Game Review | Massive Comeback Sends Sixers Surging Into Break

by Brian Seltzer Reporter


Leading up to and throughout an important stretch that punctuated the 76ers’ pre-All Star break schedule, Brett Brown used every possible opportunity he could to remind his team of the objective at hand.

Buckle down, defend home court, and head into the break strong.

So zeroed in on this pursuit was Brown that he went as far as to have numerical signs created at the Sixers’ training complex and inside their home locker room that walked down the wins needed to achieve a perfect homestand.

Having won the first four games of their week-long stay at The Center, the Sixers had already shown just how seriously they heeded their head coach’s message. Wednesday’s remarkably resilient effort was simply icing on the cake, an emphatic reaffirmation.

Confronting a deficit as large as 24 points in a pivotal Eastern Conference pairing, while playing without All-Star center Joel Embiid (load management), the Sixers still managed to keep a promising surge alive, overcoming the Miami Heat, 104-102.

In spite of challenging circumstances, Brown’s group rose to the occasion, and was able to cross off that lone remaining number “1” that Brown made sure his players saw before taking the court.

The 24-point hole the Sixers dug themselves out of Monday was their biggest in a win since a November 14th, 2008 victory over the Indiana Pacers. That night, the Sixers were down 25 through one quarter of play.

By no means is Brown in the business of ranking wins, but given the odds the Sixers were up against, even he sounded impressed afterwards.

“It’s high, it could be number one,” he said. “It feels like it’s the best as I speak.”

Also worth noting Monday was that in addition to capping off their homestand in perfect fashion, the Sixers reached the 30-win mark as well. The last time they had done that by the All-Star break was the 2000-2001 campaign.

“Every game we play is big, especially against a team like that in the same conference,” said Ben Simmons, who advanced the Sixers’ comeback with two tie-breaking dunks, a go-ahead assist, and two steals in the final five minutes of regulation. “That was a huge win for us.”

Sparked by a 12-0 run midway through Wednesday’s third quarter, the Sixers came roaring back. They outscored Miami 34-19 in the period, then 31-21 in the fourth.

Simmons was vital to Sixers’ enormous finishing kick, ending the evening with 18 points (8-15 fg), 12 rebounds, 10 assists, and 4 steals. The triple-double was his sixth of the season, moving him into third place all-time for the most triple-doubles ever registered by a rookie.

In the absence of Embiid, there were plenty of other Sixers who stepped up. Dario Saric, who supplied a spirited lift in the third quarter, produced 19 points (5-12 fg, 3-8 3fg, 6-6 ft), 8 rebounds, and 3 assists. JJ Redick tallied 14 points, and came up with several clutch shots late, including a 3-pointer that made it 97-94, and a jumper that nudged the Sixers’ lead to three, 102-99, with 19.4 seconds to go.

It would be hard to imagine, though, how things would have ended up Wednesday without the boost the Sixers got from their bench. Marco Belinelli, signed Monday as a free agent, netted 17 points (7-12 fg, 3-5 3fg), erupting for 11 points in the fourth quarter.

Summoned into extended duty in Embiid’s absence, Richaun Holmes accounted for 11 points and 9 boards. His fellow reserve forward Trevor Booker added 9 points and 9 rebounds, and assumed a major role in helping the Sixers to a staggering 60-29 rebounding advantage (the Sixers were plus-20 on the offensive glass).

“We looked at the schedule, saw we had a homestand, and wanted to take care of home,” said Booker.

With Wednesday’s triumph, the Sixers increased their lead over Miami in the Eastern Conference standings to 1.5 games.

“The ecosystem changed a little bit when there’s no Joel,” admitted Brown. “That we were losing by 24 at home, claw back, and have a tremendous win to achieve our goal of winning the five games at home sure makes the holiday a heck of a lot more enjoyable.”

Two-Way Play Triggers Turnaround

Following Wednesday’s win, which moved the Sixers to a season-best five games over .500, and matched the team’s longest streak of the year, Brett Brown said he viewed the match-up with Miami as a “mini playoff audition.”

“They’re hanging around us, we’re hanging around them,” said Brown. “It [was] an important game, in our eyes it was.”

Granted the Sixers were missing Joel Embiid, but halfway through Wednesday’s contest, the head coach probably expected more from his group, which, at that point, was down 62-39. The deficit was the Sixers’ largest of the season through two quarters.

Then, in the second half, everything changed, and the Sixers played up to the stakes. They outscored Miami 65-40 the rest of the way, while shooting 51.1 percent from the field, and limiting the Heat to 37.1 percent.

Rebounding was especially key to the Sixers’ win, as was shoring up their interior defense.

“We knew we could make a comeback,” said Trevor Booker, when asked about the Sixers’ halftime mindset. “We just came in here, and talk about what we’ve been doing wrong. We had to buckle down on defense, and that’s what we did.”

During the intermission break, Brown gave the Sixers a road map to find their way out.

“We felt that within this room, we have enough firepower offensively, but nothing can happen unless we just have some level of sting to our defense,” he said.

Sure enough, shots started falling in the third quarter, and the Sixers’ defense stiffened. The combination of these factors resulted in a memorable win.

“We’ve come a long way from the start of the season, learning to close out games,” said Ben Simmons. “[It] just shows what kind of team we are.”

Belinelli Boost

While the Sixers believe Marco Belinelli will aid their post-season push in a variety of ways, 3-point shooting and, in turn, scoring off the bench rank right at the top of the list.

Wednesday, the 31-year old didn’t disappoint in respect to either of these two fronts.
After scoring his first three baskets of the night from inside the arc on a pair of driving lay-ups and a long jumper, Belinelli went into heat check mode to start the fourth quarter. He scored the Sixers’ first 9 points of the frame, all on triples.

Then, with two minutes, 25 seconds left in regulation, and Wednesday’s game on the line, the Italian came up with a clutch finger roll lay-up that made it 100-94.

Brett Brown called Belinelli’s debut a “great introduction to our city.”

“That’s why we brought him in,” said Brown. “I give tremendous credit to [President of Basketball Operations] Bryan Colangelo for making this happen. We gave up no assets to bring him in, and we bring in somebody that can change a game like that. Bryan deserves a lot of credit.”

For as much as the Sixers coveted Belinelli’s trusted, veteran services, he too wanted to join a young, determined franchise that, by all accounts, is on the rise.

“I want to be on this team so bad,” Belinelli said. “Just play with guys that go on the court, and try to be better, and they want to win so bad. It’s something I really missed the last few years.”

With the hunger and urgency Belinelli competed with Wednesday, he should fit in with the Sixers just fine.

One Part Poise, One Part Tenacity

As far as intangible factors that made a difference in Wednesday’s game, several stood out to Brett Brown.

On the one hand, there was Ben Simmons’ calm, in-control demeanor. Amidst pressure, the Aussie once again kept his cool

“He has tremendous poise,” said Brown. “You take a college four-man, you make him an NBA point guard, and you kind of say, ‘Good luck, figure it out.’ He’s able to navigate that landscape flawlessly, he’s not phased at all.”

Combining with Simmons’ quiet confidence and grace, you then had the rugged, no-nonsense interior efforts of reserve forwards Trevor Booker and Richaun Holmes. Brown praised the duo’s for being tenacious, specifically in regards to gobbling up rebounds.

“We needed every one of them,” Brown said. “The level of desperation we needed to show to come back from that type of massive deficit, you were so attuned to finishing the play.”

“That’s what we do,” Booker said of himself and Holmes. “We both bring energy. When both of us are on it, it’s tough. That’s what we do. We brought the energy, and just try to get the team going. That’s what we did.”

Sixers Social:

Joel Embiid wasn’t available to play in the Sixers’ final game before the break, but the organization did recognize the big man prior to tip-off by presenting him with the jersey he’ll wear in this year’s All-Star Game. The first Sixer voted an All-Star starter since 2010, Embiid will suit up for Team Stephen this Sunday at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles.

Up Next:

The Sixers’ first game back from the All-Star break will be Thursday, February 22nd at United Center against the Chicago Bulls. The teams have split their first two meetings of the season. Between now and then, there will be plenty of Sixers flavor to be found during All-Star Weekend. On Friday, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, and Ben Simmons are slated to participate in the Mtn Dew Kickstart Rising Stars Challenge (9 pm est). Then Saturday, Embiid will be involved in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge (8 pm est), before playing in Sunday’s All-Star Game itself (8 pm est).


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