In Review | Key Stretch Against Conference Foes Capped With Win Over Bucks
SOUTH PHILADELPHIA - From the very beginning of an anticipated, promising season, the 76ers haven’t been bashful about their primary goal for the year.
They want to be a playoff team.
Over the past two weeks, Brett Brown’s group has certainly played like one, the latest instance coming Saturday at The Center.
Relying on a balanced effort, and a big finish, the Sixers used a noteworthy 116-94 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks to positively punctuate a stretch of five consecutive games against Eastern Conference opponents that - going into each match-up - had all been ranked ahead of the Sixers in the standings.
The win enabled the Sixers to leapfrog Milwaukee into sixth-place in the East. Furthermore, the triumph was the Sixers' third in a row, and seventh in their last eight games. They ended up going 4-1 during the all-important gauntlet against fellow conference playoff hopefuls.
“We’re aware of where Milwaukee is,” Brett Brown said, “and we’re aware we’re going to have to get through them to claim one of those [playoff] spots in April.”
Joel Embiid paced the Sixers with 29 points (11-19 fg, 2-5 3fg, 5-6 ft) and 9 rebounds. He was a force throughout the evening, especially in the waning minutes of the third quarter when his strong two-way play kept the Sixers in front.
It was the Sixers’ surrounding cast, however, that made a major difference in Saturday’s final frame, banding together to help the team outscore Milwaukee by 20 after the Bucks had sliced the gap to two points, 84-82, at the outset of the fourth.
“They only had 14 points in the fourth, so we just got the stops we needed, and got a pretty good win,” said Embiid.
In his second start of the season, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot proved clutch. He finished with 16 points (5-9 fg, 3-5 3fg), one off his season-high, doing half of his scoring in the fourth quarter, when he went 3 for 3 from the field.
“He knocked down a few big shots for us,” said Ben Simmons, “and defensively played well.”
T.J. McConnell continued his recent potent scoring spurt, adding 11 points (5-10 fg) and 7 assists off the bench. His driving lay-up with four minutes, 45 seconds to capped an 11-0 blitz that put Saturday’s game away.
Simmons flirted with a triple-double, tacking on 16 points (8-13 fg), 8 boards, and 9 dimes, while Robert Covington generated a whopping plus-28 rating, with 16 points (5-8 fg, 3-6 3fg), 5 rebounds, and 4 steals.
Dario Saric was a versatile weapon as well, producing 13 points (4-10 fg), 6 rebounds, and 7 helpers.
“We’ve just been playing hard, staying composed, and focused,” Simmons said. “We go out there, and really follow the game plan.”
While the Sixers were without JJ Redick (left leg) and Jerryd Bayless (left wrist) on Saturday, Milwaukee was also shorthanded, missing All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo (right knee), and reigning Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon (personal reasons).
Luwawu-Cabarrot Seizes Moment
Some of the best advice veterans JJ Redick and Jerryd Bayless have given young Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot? That the NBA is a “league of opportunity,” so always be ready if your number’s called.
With Redick and Bayless both on the shelf Saturday, Luwawu-Cabarrot was the next man up, getting the nod at shooting guard. The start was his second of the season, and he responded with impact minutes, turning in his seventh double-digit scoring performance.
“I just think he’s one of these players who continues to work,” said Brett Brown. “He attacked the rim, he made threes, he’s one of our best athletes on the team, and he’s fearless.”
Luwawu-Cabarrot was particularly effective late. During the Sixers’ decisive, game-ending 32-12 burst, the Frenchman flushed a pair of 3-pointers. He also handed out assists on a Ben Simmons dunk, and Dario Saric triple that helped push the Sixers’ margin to a game-high 19 points.
“It was a big opportunity for me to show up and step up,” Luwawu-Cabarrot said. “That’s what I did.”
Heading into Saturday, Luwawu-Cabarrot, picked 24th overall in the 2016 draft, had logged less than eight total minutes the Sixers’ two previous games. Against Milwaukee, he played a season-high 29, and posted a plus-21 rating.
“From a human standpoint, to see him get rewarded after him staying positive, that’s a feel good story,” said Brown.
Embiid Keeps Sixers in Control
When Joel Embiid plays, odds are he’s going to put up big numbers. Sometimes, though, the weight of his output goes far beyond lofty surface-level stats.
Take Saturday, for example. Embiid racked up his third straight game with at least 20 points, and came within a rebound of what would have been a fourth consecutive double-double. Pretty heady stuff.
Most significant, though, was that as Milwaukee was making major inroads late in the third quarter, Embiid almost single-handedly kept the Bucks at bay.
After Thon Maker sunk a jumper to level the tilt at 75-75, Embiid assisted on a go-ahead lay-up from Ben Simmons. Maker then tied the score again, 77-77, on free throws, but Embiid answered with a powerful drive that restored the Sixers’ lead.
Moments later, Embiid hammered home a strong right-handed jam to widen the gap to 81-78, before chasing down Eric Bledsoe for an inspiring block.
At a juncture of Saturday’s contest where the Sixers were seeking a spark, Embiid didn’t disappoint.
“Jo’s huge,” said Simmons. “He’s a great player, he’s a big player down low, and defensively, he changes a lot of shots, and makes it easier for us.”
Embiid was pleased to see the Sixers maintain momentum with an eighth win in 10 tries.
“The coaches have been doing a great job, and my teammates,” Embiid said. “We’ve been able to find our identity.”
Staying Aware of Surroundings
The Sixers took the floor Saturday keenly aware of the lay of the land in the Eastern Conference. That’s because Brett Brown had made a point to show his team the standings.
“He mentioned jumping to six in the East if we won this game,” said Ben Simmons. “It was a big game to us, and we really wanted to be in that position. We did a great job of closing it out.”
Beginning the official second half of their season Saturday by playing game no. 42, the Sixers also concluded a string of five straight games against teams that, at the start of the month, were ahead of them in the East.
“I get completely what the standings say,” Brown said Saturday. “We want to get greedy.”
With victories over Toronto and Boston as well this week, the Sixers have competed accordingly.
“I look at the schedule now, and we want to deal with this professionally, and get better. We get completely what the standings say.”
:: joyful crying face emoji ::
Great caption, great play, and it came at a critical juncture. Joel Embiid’s chasedown block on Eric Bledsoe was just one part of the pivotal, energizing, two-way sequence the big man summoned down the stretch of Saturday’s third quarter.
Oh deer. pic.twitter.com/lnZ4RNwflJ
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) January 21, 2018
On the cusp of a road-heavy stretch of the schedule to close out the month of January, the Sixers head to Memphis Sunday, for the season’s only stop at FedEx Forum. Between a sudden coaching change in November, and spate of injuries sustained to key members of the rotation, the Grizzlies have endured a mostly-trying campaign. As of late, however, Memphis’ fortunes have made a modest turn. They went into Saturday’s road tilt at New Orleans having won a season-high tying three games in a row.