Game Recap | Strong Start Helps Fuel Important Win Over Wizards
Taking the floor Tuesday, the Washington Wizards were on a roll, even in the absence of their five-time All-Star franchise player, so that they made run wasn’t entirely surprising.
Nevertheless, the 76ers entered the evening having spent the last two days talking about the importance of capitalizing on a key juncture of their schedule in advance of the All-Star break. The subsequent urgency they competed with at The Center reflected a collective buy-in to these words, as a strong start ended up being enough to see the Sixers through to a 115-102 victory.
By opening an important five-game homestand on a winning note, the Sixers moved back to a game over .500. The eighth-seed in the Eastern Conference, they also clawed to within 3.5 games of fourth-place Washington.
“You just beat a team that was hot,” Brett Brown said afterwards, when asked about the significance of Tuesday's outcome. “To beat that team, given how they were playing, that is a good start.”
Relying primarily on his jump shot, Joel Embiid led a balanced effort for the Sixers. He tallied 27 points (10-20 fg, 3-7 3fg, 4-5 ft) and 12 rebounds against Washington for his 26th double-double in 41 outings this season.
“Coach always says guys like to think about the break,” said Embiid. “It’s important that we take advantage of the opportunity to make a run, win these games, and then go into the break, and put ourselves in a good position for the playoff race.”
The big man wasn’t the only Sixer to reach the 20-point plateau. Dario Saric hit the number on the nose.
The Croatian’s 15-point first half was a pivotal catalyst in getting the Sixers going, as they erupted for a 16-0 blitz to seize a 26-7 lead with just under four minutes to play in the first period. The margin through 12 minutes of action was a commanding 37-20 differential.
After Bradley Beal found his stroke on the heels of beginning his night 0 for 4 from the field, the Wizards settled in, and trimmed the deficit to 10 points at the break, 65-55. That was also where the margin stood through three quarters.
Washington managed to scrap to within 8 points, 107-99, with four minutes left in regulation, but JJ Redick connected on a clutch triple - his fourth on as many tries - with two and half minutes remaining to give the Sixers the insurance they’d need.
Attacking the lane at will throughout most of Tuesday’s tilt, Ben Simmons turned in another diverse performance, racking up 15 points on 6 of 8 shooting, while supplying 6 boards and 8 dimes. Redick and Robert Covington were the Sixers’ two other double-figure scorers, with 18 and 12 points, respectively.
The Sixers converted 55.6% of their shots in all, and 14 of 28 from 3-point territory. They managed to overcome 17 turnovers, 11 of which were committed in Tuesday’s first half, and Beal’s game-high 30-point showing.
“We’ve openly stated we’re here,” Brown said of the Sixers having five games to go prior to the All-Star break. “We’ve got four games left, and to start out that home game stretch with a win, that’s a good thing.”
Strong Start Sets Tone
In the aftermath of the Philadelphia Eagles winning Super Bowl, the Sixers have openly discussed how inspiring the Birds’ first-ever Lombardi Trophy run was, and the extent to which they were captivated by the city’s response to Sunday’s victory over the New England Patriots
Whether it was the Eagles’ good mojo rubbing off, or just pure coincidence, the Sixers raced out of the gates Tuesday, their first game since the Super Bowl, while building up a substantial 15-point lead, 22-7, midway through the first quarter.
Dario Saric contributed 7 points amidst this surge. The second-year forward also chipped in with 2 rebounds and a steal during the tone-setting stretch.
“Of course it was crucial,” Saric said, discussing the manner in which the Sixers began Tuesday’s tilt. “We tried to play really, really good basketball. We were sharing the ball, good movement.”
The Sixers certainly were. By the conclusion of the first period, they had nailed 16 of 23 shots (69.6 fg%), 5 of 6 3-pointers, assisted on 9 baskets, and were plus-5 on the glass.
“We just wanted to come out, and be aggressive,” said Embiid. “We just wanted to be aggressive, especially defensively.”
In its five games before Tuesday’s stop at The Center, Washington had won five times, the last four victories coming without John Wall (left knee). Despite the All-Star being on the shelf, the Wizards shot over 51 percent from the field, while manufacturing 32.2 assists per contest.
Against the Sixers, Washington, on the second night of a road back-to-back, shot only 44.1 percent from the floor, and had 23 helpers.
“We started off well,” said Ben Simmons. “We kept our composure, and played it out.”
Eagles in the House
Various color combinations of midnight and kelly green, plus black, white, silver, and yellow speckled The Centers’ crimson-colored seats Tuesday.
A mere 48 hours removed from the Eagles’ triumphant performance in Sunday’s Super Bowl, the Delaware Valley sports fans attending Tuesday’s game clearly had no interest in pumping the breaks on celebrating.
There were plenty of “E-A-G-L-E-S Eagles!” chants, and clapping cheers of “Foles!,” “Foles!,” “Foles!” The biggest roar from the sellout crowd of 20,530 erupted when some of the Birds’ offensive linemen emerged to ring the Sixers’ ceremonial pre-game bell (see 'Sixers Social' section below).
Brett Brown thought the atmosphere was fantastic.
“It is always for us a reminder of what we hope to experience,” said the fifth-year head coach. “We want to start with earning a berth to the playoffs, that’s our goal. We see what this city does, and how this city responds to that type of environment. They respect and applaud effort. They’ve been with us through many, many downtimes. We look forward to trying to reward them and play in front of them in a playoff atmosphere.”
“I think the Eagles winning has been huge for the city,” said Ben SImmons. “It just motivates us to get there, and bring championships here, which is really exciting.”
Saric in Crunch Time
While there might not have been much tangible evidence of Dario Saric’s fourth-quarter efforts against Washington (he was held scoreless and grabbed two rebounds in nearly nine minutes), Brett Brown left Tuesday’s game even more convinced of how vital the jack-of-all-trades forward is to the Sixers’ late-game line-up.
In the win over the Wizards, Brown was particularly appreciative of Saric’s blue collar demeanor down the stretch.
“I felt like we were physical, I felt like we could rebound in traffic, and I felt like he was a part of that,” said Brown. “Although it’s only his second year in the NBA, he has played big-time, high-level basketball, and when it gets down to the end of the game, I feel like that’s when he’s at his best.”
If the pre-game ringing of the Liberty Bell at Sixers’ home games has become a designation for guests of the highest honor, you’d’ have been hard-pressed to find a more worthy bunch among Tuesday’s sellout crowd at The Center. Marking one of the first public appearances by the newest NFL champions since winning Sunday’s Super Bowl, members of the Eagles offensive line showed up to do the honors before the Sixers tipped off versus Washington.
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) February 7, 2018
After experiencing a little bit of a lull in their schedule earlier this week, playing only once in five days, the Sixers will begin a busy stretch Friday, hosting the New Orleans Pelicans in the opener of a home-home back-to-back set. The contest will be the first of four before the Sixers separate for the All-Star break after next Wednesday’s bout with the Miami Heat. Two weeks ago, New Orleans, which is bidding for its first playoff berth in four years, lost All-Star big man DeMarcus Cousins to a ruptured achilles injury. Anthony Davis is the Pelicans’ other All-Star forward, and is averaging 26.8 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 2.1 blocks per game.