Snapshots | Team Closes '18 Home Schedule With Win Over Toronto
Words: Brian Seltzer
Photos: Kurt Gies
It wasn’t as much about who played or who didn’t, but that a critical stretch of the schedule began in promising fashion.
With a season-high five consecutive road games and match-ups with top-tier opponents looming on the horizon, the 76ers (22-12) ended up soundly dispatching the Toronto Raptors (25-10), 126-101, Saturday at The Center.
Ben Simmons was fantastic from start to finish, posting a season-best 26 points. He missed only two of his 13 shots, and grabbed 12 rebounds for his 22nd double-double of the year.
The Aussie added eight assists to just one turnover, too.
The Sixers’ victory moved them to within 2.5 games of Toronto, which leads the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference overall. The Raptors, which were without Kawhi Leonard, Serge Ibaka, and Jonas Valanciunas, beat the Sixers twice at home earlier this season.
“It was a good win,” said Joel Embiid, who, in appropriately measured fashion, noted that Toronto was missing “three great players.”
“I was kind of bummed they weren’t playing, because this game to me was marked on my calendar.”
Like Simmons, Embiid enjoyed a strong scoring showing, notching a team-best 27 points (10-15 fg), to go with 11 boards for his league-leading 28th double-double.
JJ Redick was the Sixers’ third 20-point man. He finished with 22, and a team-high plus-26 rating.
For as solid as the Sixers’ starting unit was against Toronto, their bench provided key contributions as well. Furkan Korkmaz went for 16 points (6-9 fg, 2-5 3fg), and T.J. McConnell handed out seven dimes (zero turns).
Jonah Bolden enjoyed arguably his finest night as a pro at the NBA level. He racked up nine rebounds, four blocks, and four points.
All said and done, the Sixers completed the 2018 calendar year with a 39-4 mark in regular season games at The Center.
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BOLDEN’S CAREER NIGHT
With Wilson Chandler sidelined (quad), and Mike Muscala in early foul trouble, Brett Brown went to rookie big man Jonah Bolden relatively soon, roughly five minutes into regulation.
The rangy Australian didn’t disappoint, offering an immediate defensive spark by stuffing a Greg Monroe shot six seconds after subbing in.
Over the next two minutes, Bolden turned aside Danny Green and Kyle Lowry. By the end of the night, another veteran, C.J. Miles, would wind up on the Bolden block list.
The 6-foot-10 UCLA product snagged a career-high nine rebounds, too.
“He was huge defensively, blocking a lot of shots and offensively, getting to the rim,” Ben Simmons said of his fellow countryman. “I loved the way he came in and affected the game.”
Bolden’s 25 minutes were a personal-high, and Friday marked his 10th NBA appearance. Two days earlier, he was in Las Vegas, playing for the Delaware Blue Coats in the annual G League Showcase.
“My whole mentality was knowing that whatever my role or position Coach had for me, I just had to do it,” said Bolden.
Relying on a combination of athleticism and positionally versatility, the 22-year old was certainly ready. Sooner or later, Brown said, the Sixers were going to work the 2017 no. 36 pick into the rotation more.
The team had been eyeing the Western Conference portion of its upcoming road trip, but circumstances thrust Bolden into the fray a little bit sooner than that.
“When you watch him run, he really can move he gets up and down the court, and I just loved his energy,” Brown said. “He’s somebody that we’ve paid attention to for a while in relation to trying to get him on a court, and tonight he did a good job, and we felt it was his time.”
EMBIID AIMS FOR EFFICIENCY
By the time Joel Embiid went to the bench for his first breather, he had attempted three shots (making one), all from 12 feet or deeper.
When the All-Star returned to the floor late in Saturday’s opening period, he turned his attention inside. The approach yielded positive returns, especially in the second quarter.
Embiid scored five of the Sixers’ first seven points in the frame, then delivered key deposits right before halftime to break a tie, and power his team in front.
The majority of his work came around the basket.
“I feel like my efficiency is getting back to where it should be,” said Embiid, who recently made the conscious choice to shoot fewer 3-pointers (for the first time in his career, he’s gone consecutive games without a 3-point attempt).
The Sixers’ last two outings, Embiid has converted 20 of 32 field goal attempts. He believes he should never shoot under 50.0 percent.
“When he plays that way, I think he is unstoppable,” Ben Simmons said. “I think he draws a lot of attention, and once he really learns how to find guys, it’s going to be tough to stop us.”
“He was dominant in the first half,” said Brett Brown. “Then I thought like other people, he got involved and shared that load in the second half.”
Ben Simmons was one of the Sixers’ highest usage players (21.3%) Saturday, yet he only committed one turnover against Toronto.
It just might have been the most important stat to the reigning Rookie of the Year from an all-around well-rounded effort.
“I say every game has been the focus of ‘I don’t want to turn the ball over,’” Simmons said. “As a guy who has the ball a long time, I don’t want to be the guy with the most turnovers. It’s not easy, but I think, every night, I try to pay attention a little more offensively, what sets we’re running.”
To no surprise, it was Ben Simmons who was at the helm of the Sixers’ most potent offensive transition performance of the season (33 fast-break points).
For a second straight year, the Sixers will mark the Christmas holiday by playing on the highest-profile date on the NBA’s regular season calendar. This time around, the Boston Celtics are the opponent, and the site will be TD Garden. As of Saturday, Boston was in the midst of a three-game losing streak, after registering a season-best eight straight wins in a row. The C’s beat the Sixers, 101-87, back on opening night.