Not sure about you, but I love a good Tony Brothers game. There’s nothing like hearing the sound of the whistle in the fourth quarter of a close contest. At times it felt like we were watching a classic Big East tournament slug fest at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night, with frustration being shared by the coaches, players, and crowd alike.
Tough and dramatic win for the Sixers, who weathered 55% shooting from Indiana in a three-point triumph. The perimeter defense was not fantastic, but they cranked the intensity up in the final moments, with Ben Simmons turning a pair of Indy turnovers into Tobias Harris outlets that tipped the game in the home team’s favor. This was on the second night of a back-to-back weekend in which the Sixers erased a beefy deficit in New York just 24 hours prior.
Credit to the entire team for a couple of workmanlike wins, but to Joel Embiid especially, who went for 32 points and 11 rebounds while looking not at all fatigued on Saturday night. He sealed the game with a pair of free throws, going 15-15 on the evening in an aggressive, physical, and elite performance.
Said Embiid on that:
Since the Toronto game, I kind of changed my mindset. The whole season I hadn’t been as aggressive as I was last year, (when I was) attempting 10 free throws a game. So the last couple games I’ve just been aggressive, being more physical, creating contact, causing whomever is guarding me to react to it. That’s how they fouled me.
Embiid shot 0-3 from the line in the Toronto loss, when he put up zero points. Since then, he’s 40-44 from the charity stripe for a silky 91% mark while only attempting 10 of his 53 field goal attempts from three point range. He’s looked a lot more dialed in and focused since posting the Canadian donut.
Brett Brown echoed that sentiment of a mental adjustment:
That is a disposition; that is a mentality more than a stat. The fact that we shot 40 free throws (Friday night) and 36 (Saturday night), I like both of those things. You sure like them a lot more when you make them, but Joel Embiid, to your point, that is a statement and mentality, and none of us can underestimate the hurt he felt after the Toronto game. He felt like he let us down. We have seen him respond.
He’s certainly responded. He’ll get a day of rest before squaring off with Rudy Gobert on Monday night.
Anatomy of a steal
For the second night in a row, Ben Simmons ripped off a steal on a sideline inbound play that resulted in a breakout in transition.
Saturday night’s sequence followed a prior live ball steal that led to a dunk, and you can see both plays here:
Ben Simmons comes up clutch with back-to-back steals to win the game 🔒 pic.twitter.com/imItzl54N9
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 1, 2019
We don’t typically get a lot of detail from Ben when talking about these kinds of plays, but he did some explaining after the game:
Simmons: Just getting into (the opponent’s) body, if he doesn’t have an outlet, you know Joel is taking care of the elbow and I’m making sure I’m able to get that steal. Everybody on the court had their job to do and I did mine.
Reporter: Is that instinct? Or is is studying what the opponent does?
Simmons: If everybody on the back side does their job, it’s just easier for me to make a play. It’s really a team effort.
Reporter 2: Same thing happened Friday night, are you anticipating –
Simmons: If they don’t have an outlet, if Jo doesn’t give out that elbow pass or the back side pass, I’m not able to get that. It’s just getting into his body so he can’t create that separation.
It’s all true. If you go back to the Indy steal, Ben is able to be aggressive on the inbound because the Sixers simply switch on a screen, front two players, and lock up everything on the back side of the play. There’s nothing available right here for the inbounder:
Sounds simple enough, but when those first two seconds tick off the clock, and back side options are limited, you can gamble a bit on those short lobs because the opponent is just desperate to get the ball in. Great anticipation by Ben and a fantastic save while falling out of bounds.
Tobias Harris, no longer frustrated
Demonstrative Saturday night game for Harris, who was openly frustrated with a couple of calls that went against him, one a foul on a three-point attempt in the fourth quarter.
He finished with an 8-16 shooting night while going 5-6 from the line, contributing 22 points in the win and saying this afterward:
Sometimes it goes that way. The foul on the three, that was discouraging for me. I wanted to do anything to be able to win the game at that point. Came back down and we ran a play for Joel, which Myles Turner comes around and gets around that (and causes a turnover). After that we had to go down and get stops and get out, but overall I was able to get into a rhythm in the fourth quarter from the start of it and do anything to will us to victory. Coming off a back to back this was a crucial game, two games where the records are right there with one another. Us being at home, we wanted to protected our court and make a statement as we try to get on a little streak here. We’re continuing to progress and this was a good step.
The turnover on the attempted post-up felt like a turning point late in the game, but Harris was able to finish the first Simmons steal with a dunk and then turned the second into a pair of free throws. He’s had four 50%+ shooting performances in his last six games, five of which were wins.
Ball rotation and strong side flashing
I saw some glimpses this weekend of the Sixers doing a better job helping Embiid and others when double-teamed in the post.
Oftentimes you’ll see the player who throws the post entry clear out to weak side of the floor in an attempt to just space things out and pull their defender away from Embiid. But sometimes when that defender immediately goes to double, the Sixers don’t do a great job of flashing back to the near side to bail Joel out.
In the New York game, they turned a couple of good post passing moments into James Ennis threes:
And here’s a clip from the Indiana game, with Embiid receiving the ball on a baseline inbound and then getting help from Furkan Korkmaz after a late double team from Jeremy Lamb:
It’s been better, the circulation on the perimeter. A lot of is on Embiid to see those digs and doubles coming, but he needs a strong side outlet and his teammates have been more aware of that lately.
- The off-white uniforms the Sixers wore on Saturday night look nice. I’m partially colorblind, so take that for what it’s worth.
- They did a video tribute for T.J. McConnell, who got a standing ovation from the crowd.
- Mike Scott continues to slump. He shot 0-2 from three Saturday night and is now 0-12 in his last three games.
- Furkan Korkmaz got attacked a bit on the defensive end, not Brad Stevens-hunting-JJ Redick levels of attacked, but it was noticeable. He added 12 points on 4-9 shooting as Josh Richardson’s replacement in the starting lineup.
- They won both games without Richardson.
- Al Horford had a quiet 15 on 75% shooting Saturday night, hitting 3-4 from deep.
- James Ennis has been the Sixers’ best player off the bench this season.
Have a fantastic Sunday.