For a moment, some sweet reprieve. It’s been a long week for Sixers fans. The updates on Zhaire Smith’s setback feel like years ago, but it hasn’t even been a week. In the first ten minutes of the game, I actually felt some nostalgia because I wasn’t seeing Robert Covington’s mini-flop-top or Dario Saric’s parted head of hair. Of course, analysis of Markelle Fultz’s every move or free throw has served to divide Sixers Nation like a Charles Barkley vs. Allen Iverson debate. But not tonight.
The Utah Jazz came to town, fresh off a game where they were absolutely stagnant versus the surprisingly stingy Dallas Mavericks. That was all we needed to know; they were going to come out firing. The efficiency may not have been there for Donovon Mitchell, but he was still a berserker in his relentless attack, hitting clutch shot after clutch shot.
The Sixers hit their first 8 shots of the game and jumped out to a “rather healthy” lead early, as Marc Zumoff might say. They maintained about a 14-point lead through most of the first quarter. Fans know this is exactly when they start coughing up the rock and turning the ball over, and to be fair they did some of that finishing with 16 turnovers. And it did allow Utah not only back into the game, but to eventually wrest control of it.
But to the Sixers credit, learning on the fly, and developing chemistry on the run, they didn’t roll over, even though it would have made perfect sense given how new everyone is with each other. The story of the night for Philly was the game’s headliner himself, Jimmy Butler.
The Marquette product was just awesome. Finishing with 28 points on just 15 shots, he was relentless on both ends of the floor and flashed a level of talent and a diversity of ways to impact a basketball game that the disciplined and well-coached Jazz simply didn’t have an answer for on the evening.
Now, it could have gone the other way. This was a close game. In fact, the Jazz led by 2 with just 1:37 left to play after the Jae Crowder tip-in. But the crowd refused to accept defeat tonight. I was not at the game, but as a fan at home, it did seem that there was more electricity at the Wells Fargo Center tonight than there was at some of the playoff games last spring. And if that is actually true, and not an illusion caused by my laptop’s wonky volume setting, then it’s possible that the Jimmy Butler experience is tailor-made for Philly. Stat-geeks and analytics heads may not be able to fully account for the certain type of nasty that Butler is, and just how that appeals to The City of Brotherly Love. As good as the Sixers were last year, it often felt to me like the crowd lacked a hint of the passion it felt like there was Friday night.
One of the loudest moments of the game was not a smoothie giveaway, but when Joel Embiid, who could never truly find a rhythm because of foul trouble, dropped an and-one jump hook on Gobert, then leapt up and flexed his muscles. It cut the Jazz lead to one. The crowd exploded with their biggest MVP chant of the year. Later, he hit a huge three-point shot to knot it at 103. And, of course, there was this gorgeous sideline out-of-bounds play drawn up by Brett Brown and executed to perfection with the touch and vision only Ben Simmons can display:
Here is what Jimmy Butler looks like when he really really respects his teammate’s ability pic.twitter.com/Qm8FN76621— Liberty Ballers (@Liberty_Ballers) November 17, 2018
Butler was awesome.
113-107 Sixers win, moving them to a perfect 8-0 at the Wells Fargo Center. Jimmy Butler led the way with 28 points on 12-15 shooting, including 8 fourth quarter points. Sixers shot 11-23 from 3.— Derek Bodner (@DerekBodnerNBA) November 17, 2018
-Wilson Chandler was stout defensively, and a game high +18.
-Fultz displayed a unique and almost amusing free throw form:
i know i’m super pro Fultz guy but i like this. finally an attempt at getting some rhythm at the line instead of being so static and deliberate. pic.twitter.com/zH0JaubTPD— sad sports fan (@legsanity) November 17, 2018
Players who attended basketball camp many years ago might recognize the old pinching “crazy george” ball handling drills they used to suggest. Here is how that used to look. That’s what it looked like he was doing.
It’s a new way to avoid bringing the ball in front of his chest which he found many creative ways to avoid last year.
But forget about all that. We know and Fultz knows his jump shot isn’t where he wants it to be right now. But Fultz was in attack mode anyway! Imagine how you might feel knowing that another bad free throw could go viral on social media and still trying to dive-bomb on Rudy Gobert, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year! And he did! Fultz showed tremendous heart and tremendous toughness by aggressively attacking contact and the rim in attempts to go to the free throw line. Let that sink in. Fultz was trying to go to the line. Why would anyone want to do that? It signifies to me that he was aware that Gobert was in some foul trouble trying to defend Embiid and willing to put himself out there to rack up some free points and give his team even a slight edge at his own potential expense. All heart. I’ve watched almost every play of his professional career and I think I saw a bit of passion and confidence in his game tonight and body language that wasn’t always there throughout the year.
I’m a fan of Fultz and you can call me out for a bias. But I stand by this. I’m impressed at the display of courage and character. It showed a level of game awareness and mental fortitude. Nobody would have faulted him for flipping up a makeable runner. Even though he was aggressive in limited action, he only got 14 minutes however, which is by far a season low, and that does not bode well for his role moving forward.
Fultz’s resilience is unbelievable. With everything he’s gone through, I have never ONCE seen him put his head down and not give it his all.— Longtime Draymond Green supporter (@johnwintertweet) November 17, 2018
Fultz is everything this city should embrace. Fultz is our new Covington.
Markelle Fultz with two strong drives challenging Rudy Gobert at the rim late here in the 3rd, scoring on one and getting fouled on the 2nd.— Derek Bodner (@DerekBodnerNBA) November 17, 2018
-Shamet hit 2-for-4 from 3 and a really well-contested one where he didn’t seem to mind the lack of space between himself and the defender.
-Amir Johnson hit 2-for-3 from 3. He’s now 4-for-6 on the year, which is weirdly good.
-Redick played well overall, yet made some mistakes in crunch time. Butler in post-game said he liked that this teammates want to win and can take it when they hear it from him. That’s funny. I wonder if he ripped J.J. and J.J. said “yeah, I know, my bad, I gotchu.”
Finally, Ben Simmons has taken lots of criticism thus far this year. He made a winning pass to help steal this victory from the jaws of defeat and he impressed a very hard player to impress in the process, Jimmy Butler. All in all, a really exciting win.
-And while the feel good stuff is being dolled out, T.J. McConnell deserves more credit than he gets for his support and professionalism, knowing other teams want to use him and still sitting on the bench, despite being a productive player.
TJ’s reaction to Fultz going right at Gobert pic.twitter.com/78ognNHzQ0— Drew Corrigan (@Dcorrigan50) November 17, 2018
Jimmy is a Sixer and the Sixers are going to find that they can get out-disciplined or out-executed and still get away with a win here and there because of their superior talent like they did tonight.