Coming off consecutive blowouts, the Sixers had real competition coming to town in the Minnesota Timberwolves. Despite Minnesota’s credentials, they treated them as they did Memphis and Orlando, blowing the game open in the third quarter en route to a 120-108 win.
There were two concurring stories to the game before the fourth quarter: the open court brilliance of Ben Simmons and the interior defense of Joel Embiid and the team as a whole. Embiid finished with 19 points himself, but he made his mark walling off the paint against Karl-Anthony Towns and anyone else who dared enter his arena. Towns finished 3-15 from the floor with five turnovers. Jeff Teague found resistance wherever in the paint he tried to venture. No one else could score when Embiid was on the court. He set the tone to allow the Sixers to play pressure defense and wreck fools in transition. That effort was led by Simmons.
Simmons dominated in the open court, continuously pushing the pace throughout the game. He made passes from angles no one knew existed, caused a ruckus on the perimeter and ending the third quarter with a triple-double. With the Sixers up 27 to end the third quarter, the game ending was only a formality a stressful, agonizing affair which somehow resulted in Hack-A-Ben, where he went 3-4 from the line to help close out the game.
Yeah... about that fourth quarter. The Sixers were outscored by 17 in the first nine minutes of the quarter by Minnesota’s cobwebbed reserves. Simmons (along with Embiid, Covington, and Belinelli) returned to the game to close it out, but the ending quelled the euphoria felt after the stellar first three quarters. Fortunately, when games count for more, the deep bench matters less, but it’s still a cause for concern.
- Robert Covington had four steals, two blocks, and I think also three arms. He disrupted so many actions for Minnesota. Before the game, I speculated on how the Sixers will defend Teague. They chose to go straight up with J.J. Redick against Teague, Ben Simmons on Andrew Wiggins, and Robert Covington on Nemanja Bjelica. That looked to be the right decision. Covington can lock opponents down, but he’s potentially even more effective when he can play passing lanes off ball and help off his man. Covington also scored 11, hitting three of nine threes, enough to make him excellent overall.
- T.J. McConnell struggled leading the deep bench again, and he’s continued to struggle since his minutes were cut after the Marco Belinelli acquisition.
- That said, Belinelli played terrifically tonight, and he defended about as well as he’s capable of. Belinelli taking that spot in the rotation is the correct tactical decision, as it surrounds Simmons with additional shooting and creates a great situation for him to flourish in. McConnell simply needs to adapt to a lesser role.
- Remember when our bench had no shooting? Now we have Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli. It makes a huge difference especially on a roster with Ben Simmons. Credit to Bryan Colangelo for going out and correcting the Trevor Booker mistake.
- Andrew Wiggins... woof. Good luck with that contract, Minnesota.
- The Sixers finished with 11 blocks, their third highest total of the season. Both of the highest totals came in Joel Embiid’s wreckings of the LA Lakers.
The Sixers are now 42-30, apparently not clinched in the playoffs, though that’s a formality. It did clinch a winning record for the first time during the lockout season, which is an incredible accomplishment for this roster. More is yet to come.