes. I suspect in the playoffs we’ll see a lot more of Butler handling the ball on the second unit.
Beyond all of that rotational stuff, there was a lot to like about this game. The shot distribution was fantastic, with Embiid taking 16 field goals and Butler 10, with Harris at 14 and Simmons and Redick at 13 each. They recorded 33 assists on 56 field goals and turned the ball over just seven times, which was a season-low for the Sixers through 56 games:
Protect the basketball while shooting 57.7% from the floor and 50% from deep, and you’re gonna win a lot of games.
Ben didn’t have a great shooting night at the rim, but the talk after the game was all about his first legitimate NBA three-point attempt.
I was actually in the bathroom when the shot went up, but I could hear this gasp-like “oooohh” sound very clearly in the bowels of the Wells Fargo Center:
Well, there it is. Ben Simmons stepping into a 3-pointer pic.twitter.com/bSkHWQmh0m
— Tom West (@TomWestNBA) February 10, 2019
Ben said he didn’t think too much about pulling the trigger, and recently discussed with Brown how to be more aggressive, take open shots, and grow his game in that way.
He’s always been very terse with reporters when it comes to questions about his shot, not because I think he’s annoyed by it, but probably because there’s not a ton to say. Sarah Todd got a bit out of him at the end of his media availability when she asked this:
Todd: Ben, with all due respect, you say you’re confident pulling up from deep, but we have not seen that. Moving forward, is it something you are specifically trying to add, and can we expect to see that more often?
Simmons: In terms of that, I’m just taking what they give me. If I see somebody back up and JJ’s coming off, I’ll give it to him. I will start pulling up, but it’s not one of the things I’m looking at, it’s not everything. I’m not focused on just doing that; I’m gonna play my game and play to my strengths and continue to train in it.
I think that’s reasonable and it’s certainly consistent with what he’s said his entire career. He is still a point guard, and his skill-set was good enough to land him on the All-Star team this year. His job is to distribute the ball, get teammates involved, and run the offense. If he can add a jump shot or three-point shot to it, that only makes him more dangerous, and it helps his teammates by forcing defenders to respect him in space instead of playing off, doubling, and targeting perimeter shooters.
Brett Brown had more to say on the shot:
“We talked about this a lot, and I actually thought the shot looked good. The rhythm into it looked good. It was close to going in. He didn’t look uncomfortable shooting it. He and I spoke about this notion for a little bit over the past 24 hours – ‘what’s going to happen over the last third of the season, how do we better help you prepare for the playoffs and what’s coming?’ We all saw, to an extreme, LeBron not guard him. And we all have memories of the Celtics series. So somewhere in the middle we have a window of 27 or whatever games left and I’d like to try some of this stuff prior to the All-Star break and take off with it in the final third. It’s a long explanation to the question, but the underbelly to the reason is specific.”
There were some good quotes from various people regarding LeBron’s defense on Ben, but I think that’s better served as a sidebar for later this morning or afternoon.
But I also wanted to share what would have been the pass of the night from Furkan Korkmaz if Ben hadn’t back-ironed this dunk:
Ben Simmons bricks the dunk pic.twitter.com/ySRfknU0PU
— The Render (@TheRenderNBA) February 10, 2019
You have to throw a ball down pretty damn hard for it to rebound all the way into the other half of the floor.
Tobias Harris, game 2
He was excellent again, scoring 22 points on 9-14 shooting, plus 3-5 from three while adding 6 rebounds and 6 assists.
Harris can do a little bit of everything out there, which is fun to watch. He can take guys off the dribble. He can spot up and shoot. He can back down a smaller guy from a mismatch.
Last night he did some running as well, and his ability to grab a rebound and push the floor is really only matched by Ben Simmons. Transitionally, he’s a huge threat, and I thought that was exemplified by that three-pointer in the third quarter, the one that came after a ridiculous bit of ball movement, which he touched on post-game:
“Any time you ever get 33 assists and keep the ball hopping from side-to-side, there was a fast break play, I think it was in the third or fourth quarter when we had like four to five passes for an open three that I hit. Just that type of momentum and that type of spirit of the ball, moving side-to-side, that’s fun to be a part of and fun to play with. If we can envision it the way we want, it would be to be able to play that type of way and still at the same time have guys create their own shot, make their own plays and still play in their game. That’s kind of how we would like to envision it.”
He was also able to do some things within the framework of the base offense, and this DHO with Boban replicates the Embiid/Redick two-man game:
For a 6’9″ player to take that DHO and just drive JaVale McGee to the rack for a dunk… it’s something else man.
10 points for Boban on 5-6 shooting and a solid 13 minute performance, but I wanted to share one play from the game that illustrates my defensive concerns and why I think Jonah Bolden should also be getting some minutes as a backup big:
Sure, that’s Boban and Harris moving to defend the same guy. They don’t have the assignments down yet, and they shouldn’t after three days in Philadelphia. But you see how Boban can be vulnerable to stretch bigs who can space the floor and sit on the perimeter. Pulling him away from the rim opens up space to slash and drive, and when other teams go small, Bolden is gonna be a better close-out option.
Embiid post game
In addition to 37 and 14 on a 75% shooting night, he had an all-time press conference featuring the following snippets:
- not sure why he plays well against both Los Angeles teams: “I must not be a big LA fan”
- his reaction to Ben shooting a three-pointer was “oh shit.. it caught me off guard.. I’m in a position where.. what just happened? I thought it was in.”
- adding another 40% three-pointer shooter gives everybody a ton of space on the floor
- JJ Redick got him sick earlier this week, Embiid texted him at 3 a.m. the other morning to let him know about it. “My whole life I never throw up, that’s how you know it was bad. I told him, ‘F you.'”
- He’s excited not to play against Boban anymore, even though he “always found ways to kick his ass.”
- Predictably, there were a ton of cockroach Laker fans in the building last night, and by Laker fans, I mean Philly-area natives who were cheering for Los Angeles instead of their hometown team.
- Carson Wentz and Alshon Jeffery are taking this game in next to each other on the baseline, so I guess they don’t hate each other after all. Other celebs and athletes in the house were Kendall Jenner, M Night, Kimmo Timonen, Bob Kraft, Allen Iverson, Mike Trout, Marco Fabian, and Lil Uzi Vert.
- Embiid had one sequence where he decided to bring the ball up the floor himself, drew a double team, and decided to shoot a 16-foot fadeaway instead of passing instead. Pretty horrendous possession. He tried it again later and committed a charge near half court. On an earlier sequence, he had a free run to the basket after a defensive mixup, which I think is why he felt like he wanted to try handling the ball again.
- Mike Muscala got some cheers, some boos, and some “Mooooose” when he came in. It was hard to tell the difference between the latter two reactions.
- Mike Scott and James Ennis each had a sequence where they blew a look at the rim, then immediately committed a defensive mistake on the other end. Ennis had an 0-5 shooting night while Scott finished 3-7. Jonathon Simmons hit a garbage time bucket.
- T.J. McConnell passed up a wide open three in the second quarter. He’s not gonna take contested threes, but he shoots 33% for his career from three, which is good enough to warrant those open looks. Sure enough, he had another one of those looks at the very end of the third quarter and nailed it.
- “I know you love him, but you gotta guard him,” a fan yelled at Ben Simmons after a LeBron James bucket in the paint.
- With the spotlight off Jimmy Butler, he scored 15 points on 10 shots while adding 4 rebounds and 3 assists. He was a +19.