In Review | Year Ends on Winning Note
If you've got to close out a year, why not do it on a winning note, with some modest momentum on your side?.
With four starters reaching the 20-point mark, that's the approach the 76ers took Sunday, fending off the Phoenix Suns, 123-110, at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
The victory was the Sixers’ second straight, and third in their last four tries. The triumph also allowed the team to complete a season-high tying five-game road trip with a reinvigorating 3-2 record.
Playing his best basketball of the season as 2017 drew to a close, Dario Saric paced the Sixers with 27 points (9-13 fg, 4-5 3fg). Ben Simmons, who notched 21 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 steals, was pivotal in crunch time, while Joel Embiid and JJ Redick each supplied 22 points.
Sunday's outcome, along with the way the Sixers ended the calendar year, left Brett Brown with an encouraging, collective impression.
"The togetherness," said the fifth-year head coach, whose squad battled ups-and-downs throughout the month of December. "It's always fragile when you lose, possibly, and there is a genuine sort of friendship these guys have with each other."
Throughout the evening, Embiid was a presence, particularly in the second half. Returning to action after sitting out Saturday in what was the frontend of a back-to-back, the big man generated a staggering, telling plus-32 rating. His buckets at the end of the third and start of the fourth quarters ensured the Sixers stayed in front with the Suns threatening.
"You look at his plus-minus, plus-32, I haven't seen that before," Brown said of Embiid. "That's indicative of what he means to us."
Simmons, meanwhile, assumed a crucial role in getting the Sixers safely across the finish line. He notched 11 points in the last seven minutes of regulation, and built the backbone of the Sixers' game-ending 18-6 run.
"I thought he was great," said Brown. "I thought Ben took control of the game. Him walking down the game at the end...I thought he was special tonight."
"I know coach needs me to be more aggressive offensively," Simmons said, "so I definitely had to do that this game."
The Sixers’ 2017 finale started auspiciously, as a 14-0 surge in the opening minutes of regulation immediately put them in the driver’s seat, 16-4, and set the tone for a solid first half. Phoenix managed to whittle the deficit to six, 38-32, after 12 minutes of play, but the Sixers strung together a 15-2 spurt to regain control early on in the second period.
By the break, the Sixers’ margin stood at 63-49, a relatively comfortable cushion, especially given that their turnover total had started to creep up just prior to intermission.
Aiding the club’s cause was the defense it deployed on Devin Booker, who at that juncture had mustered only 4 points on 1 for 6 shooting. The potent guard went for a season-best 46 points when the Sixers and Suns met for the first time back on December 4th
Sunday’s third quarter started much like the previous two, with the Sixers in command. A 3-pointer from Saric at the nine minute mark widened the gap to 76-58, and it felt like the Sixers were poised to put Phoenix away.
Then, thanks to a series of three straight threes, the Suns not only started to fight back, they eventually seized the lead, 87-84, on a traditional 3-point play from Booker. Embiid helped steered the Sixers back ahead going into the fourth, 92-89, then notched the first four points of the final frame.
Phoenix twice drew to within a point down the stretch, but the Sixers starters stepped up to seal the deal. Simmons spun home an impressive reverse lay-up to make it 107-104, then proceeded to knock down three free throws on the Sixers’ next two possessions.
The foul shots capped a stretch of 7 straight points from the rookie.
With 91 seconds to go, Redick punched in a clutch triple that gave the Sixers a 119-108 edge, and sent the fans to the exits.
"I think we're just in a good rhythm right now," Simmons said, following a win that the Sixers hope will springboard them into 2018. "We're getting better at closing out games, knowing what we need to do."
We’re partial, of course, but the wit and witticism of @sixers rarely disappoints. The day after totaling 6 points in Denver, Ben Simmons had racked up 8 points by Sunday’s intermission break. Two of his three first-half baskets came on dunks, with this one below being his second.
The ball drops at midnight, but the hammer drops now. pic.twitter.com/mv6Lv1O2CW
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) January 1, 2018
The Sixers will step onto the court for the first time in the new calendar year Wednesday for their first meeting of the season against the San Antonio Spurs. As of Sunday, San Antonio was holding the third-place spot in the Western Conference. Two-time All-Star Kawhi Leonard returned from a quad injury three weeks ago, but in games the versatile small forward has played in, the Spurs have managed to go just 2-4. LaMarcus Aldridge, who inked a three-year extension with San Antonio this October, leads the Spurs in scoring and rebounding.