Game Review | Covington Leads Balanced Effort in Bounce-Back Win

by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

Recap:

Rare would it be that a team refuse the type of performance the 76ers enjoyed in Charlotte, but their dominance Tuesday was particularly timely.

Looking to quickly recapture momentum in the thick of the season’s home stretch, the Sixers turned in one of their most impressive offensive showings of the year, while surging past the Hornets 128-114 at Spectrum Centre.

The Sixers’ 128 points marked their second-highest total to-date, and their combined 57.5 percent shooting effort established a new season-high.

What was the difference?, Brett Brown was asked afterwards.

“Robert Covington,” said the fifth-year head coach, who has now led the Sixers to 35 victories, their highest total in an 82-game season since 2010-2011.

On a night plenty of Sixers produced efficient box lines, Covington’s was hard to miss. The team’s longest-tenured player began his fifth professional campaign in unconscious fashion, but has spent the better part of the winter looking to reclaim his shooting form.

Well, on Tuesday evening, his stroke was there, and then some.

Covington went off for 22 points, flushing 7 of his 11 attempts from the field, and, most notably, 5 of his 9 3-point tries. The scoring total was his highest since a 25-point game December 2nd versus the Detroit Pistons.

Regardless of offensive circumstances this season, Covington has maintained his signature defensive toughness. His work on Charlotte point guard Kemba Walker, however, was especially noteworthy.

Spearheading the Sixers’ coverage on the two-time All-Star, Covington helped contain the oft-potent Walker for just 5 points (1-9 fg, 0-5 3fg). It was Walker’s smallest output since April 13th, 2016.

Covington was one of seven Sixers to finish in double-digits. Ben Simmons was nearly perfect, converting his first seven shots en route to tallying 16 points (8-9 fg), 8 rebounds, and 13 assists. The double-double was his 25th of the year.

Joel Embiid shook off a 4-point first-half to finish with 18 points. Dario Saric supplied 19 points, while JJ Redick posted 14 points. Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova each netted 11 points.

“It was a very balanced attack,” said Redick. “Everybody was kind of in the same boat in terms of shot attempts.”

For a period and a half Tuesday, the Sixers and Hornets played a relatively even game. Then, with Simmons assuming a key role in lighting the fuse, the Sixers tore off a 25-7 run to gain control. Charlotte never really threatened the rest of the way.

After dealing with ball security issues Sunday in Milwaukee in the opener of their four-game road trip, the Sixers recovered nicely on the turnover front. They committed just 14 miscues Tuesday in the Queen City.

Walker Under Wraps

To find the last time Kemba Walker, a 23.2 points per game scorer, was held to 5 points or less, you’d have to go back two seasons. That was before he became an All-Star.

Last Friday, when the Sixers and Charlotte met at The Center, Walker presented problems, bursting for 16 first-half points. After that, the Sixers turned their coverage over almost exclusively to Robert Covington and T.J. McConnell, and got positive results.

Tuesday in Charlotte, with Covington and McConnell again providing the bulk of the defense on Walker, the Sixers had even greater success. The UConn product scored 1 point in the first quarter, and another in the second.

His only field goal in the entire game was a step back jumper four minutes into the fourth period.

“We just made sure we got into his body, be physical, stay on top of everything, and stay maniacal with our coverages,” said Covington.

Recognizing that Walker tends to reject screens, as Covington explained it, the Sixers formulated their gameplan.

“I think our switch scheme and our hedge on the pick and rolls hurt [Walker] a little bit,” said Brett Brown. “I think it was a team thing. It had to have been a team thing, and I think physically, we did a pretty good job.”

Embiid Finishes Strong

By the end of the night, Brett Brown had no trouble putting Joel Embiid’s evening into perspective from an offensive standpoint.

At halftime of Tuesday’s game, the 7-foot All-Star center had managed four points on 1 for 4 shooting. His lone field goal didn’t come until there were under three minutes to go in the second period.

Nonetheless, the Sixers still led at the break, 71-59. That, to Brown, was an encouraging development. After all, averages suggested that Embiid would eventually get his, and sure enough, he did.

With two and a half minutes left in the third period, Embiid began to find his groove. He scored on a dunk, before opening the fourth frame with another slam.

When Embiid subbed out with seven minutes, 29 seconds to go in regulation, he had accounted for five of the Sixers’ six most recent buckets. The one he didn’t score - an Ersan Ilyasova three - he assisted on.

Embiid wound up manufacturing 18 points (8-16 fg, 0-3 3fg), 5 boards, and 4 helpers.

“I’m glad I’ve got my teammates that got my back, and they’ve been carrying us,” Embiid said. “Going into the playoffs, not every shot is going to fall, so it’s good to know that all those guys got my back.”

“I think just the fact that we could put that volume of points on the board, and be winning at halftime without Joel stamping his thumb on that first half was a good sign,” said Brown.

Indeed it was.

Simmons, a Mismatch Maker

Ben Simmons was superb Tuesday, and very quickly, it became apparent there wasn’t much Charlotte could do to slow him down.

He cranked out two dunks and a cutting lay-up to go perfect in the first quarter. Three driving baskets accounted all three of his shots in the second quarter.

Then, in the third frame, the 2016 No. 1 pick then threw down a powerful two-handed jam, before spiking a dunk attempt for his only miss of the night.

The Hornets opened Tuesday’s game by putting respected stopper Michael Kidd-Gilchrist on Simmons. He was ejected early in the second period, which resulted in the defensive duties shifting mostly to Treveon Graham.

Regardless of who was guarding Simmons, the Aussie had his way.

“A 6-10 guard changes everything,” said Charlotte guard Nicolas Batum. “When you see that, you have to put Kemba [Walker] somewhere else, and they put a bigger guy on your point guard. It’s just a whole different match-up.”

Sixers Social:

For the Sixers, it must have been one of those nights when the basket looked mighty big. Among the bevy of 3-pointers they drilled, this one from JJ Redick that capped Tuesday’s opening quarter was one of the most noteworthy, and certainly the one that had the most attitude.

@JJRedick three to beat the buzzer pic.twitter.com/JctgDkeY86

— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) March 7, 2018

Up Next:

The 76ers’ four-game road trip moves south to Miami, where they visit the Heat for the second time in the span of eight days. In fact, all four meetings between the Eastern Conference rivals have been played in less than five weeks’ time. Entering play Tuesday, only one game separated the sixth-place Sixers from eighth-place Miami. Last Tuesday at American Airlines Arena, it was Dwyane Wade who delivered a throwback performance, exploding in the fourth quarter to flush the game-winning dagger with 5.9 seconds to go.

Sixers Social:

For the Sixers, it must have been one of those nights when the basket looked mighty big. Among the bevy of 3-pointers they drilled, this one from JJ Redick that capped Tuesday’s opening quarter was one of the most noteworthy, and certainly the one that had the most attitude.

Up Next:

The 76ers’ four-game road trip moves south to Miami, where they visit the Heat for the second time in the span of eight days. In fact, all four meetings between the Eastern Conference rivals have been played in less than five weeks’ time. Entering play Tuesday, only one game separated the sixth-place Sixers from eighth-place Miami. Last Tuesday at American Airlines Arena, it was Dwyane Wade who delivered a throwback performance, exploding in the fourth quarter to flush the game-winning dagger with 5.9 seconds to go.

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