It’s hard for me to get used to the sensation of watching a real team. I have a Pavlovian response to Sixers basketball:
- Expect putrid offense
- Expect leads to evaporate
- Expect few to no spectacular plays from our guys
- Expect to lose any games we are in at the end
Welp. None of those happened tonight as the Sixers lead wire-to-wire en route to their most impressive win since Good Ship Process set sail.
And the biggest adjustment has been just how enjoyable the entire experience is now. Simmons can really run an NBA offense. Embiid is a Defensive Player of the Year candidate if he plays enough games. The two of them working magic together is a luxury most fanbases don’t get to experience ever; getting it right now when those are my expectations is like... some simile about unexpected joys that my brain is too dead to think of right now.
What was most impressive was the way in which the Sixers succeeded— after years of only getting successful possessions when they were able to create turnovers, Simmons orchestrated a clinical halfcourt offense tonight. According to Cleaning the Glass, the Sixers scored 104.5 points per 100 possessions in the halfcourt, good for an 85th percentile offense. Ben and Embiid were simply able to get to wherever they wanted; their passing and size was overwhelming for the smaller Rockets players.
Both superstars had outstanding games, despite struggling with turnovers (a common theme for this Sixers squad). Ben put up a career high 24 points, 7 rebounds, and 9 assists, which could have easily gotten into double digits if a few more open shots had been converted.
JoJo struggled with foul trouble throughout. He’s still not getting superstar respect on either end of the court, and it’s hurting him. However, after picking up his 5th foul with 4 minutes to play, he buckled down and finished out the game, contributing 22 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, and a blocked shot to the effort. Embiid is a singular, world-altering presence on defense, and Rockets severely struggled to score against the Sixers with him in the game. He still hasn’t quite gotten to the heights of last season, but it’s a totally different game with him out there.
The Rockets stayed in the game by running off of rebounds and exploiting the Sixers’ poor transition defense. James Harden got to the line at will and had his usual 29 points and 7 assists, including 12 FTA’s. However, the Rockets didn’t get much from their supporting players (outside of a fun performance from our old friend Luc Richard Mbah a Moute), and the Sixers got quite a lot from their role players.
TJ morphed into full-on 3J tonight, going 3-3 from deep and pestering Harden with his D. He still record scratches too much, but he showed much better confidence shooting than he ever has the last two years.
TLC and Dario, meanwhile, put in performances that reminded us of what they were at their best last year. A last minute DNP for JJ Redick meant that Dario was moved into the starting lineup, and he took advantage of the opportunity by hitting his jumpers and working his usual post-up game against the smaller Houston players. TLC started out 4-4 with 11 first half points, scoring off the dribble, in the open court, on backdoor cuts, and on spot-up attempts, showing again what the Sixers hope he can contribute as the team works towards championship contention.
And I would be remiss not to mention Amir Johnson, who had by far his best game in a Sixers jersey. After a mini feud with our old friend Jake Pavorsky on Twitter, he put up an efficient 12 points and 10 rebounds, and played generally solid defense (despite getting cooked on a James Harden iso).
But this really came down to Embiid and Simmons being too much to handle. It’s going to become a familiar refrain over the coming years, but sometimes basketball boils down to simply having the two best players on the court. Tonight, they were playing for the Sixers. Here’s to many more nights like it.