After taking his first win against his mentor earlier this month, Brett Brown and company traveled down to Texas, to notch their first win in San Antonio since 2004. Yes, you read that right: 2004. Back in 2004, “Yeah!” by Usher was at the top of Billboard’s Hot 100. Justin Timberlake is performing at halftime at the Superbowl this year. Remember what happened last time he did it...in 2004?
The last time the Sixers won in San Antonio, Eric Snow, Derrick Coleman, and Glenn Robinson (the elder) were their three leading scorers. Greg Buckner and Kenny Thomas came in behind them.— Kyle Neubeck (@KyleNeubeck) January 27, 2018
Holy Joel Embiid, we’ve come a loooooooooooong way.
The 76ers have been playing some remarkable ball as of late, slaying playoff worthy team after team and trying to overcome demons of their own. The 2nd half bug-a-boo has been on everyone’s mind, especially since it reared it’s ugly head again recently against Memphis. The Chicago Bulls were a good team to rebound against but it’s game like this versus a better, more experienced group that have more substance. The results were surprising to say the least.
The game started off a little sloppy as neither teams’ shots were falling. Following a transition bucket by Ben Simmons, Gregg Popovich called an early time out despite the score only being 7-5. Out of that time out, however, it was the 76ers that began to take over. The team (in a very Marc Zumoff voice) locked all windows and doors, as their suffocating defense allowed only 13 points in the first and only 31 points in the half. Offensively, the Sixers continued to play their brand of offense of pace and passing with one particular exception: only committing 1 turnover at the half. The combination of great defense and effective offense helped the team build a 19 point lead going into halftime.
Coming out of the 2nd half, the thought in everyone’s (read: my) mind was if the Sixers could keep it up. The Spurs looked to get back into the game by drawing fouls early in the 3rd. But the Sixers good defense and good shooting continued. Even when it felt like the Spurs were making in-roads, the Sixers were able to keep them at arm’s length. A 20 point lead going into the fourth? Will they hold on? SOMEONE HOLD ME.
Listen, I’ve been bit by the concern-troll bug when it comes to double-digit leads. I’ve seen too much, lived through it quite enough. So even though 76ers never let the lead shrink past around 15 or 16 points, I was treating every possession as if it were the last possession in a 1 point game of a Game 7 in the NBA Playoffs. Only when Brett emptied the bench with around 2-3 minutes remaining did the anxiety flutter away. Let’s just say, the Eagles being in the Super Bowl will only be practice for if and when the 76ers play a 7-game series. (GO BIRDS!)
A 19 point victory against the Spurs is not something to downplay, Kawhi or no Kawhi. The Spurs are 27-14 without Leonard. Holding them to 3-24 beyond the arc and under 80 points for the whole game, while only committing 9 turnovers is impressive against any opponent, much less the San Antonio Spurs.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention anything about our two main stars. Joel Embiid had a pretty “average” (lol) game by his standards. Putting up 18 points on 15 shots wasn’t that efficient but made sense as he relied heavily on jumpers on offense (mostly because he rarely found himself deep in the paint). However, he continued to show great passing out of double teams and officially committed no turnovers on the night. Unlocking this portion of his game only strengthens the amount of gravity he has, which then opens up so much for the rest of the team. I’ll gladly take these type of off nights.
Meanwhile, Ben Simmons continued his “Oh, I’m not an All Star, huh?” campaign. Following up his triple double, Simmons put up 21 (10 of 11), 5 boards and 7 assists and looked absolutely unstoppable while doing it. The size and strength mismatch will come into play on most nights. Thankfully, Simmons seems to be recognizing this, channeling his aggression, and getting to anywhere he wants on the court. Though teams still sag off on him, he’s still finding his spots. As his jumper comes along (he made 1 tonight!), he’ll be even more of a threat to literally get anywhere and get anything he wants on the court.
And that’s a scary thought.
The 76ers now head to OKC and have a rematch on Sunday against Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. The last time they met, it took 3 OTs and a tired Joel before the battle ended. Considering it’s the first half of a SEGABABA, let’s see if Embiid plays in one or the other... or both?
Odds & Ends
- A thing that is getting some more play now is how quickly Simmons has become an above average defender. By eye test, his size alone provides so much of an advantage up against most NBA players. From disrupting passing lanes to providing some great help defense and rim protection, Simmons along with Embiid and Robert Covington are a big reason why the 76ers are one of the best defensive teams in the league.
- While he started off slow, Dario Saric ended the night strong with 15 points and 8 boards, going 2 of 4 beyond the arc. As Zach Lowe mentioned in his recent column, he’s become a chameleon and filling whatever role that is asked. The Homie may not be adept at any one thing but a jack-of-all-trades is part of why he’s part of such an effective starting lineup.
- MR. ANDERSON! For much of the season, the 76ers have struggled with wing depth behind Covington. Or rather, they just had no depth behind him. The way Justin Anderson played tonight is exactly what they have been missing for much of the year. Someone not afraid to shoot, someone who can cut to the basket, someone who can defend... Just check off the things the 76ers have been needing from a backup and he did it tonight.
- Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot cooled off a little tonight and seemed to struggle a little early on. For as athletic a guy he was supposed to be, he seems to always fail making layups over, around or through traffic. That said, teams are now respecting his shot. While only going 2-6 from beyond tonight, in just the past 2 weeks alone he’s gone up about 5-6% from beyond the arc for the year.
- J.J. Redick being out was going to present a challenge for the team as they were so reliant on him to generate offense. Yet, since then guys like Anderson and TLC have stepped up in a way that was not expected just a few weeks ago. Kudos to those guys for making the jump, to the coaching staff for preparation and gameplanning, and the team as a whole for persevering through this tough stretch.
- According to Keith Pompey, Jerryd Bayless is expected back on Monday against the Milwaukee Bucks. Considering how well this team is playing (especially on defense) and how other guys have stepped up in his stead, I wouldn’t be so quick to reintegrate him back into the rotation. Don’t rock the boat!
- I owe an apology to Amir Johnson. He’s been the exact veteran back-up big that was advertised in the off season, during this successful stretch. For 15 to 18 non-Joel minutes, you could do A LOT worse.
- I’m nitpicking but the only negative thing I can say about tonight is that I still feel uncomfortable playing Trevor Booker so much alongside Embiid and/or Simmons for stretches at the 4. While he does a great job playing in the paint and in transition, his “anti-gravity” in the halfcourt set is what’s causing such spacing problems for the rest of the team. Embiid has to settle for jump shots when defenders sag in. For the same reason, it becomes more difficult for Simmons to attack the basket. I like Booker and how well he fits in with the culture of this team. How he fits in with the offensive scheme, on the other hand... wooo boy.