Game Recap | Strong Second Half Clinches Third Straight Win
Not too long ago, the 76ers (12-7) were a feisty, young team looking to gain some respect from more experienced peers around the rest of the NBA.
Recent seasons, however, have yielded collective progress, and, along with it, newfound success and promise.
Monday at The Center, it was the Phoenix Suns (3-13) that assumed the underdog role, and, especially at the outset, played it to a tee.
Led by their All-Star big man, and a potent performance from the free throw stripe, the Sixers found a way, hanging on for a 119-114 victory.
The win marked a season-high third straight for the Sixers, and extended their regular season home winning streak to a 19th consecutive contest.
“We started off really slow,” said Joel Embiid, “but obviously, we picked it up.”
The 7-footer was a critical factor in changing the tone.
The Sixers trailed by as many as 15 points in the opening stanza, and by five points at the break, 62-57. But at the start of the third quarter, there was Embiid, ready to rock.
He came out and scored 14 points in the period, en route to posting a game-best 33.
Embiid also added 17 rebounds, giving him his 11th 30-point, 10-rebound showing of the season. As of Monday morning, no other player in the league had generated more than four such outings.
The two other members of the newly formed PHILA 3 turned in quality lines as well. Ben Simmons had a big second half too, finishing with 19 points, 11 boards, and nine assists.
Jimmy Butler chipped in with 16 points, his 8 for 8 performance from the foul line representative of one of the critical big picture themes of the night.
The Sixers went 31 for 42 on free throws (73.8%), while the Suns were just 13 for 24 (54.2%).
Another noteworthy statistical disparity was to be found on the glass. The Sixers were plus-22 in rebounds, plus-8 in offensive rebounds, and outscored Phoenix 21-0 in second-chance points.
“In my opinion, when I study this stat sheet, the game was won because of our offensive rebounding,” said Brown. “We turned the ball over (19 times), but we recouped some of those possessions because we got second-chance points.”
Mike Muscala was a critical ingredient to helping this cause. Not only did he tally a season-best 19 points Monday, he hauled in five rebounds (3 offensive), while going 9 for 11 from the stripe.
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Embiid Embodies Essential Spirit
As Monday’s game moved along, Joel Embiid only got better.
He scored four points in the opening quarter, and 10 more in the second, before erupting for 14 of his 33 in period no. 3.
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) November 20, 2018
Embiid was particularly impactful in the early stages of the third, as he punched in all but two of points during a pivotal 10-2 surge that ended up giving the Sixers their first lead.
The All-Star capped the spurt by converting an and-1 lay-up.
“My teammates put me in the best position to turn it on, and I did what I did,” Embiid said.
Throughout Monday’s match-up, Embiid squared off with this year’s no. 1 pick, Deandre Ayton. The two were on the court together 20 minutes, with the Sixers outscoring the Suns by 13 points amidst this stretch.
For as much potential as Ayton possesses, Embiid was playing at a higher level.
“I love his spirit,” Brett Brown said of Embiid. “I really thought his spirit was great tonight. When he started having that body language, you try to get him the ball.”
The Sixers succeeded in doing so, and the tactic flipped the game.
When it comes to the subject of the Sixers and their spirit, the conversation, in some ways, can start and end with Timothy John McConnell.
Even though the 26-year old’s playing time this season has dipped compared to previous years, his demeanor has remained the same. Energetic, engaging, determined, defiant, passionate.
Heading into Monday’s match-up with the Phoenix Suns, McConnell hadn’t appeared in three straight games. It was subsequently heartwarming to see the sellout crowd of 20,459 at The Center greet him with a standing ovation when he first subbed in with half a minute to go in the second quarter.
Later on, midway through the third period, Brett Brown went to McConnell again. Why?
The head coach felt his squad needed a boost.
Enter McConnell, and his high energy approach. He and the fans fed off one another while the Sixers were taking control of the game.
“We had a slow start tonight, but we didn’t panic - guys stepped up,” said Ben Simmons. “T.J. came out and that was huge for us. We played great.”
The Sixers were ahead by five points when McConnell checked in with three minutes, 40 seconds left in the third quarter. By the time he subbed out, the Sixers held a 10-point lead.
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) November 20, 2018
“I thought when T.J. came in, he did a great job getting steals and picking up full court,” said Mike Muscala, whom McConnell, right before exiting in the fourth, set up for a transition dunk. “I think we ran well, we played aggressive and we made a point tonight to try and get a lot of shots at the rim, and I think that helped us a lot in the second half.
For the game, McConnell wound up with 2 points, one rebound, one assist, and two steals. More telling was his plus-6 rating in eight minutes.
Muscala Makes Mark
For Brett Brown, selecting Monday’s post-game bell-ringer sounded like ia pretty straightforward choice.
He went with Mike Muscala, who, in 22 minutes, not only supplied 19 points, but offered the Sixers a live, active rebounder on both sides of the floor.
It was advantages the Sixers established on the backboards and at the free throw line that enabled them to pull out Monday’s victory over the Suns.
Muscala was big in both the rebounding (5 reb, 3 oreb) and foul shooting departments (9-11).
The Sixers viewed Muscala as a key off-season acquisition. Now healthy, he’s been proving his worth.
“It’s really fun playing here for me,” he said.
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The Sixers’ homestand rolls on, as they host the New Orleans Pelicans (9-7) in a Thanksgiving Eve clash. Last year, New Orleans enjoyed a breakthrough campaign, reaching the second round of the payoffs for just the second time in franchise history. To no surprise, Pels All-Star big man Anthony Davis is putting up strong numbers. As of Monday, he ranked fifth in the NBA in scoring (27.5 ppg), and second in blocks (2.8 bpg).