Game Review | Simmons, Embiid Lead Way to 6th Straight Win
Ben Simmons wore many hats Thursday - scorer, playmaker, rebounder. The most important of all, arguably, ended up being that of clutch free throw shooter.
After Joel Embiid came up with a pivotal steal on a Chicago Bulls sideline out-of-bounds play with 5.9 seconds remaining in regulation, Simmons tracked down the loose ball at the midcourt line, and was fouled.
With 5.6 seconds to go, the 21-year old point man, with the poise and calm he’s exhibited throughout his breakout rookie season, toed the stripe for a chance to put the 76ers back in front.
His first left-handed attempt got the benefit of a front-rim roll. The second was a true swish, and those deposits proved to be the difference in the Sixers’ resilient 116-115 victory at United Center.
“I knew I was going to knock them down,” Simmons said of his free throws afterwards. “You have to have the mentality, so...I can’t be thinking, ‘I’m going to miss them.’”
He didn’t, and as a result, the Sixers posted their sixth straight win to set a new high for a winning streak in the Brett Brown coaching era. The surge is the franchise’s longest since a six-game tear that lasted from December 31st, 2011 through January 10th, 2012.
Throughout Thursday’s back-and-forth affair, which saw the Sixers race out to an 18-point lead midway through the first quarter, only to have Chicago seize a two-point edge by the half, Simmons was a force. He finished with a career-high 32 points (13-18 fg, 6-11 ft), while adding 7 rebounds and 11 assists.
The double-double was the Aussie’s 23rd of the season, and became the second rookie in team history to produce a 30-10 game, now sharing company with Allen Iverson.
Embiid helped anchor crucial defensive stops in the waning moments of action. To no surprise, he was right in the middle of things on the Sixers’ clinching stand, turning aside Bobby Portis as time ran out.
The Sixers’ All-Star tallied 30 points himself (11-17 fg, 3-3 3fg), to go with 11 boards, 5 dimes, and 4 blocks. For Embiid, the double-double was No. 29 on the year.
“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” said Embiid. “Big time players make big plays.”
He and Simmons were certainly that.
“Joel and Ben carried us,” Brown said.
While Chicago shot the ball at a torrid pace Thursday, the Sixers managed to clamp down in crunch time. They held the Bulls scoreless for the last 62 seconds, en route to notching the final six points of the game.
Chicago set a season-high with 18 3-pointers, and were led by Portis’ career-high 38 points.
Simmons Steady at the Line
In guiding the Sixers to Thursday’s important win, Ben Simmons left a decisive impact. With Chicago up five points, 115-110, with 62 seconds to play, the 21-year old accounted for four of his club’s final six points, the last two coming on free throws.
All season long, when given opportunities to discuss the qualities of Simmons that have been most impressive, Brett Brown has been quick to cite intangible elements, like the two-time Rookie of the Month’s poise and demeanor.
Thursday’s post-game press conference provided the head coach with another chance to do so.
“Ben had the confidence to step up, and make two huge free throws,” Brown said, referring to Simmons perfect trip to the stripe with 5.6 seconds on the clock.
“He has such strength of belief. We saw Washington foul him 29 times [Nov. 29th], and different things that we have seen at the end of games where he delivers. He has tremendous inner confidence, so it doesn’t surprise me. I judge people’s body language perhaps too much, and when he stepped to the line, it looked like he wanted to shoot.”
Inside the visitors’ locker room at United Center, Simmons acknowledged the significance of his clutch foul shots.
“I think it was big,” he said, “but guys know when I step up to the line, in situations like that, I shoot it with confidence, and coaches know that.”
Thursday’s outing marked the fifth time this season Simmons received at least 10 free throws in a game.
Back From Break
In their first game back from the All-Star break, the Sixers navigated their way through a game that featured several dramatic swings.
After building up a 25-7 margin within the opening five and a half minutes of play, the Sixers proceeded to watch Chicago go on a 22-8 blitz to get right back in it. The Bulls then erupted for 40 points in the second period to take a 69-67 advantage into the break.
The Sixers regained the lead for most of Thursday’s third quarter, before falling behind by as many as five points in the fourth. Finally, they summoned up a critical 6-0 game-ending kick to nab the win.
“The first game coming back from the All-Star break is always strange,” said Brett Brown. “I’ve been with NBA championship teams, I’ve been with really young teams, and now we have this team that is a hybrid of some really talented young guys, and some veterans. I think the resolve we showed, we stayed together.”
“We all knew coming in that it was going to be a weird kind of game, just because we had that little break,” Ben Simmons said. “I think we held it together, and played well.”
Much like their final game heading into the break, in which they erased a 24-point deficit in a Valentine’s Day victory over Miami, the Sixers on Thursday found a way to get the job done.
Brown said, “I give our group a lot of credit for having the poise to see it through, and find a way to win.”
No Rest for the Not-So-Weary
Coincidentally enough, the three Sixers who were busiest with basketball during All-Star Weekend assumed leading roles in Thursday’s triumph.
Joel Embiid, an All-Star starter, and Ben Simmons, who participated in the Mtn Dew Kickstart Rising Stars Game, combined for 62 points, 20 rebounds, 16 assists, and 5 blocks in Chicago.
Dario Saric supplied 13 points, 8 boards, and 2 dimes of his own, and was a major factor in building the Sixers’ successful comeback bid. Like Embiid and Simmons, he too was named to the Rising Stars Game.
“We played together in the Rising Stars Challenge...and were able to build more chemistry,” said Embiid.
Now, the big man believes he and the rest of his Sixers teammates have set themselves up for solid post-season positioning.
“Everybody has been talking about playoff push,” Embiid said. “To me, we have a real chance of getting home court advantage. That’s what I’m thinking right now, and that’s the message I got to send to my teammates as a leader. The mindset was just about coming out here, getting a win, and keep pushing for that third or fourth seed.”
Dribble-pass, dribble-pass again. The formula worked just fine on this emphatic sequence, which opened the scoring in Thursday’s second half.
JoJo Ben JoJo pic.twitter.com/Enk711PN2c
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) February 23, 2018
The Sixers will begin their ninth back-to-back of the season Saturday in a home match-up with the Orlando Magic. After that, the Sixers will set out on the road for an important three-game trip against teams that, like themselves, are jockeying for playoff positioning in the Eastern Conference standings. As for the Magic, they endured their fourth straight defeat Thursday with a loss to the New York Knicks. Orlando has been without promising fourth-year forward Aaron Gordon (hip flexor) for the past month. Prior to sustaining his injury, he was putting up the best numbers of his career, with averages of 18.4 points and 8.3 rebounds per game.