Game Review | A Remarkable Finish to a Remarkable Season
If the participants in Wednesday’s match-up at The Center went into the night hoping to use the game as a potential tune-up for the playoffs, one of the two teams involved should’ve left the arena extremely encouraged, while the other team...well, we’ll leave it to the other team to figure out exactly what happened Wednesday.
Simply put, you couldn’t have asked the 76ers for a more perfect finish to a memorable regular season, both in the literal and figurative senses.
Closing the 2017-2018 campaign by blowing out the Milwaukee Bucks, 130-95, the Sixers set a new NBA record for the longest winning streak to end a regular season, at 16 games.
The victory also extended a remarkable surge that has since grown to become the longest single-season tear in the Sixers’ 69-year existence.
The Sixers’ triumph locked up the three-seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Their opponent will be the Miami Heat, which beat the Toronto Raptors in overtime Wednesday to secure the East’s six-seed.
Playing for the second time in as many nights after winning on the road Tuesday in Atlanta, the Sixers delivered a performance that not only defied the physical demands of the NBA schedule, it rewrote record books.
Their 130-point outburst was the highest total ever scored in a regulation game held at The Center, which opened in 1996, and was stoked by an incredible first half.
By the time intermission rolled around, the scoreboard tilted stunningly in the Sixers’ favor, 80-44. The Sixers’ 80 first-half points were the most ever in a contest played at The Center, and was just the 10th 80-point first half in team history.
“To the group’s credit, they jumped into this game in a big way, and in a big way early, and sort of set the stage and was able to walk it down,” said Brett Brown.
The Sixers established a new season-high with 31 first-half field goals, and matched first-half season-highs with 11 3-pointers and 22 assists.
Serving as further evidence of the Sixers’ first-half dominance, they were up 46-18 after one quarter, and reached the 70-point mark before Milwaukee scored 30 points. Their largest lead was a game-high 41.
Wednesday’s first half really was that kind of crazy.
Spearheading a bench effort that itself was historic, Justin Anderson paced all Sixers with 25 points. Markelle Fultz took advantage of available minutes to manufacture the first triple-double of his career, posting 13 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists (each of those figures were career-highs, too).
Like a pitcher who threw a no hitter or recorded the final out in the World Series, Fultz was mobbed by his teammates in front of the Sixers bench immediately after he secured the statistical feat, by aggressively corralling his last rebound with 72 seconds left in regulation.
Fultz, at 19 years old, is now the league’s youngest player to register a triple-double.
“It was amazing,” said Ben Simmons, who tallied 4 points, 6 rebounds, and 7 assists. “I’m so happy for him, the way he’s come back and played, he’s getting more comfortable on the floor.”
From the jump Wednesday, the Sixers were locked in, especially Dario Saric, who was forced to leave Tuesday’s game in Atlanta due to a cut lip and broken tooth. Supplying the Sixers with 24 points, the second-year forward needed only five minutes to get into double-figures, and helped trigger a torrid perimeter attack that yielded a season-best eight first-quarter threes.
The rest of the period, the Sixers refused to take their foot off the gas.
Simmons in foul trouble? No problem, said Fultz.
The 2017 no. 1 pick spelled his 2016 predecessor midway through the first, and proceeded to factor in the next 20 points the Sixers scored, pushing the Sixers to a 40-12 advantage.
The final basket of the Fultz-fueled stretch came on a T.J. McConnell (16 pts) 3-pointer. McConnell then briefly went into takeover mode, ripping off 8 points in a row.
Fultz and McConnell represented just a portion of the big boost the Sixers received from their bench in the first half. McConnell (16 pts, 6 reb, 7 ast), Anderson, and Richaun Holmes (19 pts, 7 reb) were all in double-figures by the break.
The Sixers’ reserve corps would total a team-record 76 points by the time Wednesday’s final buzzer sounded.
Making Wednesday’s potent first half that much more mesmerizing was that Simmons didn’t score a single point (he did have 5 assists at intermission). JJ Redick, meanwhile, was watching from the sideline, out with back tightness.
From the third quarter on, the Sixers didn’t budge much. Their lead dipped below 30 points for a mere 23 seconds.
Fultz’s Big Finish
The Sixers’ reaction to Markelle Fultz’s triple-double told a big part of the story. Clearly, there’s a lot of affection for the 2017 top pick.
"To see his teammates react to @MarkelleF, was special."
— x - Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) April 12, 2018
Fultz called his triple-double a confidence-builder.
“I’ve always believed in myself,” said the rookie, who appeared in the Sixers’ final 10 games after missing 68 contests in a row. “I’ve always known what I was capable of. It just a matter of going out there, enjoying myself, and playing confident.”
All of those factors seemed to come together Wednesday night.
Quick Comments on Heat
Not too long after the Sixers’ win over the Milwaukee Bucks went final, so too did the Miami Heat’s 116-109 overtime victory over the Toronto Raptors, the Eastern Conference’s no. 1 seed.
With the Cleveland Cavaliers losing at home to the New York Knicks, 110-98, and the Washington Wizards falling to the Orlando Magic, 101-92, Miami ended up sixth in the standings, setting up a first-round date with the Sixers.
The Sixers and Heat split their four-game season series this year, with all tilts played in the span of five weeks from the beginning of February through the beginning of March.
Just how close were the four clashes? The combined margin was a total of 18 points, with the home team winning each time.
“We are ready to go,” said Ben Simmons. “It’s going to be fun. It’s a tough team to play against, but we’ve got all the pieces. They’re a physical team, got some shooters, and experienced players, but at the same time, we have a lot of players who are ready to step up and play.”
Anderson Rises to the Occasion
With JJ Redick sidelined Wednesday, Justin Anderson’s role in the Sixers’ rotation expanded.
In a season-high 31 minutes, the third-year swingman notched a season-best 25 points on 9 for 18 shooting. His five 3-pointers were a career high.
Throughout the year, Anderson has battled injuries that have limited his involvement on the court. He tried to focus on factors he could control, and put in extra work in the weight room and gym to stay ready.
Anderson was indeed that against the Bucks.
“I got an opportunity, and tried to make the most of it,” he said.
Dario Saric was a pivotal sparkplug for the Sixers, and assumed such a role with nifty moves such as this one, from the first quarter.
Got him. pic.twitter.com/7WpK0py1KC
— x - Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) April 12, 2018
Stay tuned for details about the Sixers' impending Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series versus the Miami Heat, which should be announced later Wedneday.