In Review | Simmons Meets James, Embiid Stands Out, but Shots Don't Fall vs Cavs
PHILADELPHIA, PA - In the build up to a big night at The Center, the teacher spoke in respectful, praiseworthy tones about his pupil, and the franchise that the latter’s been tapped to help lead to new heights.
And while there should be no doubt about the depths of the fraternal friendship that exists between LeBron James and Ben Simmons, once the ball was thrown into the air Monday, it was all business.
With Simmons assigned the unenviable task of guarding James at the outset of the players’ first-ever professional meeting, the four-time MVP and three-time champion went right to work.
Drive, drive again, drive once more. Hit a three, draw a foul, then bang down a second triple.
Accounting for Cleveland’s first 9 points and 4 rebounds of the night, and enjoying a 5 for 5 start from the field en route to a 30-point, 13-rebound, 6-assist performance, the 32-year old James laid the building blocks for his Cavaliers’ 113-91 victory over the 76ers.
The win was the Cavs’ eighth in a row, an NBA-high, and snapped the Sixers’ own streak, which had reached 3 games.
Like the rest of his teammates, Simmons had trouble getting comfortable Monday. Defended primarily by Jae Crowder and Jeff Green, the rookie finished with 10 points (5-11 fg), 8 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 steals in 35 minutes.
“It looked like it should be,” said Brett Brown, when asked for his thoughts about how Simmons fared in stretches against James. “It didn’t look unnatural.”
The head coach had Simmons guard James almost exclusively for the first 8 minutes of action, before the Aussie subbed out late in the opening quarter. Simmons returned to covering James late in the second.
“I think the more you watch LeBron play, he plays with such a confidence and pace,” said Brown. “Now it’s backed up by a 3-point shot and skill package. It’s just a hard guard. But watching those two [Simmons and James] interests me.”
Tyronn Lue, in his third season on Cleveland’s sideline, was paying attention, too.
“I liked that Ben took the challenge to guard LeBron,” said Lue. “It was good to see.”
Shortly after taking the court for Monday’s tip-off, Simmons and James, who first connected during Simmons’ high school days, shared a quick embrace. Over the years, they’ve worked out together a good number of times, whether for the purpose of preparing Simmons for the 2016 draft, or simply to get some summer run.
While Simmons and James’ relationship may have, in some ways, entered into a new, more competitive phase Monday, that doesn’t mean the essence of the bond will change moving forward.
“I'm honored that a young gifted kid like himself would allow me to be a part of his life and be a mentor,” James said afterwards. “I’m honored by that and [will] continue to do that as long as he'd like me to.
In the prelude to Monday’s tilt, James said the match-up wasn’t only about him and Simmons, but their respective teams. Those words rang true.
As important as James was in jumpstarting Cleveland, he didn’t carry the club single-handedly. Far from it. The bench came up large in several key junctures.
Take, for instance, the first quarter, after the Sixers snuck in front, 22-19. The Cavaliers’ contingent of back-ups - namely Dwyane Wade (15 pts), Jeff Green (14 pts), and Channing Frye (12 pts) - sparked a noteworthy 10-0 blitz to finish the frame.
Later, in the third period, the Sixers used a Joel Embiid lay-up to slice the margin to 72-69. Kyle Korver, also a second-stringer, and Frye hit 3-pointers on consecutive trips down the floor, inspiring yet another sizable quarter-ending run, this time to the tune of 13-4.
“You could feel the game just pivot,” Brown said, referring to the Cavs’ burst in the third. “Teams like [Cleveland] do that to you.”
The Sixers, meanwhile, had difficulty finding a groove throughout Monday’s affair. They wound up shooting 37.5 percent from the field, and 3 for 28 from outside the arc. The Cavaliers, on the other hand, went 15 for 37 from the perimeter.
“I think we missed clean looks,” said Brown, who always preaches the value of taking 3-point shooting. “It just wasn’t meant to be tonight.”
Embiid was indeed a bright spot for the Sixers, summoning up 30 points (11-24 fg) and 11 rebounds for his 10th double-double of the campaign. The center became the first Sixer to register a double-double in four straight games since Samuel Dalembert did so from January 13th through 20th in 2010.
“Everybody was pretty excited going into this game, myself included, because [Cleveland] went to the Conference Finals each of the past three years,” the 7-footer said. “I thought we just weren’t aggressive.”
By no means, however, could that word be used to describe Embiid’s efforts in Monday’s third quarter. He did virtually all of his scoring from the inside, and proceeded to pump out 16 points, going 5 for 6 from the field, and 6 for 7 from the stripe.
The contributions gave the Sixers new life.
“I thought his third period was especially effective,” said Brown. “You could just feel he was rolling, the game was about to change, and it did.”
But Embiid’s spike in production wasn’t enough.
“We didn’t make shots, we weren’t aggressive defensively,” he said. “They got what they wanted. They took me out of the paint, and I didn’t do my job, which I usually do, protecting the rim.”
With three possible Eastern Conference playoff teams still due on the schedule before the week is out, the Sixers don’t plan to dwell on Monday’s defeat long.
“We all do this together - we win together, and we lose together,” Brown said of the outcome. “They are the Cleveland Cavaliers, former NBA champs, for a reason. We will learn from this.”
“I hate losing, but I think that’s actually good,” said Embiid. “We can’t take any days off, we can’t play comfortable. We just have to keep working hard, and get better."
Entering the final minutes of Monday’s third quarter, the Sixers were at their scrappy best, with Joel Embiid embodying this spirit as much as anyone. Not only did the big man keep the possession shown below alive, he cleaned up a miss to bring the Sixers within a possession, 72-69.
The hustle is real. pic.twitter.com/JZ8rB94Pyk
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) November 28, 2017
The Sixers’ season-long six-game homestand comes to an end Wednesday, when they welcome the Washington Wizards to The Center. On the heels of its strongest regular season showing in almost four decades, Washington is currently fighting to stay above .500, a task that recently became that much more challenging with the team announcing All-Star point guard John Wall will miss approximately two weeks with a left knee injury. Having dropped four of their last five outings, the Wizards start their road-road back-to-back Tuesday at the Minnesota Timberwolves.