Game Review | Simmons Marks Australian Heritage Night in Style
SOUTH PHILADELPHIA - Australian Heritage Night was what the 76ers celebrated Wednesday at The Center, and Ben Simmons ensured the night played out in perfect, apropos fashion.
Yes, there were the commemorative white t-shirts draped over every single seat of a sold out arena, the giveaway amplifying the evening’s theme. There were miniature Australian flags to wave, Four’N Twenty meat pie eating contests, and even a famed former Aussie Rules Football star in attendance, too.
But if it was Australian pride you were looking to feel Wednesday, there was no reason to look beyond the performance of the country’s native son.
On the day he was named to the Mtn Dew Kickstart Rising Stars Challenge, Simmons showed precisely why so many consider his future to be so bright. With 19 points (6-15 fg, 7-10 ft), 17 rebounds, and 14 assists, the 21-year old point man was indeed that dominant, guiding the Sixers to a bounce-back 115-101 victory over the Chicago Bulls.
There was no late rash of turnovers, or leads lost Wednesday. The triumph was an encouraging, convincing response to Monday’s tough loss in Memphis, and the Sixers’ Rookie of the Year candidate assumed a pivotal role in setting the tone.
By the end of one quarter, Simmons nearly had pulled off a double-double, with 8 points, and 11 rebounds. By halftime, he was well on his way to a triple-double, having tallied 11 points, 13 boards, and 8 dimes.
49 seconds into the third period, a noteworthy feat had been accomplished.
Assisting on a pair of Robert Covington (16 pts, 4 3fgm, 4 reb, 5 ast) 3-pointers, Simmons had clinched his fifth triple-double of the season, the most for a rookie since Magic Johnson set an NBA record with seven in the 1979-1980 campaign.
Why was Simmons so big Wednesday night, compared to all other nights, Brett Brown was asked during his post-game news conference?
“Cause it’s Australian Heritage Night,” joked the head coach, who lived Down Under for 17 years himself.
When Wednesday’s final horn sounded, Simmons had posted splits in points, rebounds, and assists that no Sixer besides Wilt Chamberlain had ever previously achieved. Simmons became just the second rookie in NBA history to hit the marks, with Steve Francis (in 2000, with the Houston Rockets) being the other.
“We had a job to do tonight, and we got it done,” said Simmons. “Everyone had to step up, from the guys on the bench to everyone starting.”
That he cranked out such eye-popping numbers in a game the Sixers dedicated to honoring Australia?
“I think it’s perfect,” Simmons said with a chuckle.
As critical as Simmons’ contributions were to the Sixers’ ninth win in 12 games, so too was the club’s steady hand from outside the arc. The Sixers poured in 16 of their 32 3-point attempts.
Chicago, meanwhile, was just 11 for 37, with five of its triples coming in the fourth frame. At that point, the Sixers were comfortably in control.
Joel Embiid paced all Sixers with 22 points (10-17 fg), and Dario Saric added 21 points and 10 boards for his second straight double-double.
Consistent throughout the Sixers’ wire-to-wire win Wednesday was their commitment to defense. In addition to bottling up the Bulls on the perimeter, the Sixers limited the visitors to 38.3 percent shooting from the field overall.
Glass Game Key to Simmons’ Strong Showing
Less than a minute into Wednesday’s game, Ben Simmons grabbed his first rebound.
The Sixers’ rookie wouldn’t snag another for nearly two more minutes, but after that, he gobbled them up in rapid fashion, especially in the middle stages of the first period.
Simmons had collected 9 rebounds before he had played 9 minutes. His efforts on the glass, Brett Brown felt, represented the gateway to a massive performance, and held the key to the damage Simmons was subsequently able to do on the opposite end of the floor.
“He rebounded, and instigated a lot himself,” said Brown. “He’s able to control stuff when he rebounds and takes off. I still think that’s the hardest thing to guard. Back in the day, you’d see Charles Barkley do that. It’s hard to defend.”
It definitely was for the Chicago Bulls.
Simmons agreed with Brown’s take on the ripple effects of his rebounding. He also made it a point to be more aggressive, whether it was on the backboards, attacking the rack, or spreading the rock around.
“I just feel like I’m trying to do what I can to help the team win, and tonight was that night,” Simmons said.
Embiid Passing Impresses
Similarly to Ben Simmons, and unlike Monday’s game in Memphis, Joel Embiid was dialed-in against the Chicago Bulls, and early on, at that.
The 7-footer’s night began with a 20-footer that marked the Sixers’ first basket. He then blocked a Brook Lopez shot on Chicago’s ensuing possession.
The aspect of Embiid’s outing that was most pleasing to Brett Brown, however, was his passing. If you watched Wednesday’s game, specifically the second half, it might have been surprising to see that in the final box score, Embiid was only credited with three assists.
To the naked eye, it seemed like the big man was more involved in the Sixers’ passing attack than that. The way Brown saw it, the numbers represented just part of the story.
“I thought it was Joel’s best game passing out of the post,” said the head coach. “The fact is, he quarterbacked the gym. It’s the hockey assists - the assist that leads to the assists.”
Unofficially, Embiid manufactured three of those “hockey” - or “secondary” - assists between Wednesday’s third and fourth quarters.
When Embiid operates at this level, Brown thinks the center’s game goes to an entirely different level of special.
“It’s one of the greatest challenges to have somebody as skilled as Joel is play with that poise, and know where his floor spots are,” Brown said. “We spaced well, almost perfectly, most possessions. He had let the gym get settled, he wasn’t rushing things. There was a poise on how he quarterbacked the gym that was just extremely important.”
Rising Stars Shine
Less than an hour before Wednesday’s tip-off, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, and Ben Simmons learned they had been chosen to play for Team World in the 2018 Mtn Dew KickStart Rising Stars Challenge.
The trio then proceeded to go out and provide standout performances in the Sixers’ one-sided win over the Chicago Bulls. All said and done, the Embiid-Saric-Simmons combo yielded 62 points (54% of Sixers’ total), 32 rebounds (67%), and 19 assists (61%).
Brett Brown wasn’t sure it was purely coincidental that those three players rose to the occasion the same night they were announced as part of the NBA’s yearly rookie-sophomore showcase.
“I think it’s just a not-negotiable example that we have players who people recognize, and the pain we’ve endured is producing fruits,” Brown said. “I’m proud of those guys they can be recognized, but I’m especially proud of the city, the endurance it has shown, the ownership has shown, my coaching staff. Here we are, and we like the foundation, and we intend on building it through development, and acquiring more [talent] down the road. It’s a good statement for our program.”
“It’s an honor,” Simmons said of being included in All-Star Weekend. “I’m blessed to be in that position. I’m glad that Dario and [Embiid] will be there with me.”
Ben Simmons stuffed the stat sheet in plenty of ways against the Chicago Bulls, but more than anything, Wednesday was about the rookie’s prodigious, on-point passing. Here’s a look a beaut he dialed up in the second quarter:
Ben RoCo. pic.twitter.com/RAcUAMcwCV
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) January 25, 2018
Starting Friday, the Sixers will be on the road for five straight games, beginning with their second and final match-up of the season against the San Antonio Spurs. Earlier this week, San Antonio announced that All-Star Kawhi Leonard would be shut down indefinitely in an effort to further address his pesky right quadriceps injury. This development, combined with the Spurs’ 5-5 record in its last 10 games, has made for somewhat of a bumpy month for the perennial Western Conference power, which recently moved Tony Parker to the bench in favor of Dejounte Murray.