In Review | No Lead Safe in Chicago
CHICAGO, IL - No lead was safe on the Windy City’s West Side, and Robert Covington knew it.
Between the opening tip and final horn, there were too many dramatic swings and sways to think otherwise. It was truly a game of runs.
At no stage of Monday’s back-and-forth battle at United Center did this dynamic prove more true than the end.
The 76ers appeared to be in control at the midway point of the fourth quarter, but the Chicago Bulls, on a roll recently, found a way back, closing the contest on an 18-8 tear, en route to a 117-115 victory.
“It was kind of an up-and-down game the whole night,” said Covington, the Chicagoland native who posted 10 points (3-5 fg, 2-4 3fg), 7 points, and 4 steals against the Bulls. “Once they went on that run, we felt like we had to do something different. We just couldn’t bounce back from it.”
The most significant turns came when Monday’s stakes were at their highest.
Fueled by Ben Simmons and Jerryd Bayless, the Sixers strung together a timely 13-2 spurt that transformed a two-point deficit into a 105-96 lead with five and a half minutes to go.
Bayless capped the surge with a clutch four-point play that resulted from him being fouled while sinking a 3-pointer. Moments later, the Sixers’ margin stood at eight, 107-99, following free throws from Dario Saric.
That’s when Chicago summoned up its decisive blitz.
The Bulls proceeded to convert their next seven shots, a burst that had the fingerprints of Nikola Mirotic and Kris Dunn all over it. Chicago snapped off 12 straight points before Saric briefly stemmed the tide with a tough interior basket.
Saric’s 3-pointer with 39 seconds to go made it a two-point game, 117-115, and the Sixers got the stop they needed on the other end on a Mirotic miss.
In the final seconds, Simmons turned on the jets for a hard drive to the cup, but his game-tying attempt was contested and denied by Dunn. Chicago bottled up the ensuing loose ball rebound, thus securing its sixth straight win, adding to an NBA-record streak that was preceded by 10 losses in a row.
“I knew I was going to take a shot,” Simmons told reporters. “I tried to get to the rim or draw a foul, but it’s hard to draw a foul the final quarter in a game like that. It was a chance to win, but it didn’t happen.”
Minus one potential All-Star, the Sixers received a steller showing from another. Simmons supplied 19 points (9-18 fg, 0-1 3fg), 11 rebounds, 9 assists, and a career-high 4 blocked shots, registering the 17th double-double of his impressive rookie campaign.
“I felt like no one could really guard me,” said Simmons.
Still, he expected more from himself.
“Overall, I should’ve been more aggressive.”
On a night on which Brown spoke about the importance of continuing to grow Simmons’ tantalizing skill set, the young Aussie was, for the most part, dominant doing what he’s done best through his first two months in uniform.
Simmons facilitated, and he attacked the basket relentlessly, throwing down three dunks, including two of the put-back variety. His rebounding efforts were critical too, especially in the absence of Joel Embiid (load management, back tightness).
Brown was pleased that Simmons was able to affect Monday’s match-up as much as he did while sticking to his bread and butter approach. In the long run, the head coach knows the 21-year is capable of more.
“To think he can put his signature on an NBA game like he does with so much room for improvement...is exciting, it’s extremely exciting,” said Brown. “He’s ours, and he’s ours for a long time. To think he’s played, what, 28 games? He really is going to be special.”
Like Simmons, Saric was one of the Sixers’ steadiest contributors Monday. Having gone for a career-best 32 points his previous visit to United Center, the 23-year old Croatian racked up a season-high 27 points this time around. He converted 10 of 19 field goal tries, while punching in 3 of 6 3-point heaves.
In particular, Saric, as he’s been known to do, emerged as a key factor late. He was responsible for scoring the Sixers’ last 10 points, erupting for 20 total in the second half.
Circumstances dictated his attitude.
“I try all the time to fight, especially today, without Joel, a very important guy on our team,” Saric said. “I tried to be focused, and help the team to win the game.”
Saric wasn’t alone in providing the Sixers with a spirited presence. T.J. McConnell stepped in to log 31 minutes off the bench, which allowed Simmons to spend more time at the four spot, a match-up the Sixers considered favorable.
McConnell tallied 11points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists. Fellow reserves Bayless and Richaun Holmes assumed important roles as well Monday for the short-handed Sixers. Bayless netted 10 points on 3 triples, two of which came in the fourth quarter. Holmes started the third period at center, and went for 14 points and 7 boards.
“We played the right way,” said Bayless, referring to the stretch of the fourth quarter that propelled the Sixers ahead. “If we play the right way, we’re good.”
How topsy turvy was Monday’s Eastern Conference clash?
The Sixers raced out to an 18-10 advantage, only to see Chicago sprint to a 30-25 lead through 12 minutes of play. The Bulls went up by as many as 10 in the second quarter, and 12 in the third, before the Sixers used a 16-2 run to roar in front late in the third.
Mirotic and Dunn were tough covers throughout the tilt, each depositing 22 points. Justin Holiday scored all 20 of his points in the first half, using his outside shooting to turn the tables following the Sixers’ auspicious start.
All said and done, the seesaw affair featured 15 lead changes, and 9 ties.
Through the opening two minutes of Monday’s third quarter, the Sixers got off to a spirited start, thanks, in part, to the dual assault on the rim led by Ben Simmons and Richaun Holmes. In this sequence, it was the center setting up his point man for a powerful dunk.
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) December 19, 2017
The Sixers complete their fourth back-to-back set of the season - and first of the road-home variety - Tuesday against the Sacramento Kings. In the first match-up between the two teams a month ago at Golden 1 Center, De’Aaron Fox stuck an 18-footer with 14 seconds remaining in regulation to lift Sacramento to a 109-108 victory. Fox, the no. 5 pick in the 2017 draft, has been used as a starter lately, but his status for Tuesday’s tilt at The Center is unclear due to injury.