In Review | In Defeat, Dominant First Half Contains Encouragement
PHILADELPHIA, PA - Brett Brown was wary of Saturday’s game. Not just because of who the 76ers were hosting, but also because of its timing.
Only two days earlier had the Sixers returned from a season-long Western Conference trek that spanned 10 days, their cross-country flight not touching down in the Philadelphia area until dinner time Thursday.
After an idle day for rest on Friday, and an hour-long shootaround the next morning, there were the Sixers Saturday night, ready as they could be for action.
Brown, however, had a sense of what his group would be up against. In nearly two decades of coaching in the NBA, he’s come to learn that a team’s first game back after a lengthy road trip often presents a considerable challenge, regardless of opponent.
Making matters all the more complicated Saturday was that the Sixers were pitted against the defending champion Golden State Warriors.
For 24 minutes, Saturday’s sold-out affair at The Center flew in the face of that presumed narrative, as the Sixers soared to an outrageously promising start. But down the stretch, perhaps due to being shorthanded, tired, or a little bit of both, the Sixers were unable to keep up with their talented, accomplished, and deep counterpart.
The final score was Golden State 124, Sixers 116.
Just how dialed in were the Sixers from the jump?
They hung 47 first-quarter points on the Warriors, tied for the third-highest total in team history, en route to building a 22-point advantage by halftime. It was just the third time since the start of Steve Kerr’s coaching tenure that the Dubs had trailed by 20 points at the break.
With the Sixers’ margin at 82-66 four minutes into the third period, Golden State, triggered by its MVP tandem of Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, got going. The Warriors erupted for a 47-point quarter of their own, using a decisive 35-7 blitz to seize control.
“We opened up with 47 points, they started the second half with 47 points,” said Brett Brown. “They showed why they have as much firepower as any team that I’ve seen since I’ve been in the league.”
Curry paced all players with 35 points (11-22 fg, 4-9 3fg), tallying 20 of his points in the game-changing third quarter. Durant posted 27 points (11-20 fg), 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. Veteran David West came up large late, finishing with 14 points and 7 boards off the bench.
“I always worry when you come back from a West Coast road trip,” said Brown, who felt the Sixers, with only eight players available Saturday, showed signs of fatigue in the second half. “Some of it’s probably paranoia, I bet some of it’s fact. We’re not going to make any excuses. We put ourselves in a position to compete.”
The Sixers were led by Ben Simmons. With 23 points and 12 assists, he manufactured his second consecutive double-double, and 10th overall this campaign.
“Every loss stings, no matter who it is, especially if you’re up the amount of points we were up on a team like that,” Simmons said. “But you have to expect them to make a run, because they have a lot of great players.”
The turn that Saturday’s match-up took was indeed dramatic. In storming out to a 74-52 halftime advantage, the Sixers shot nearly 59 percent from the field, hit 7 of 15 3-pointers, and assisted on 20 of the 30 field goals, doing so against a defense entered Saturday rated fifth-best in the league.
On the flip side, the Sixers limited typically-accurate Golden State to a 1 for 10 showing from the perimeter in the opening stanza, while forcing 10 turnovers, which, by intermission, yielded a 17-0 disparity in points off turnovers.
“Defensively, we had a great start,” said Simmons, who began the evening guarding Draymond Green, but spent time covering the Warriors’ other stars as well.
“It wasn’t the volume of points that was obviously pleasing,” Brown said of the Sixers’ first half, “but how we got them that was most pleasing. I think defense...allowed our offense to go out and have that opportunity to score.”
Joel Embiid had 21 points (7-16 fg, 6-8 ft), 8 rebounds, and 3 assists in 33 minutes against the Warriors. He too, like his head coach and point main, realized the Sixers’ margin for error was slim.
“You’ve got to play for 48 minutes,” the center said. “A basketball game is 48 minutes, so you’ve got to come out and play for 48 minutes. You can’t just play for 24 minutes.”
But Saturday's first 24 minutes were sure worth remembering.
After a Klay Thompson (17 pts) lay-up made it a 13-11 game, the Sixers took off, with Embiid, Robert Covington (20 pts), and Dario Saric (13 pts, 10 reb) stringing together 3 threes in a row. Covington didn’t miss a single one of his 4 3-point attempts in the first quarter, which saw the Sixers reach the 40-point plateau with 2 minutes, 47 seconds to go.
The Sixers’ 47 points in the opening period marked their largest first-quarter output since March 30th, 1990, when they also pumped out 47 points to begin a game against the Denver Nuggets.
In Saturday’s second quarter, the Sixers refused to slow down. Simmons continued to have his way, and went into the locker room with 15 points and 9 dimes.
“Just attacking the rim, getting to the rim,” said Simmons, when asked about his first-half success. “Jump stops, and trying to find guys.”
As was the case in the Sixers’ hard-fought loss last Saturday at Oracle Arena, the Dubs made their move in the third quarter, backing up their status as the top-scoring third-quarter team in the league (31.8 ppg prior to Saturday’s tip).
Even in defeat, the Sixers were able to identify some positive takeaways.
“You look at it and you say, we can play with them,” Brown concluded. “They are the clear-cut league’s best, in my opinion, and many other people’s opinions. And we feel good about how we played for large majorities of the game.”
“We showed, certainly in the first half, how good we could be, not just offensively, but defensively, and the way we executed our game plan,” said JJ Redick, who accounted for 20 points (8-16 fg, 2-4 3fg). “That third quarter was too much to overcome.”
During that segment of the contest, Golden State nailed 17 of 25 shots, compared to the Sixers, which were 7 for 22. The Sixers also committed 7 of their 12 cough-ups in the third, with the Warriors scoring on each one.
“They’re the NBA champs,” said Brown. “That was a mood swing for sure.”
Nonetheless, the Sixers, in two pairings with Golden State, demonstrated they could hang. The task moving forward is figuring out how to more consistently apply those good spurts for longer stretches.
Amidst a spectacular start to his professional career, Ben Simmons has delivered plenty of spectacular plays. This spinning lay-up from Saturday’s convincing first half, in which the Aussie himself was a force to be reckoned with, certainly ranks as one of his finest moves to-date.
My goodness. pic.twitter.com/j2IyOSPHTQ
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) November 16, 2017
The Sixers’ season-long six-game homestand rolls along Monday, when they host the Utah Jazz. The tilt will be the second and final one this season between the two clubs. The Sixers visited Salt Lake City two weeks ago, earning a 104-97 victory. Mired by injuries, the latest ones sustained by Rudy Gobert and Rick Rubio, Utah picked up just its second win in its last nine tries, blowing out the Orlando Magic 125-85 Saturday.