No Embiid? No Saric? No Problem!
The Philadelphia 76ers continued to roll as they trounced the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday night, the first of a back to back. Behind their Coach of the Year candidate and presumptive Rookie of the Year, the Sixers have been outright dominating opponents to close out the year. Who would have thought that after 77 games, the 76ers would be 17 games over .500 with 5 more to go? The quest for 50 is in the realm of possibility, a mark that the organization has only hit twice in the last 30 years. Speaking of history, Tuesday night’s victory makes it 11 straight, a streak that the organization last experienced in 1990!
As mentioned before, Tuesday night’s match up against the Brooklyn Nets provided a good practice run for the 76ers when it came to attacking wing-heavy teams. While the talent isn’t the same, understanding how to attack and defend against length and athleticism (and the nefarious Pick and Roll!) will be important against lineups that many playoff teams can throw out (hello Celtics). While still ‘important’ in terms of seeding, these final few games should serve as tune-ups to tighten up defensive rotations or solidify lineup subsitutions.
Of course, blowing out the opposition en route to those goals ain’t a bad thing either!
The game started out much like it has against almost all opponents since Embiid went down: a heavy dose of Ben Simmons with a side of 3 point shooting, smothered with good defense. At times it seemed effortless for Ben to do... well... anything on the court. The silver lining to Embiid’s injury has been the emergence of a determined Ben Simmons. From creative passing to aggressive attacks, it’s as if another gear has been unlocked from the increased responsibility. In only 25 minutes, Simmons was 4 assists off another triple-double with a 15 pt/12 board/6 assist performance.
Credit to the Nets for keeping it close for a quarter and a half as their 3 point shooting kept them afloat. Literally. Midway through the 2nd quarter the Nets put up 31 points, 30 of which came from the 3 ball. While some of that was the result of poor defensive rotations leading to wide open shots, shooting around 50% on that volume (especially when you’re a bottom tier 3 point shooting team) is fluky. As it so happens, after going 12 for 27 from beyond the arc in the first half, the Nets went 5 for 15 in the second. Neither Spencer Dinwiddie nor D’Angelo Russell caused much damage this time around. So once the hot shooting burned out, the Sixers methodically went on a run at the end of the first half and another at the beginning of the second to put a 20 point advantage between them. That was pretty much the game.
A cool wrinkle fans got to witness for the first time is Simmons and Fultz sharing the court. Even though Brett Brown somewhat shot down this type of experimentation, this late in the season, he threw a curve ball and introduced it into a low leverage situation. The results? So far so good! The Simmons-Fultz combination looked solid in limited minutes. Fultz was in attack mode early and often and Simmons made sure to keep going to that well once he recognized it. While Fultz himself provides a new dynamic for a team that really lacked an isolation creator/scorer, the combination of he and Simmons could really provide the team another strategy when defenses try to take away the Sixers 3 point shooting. Anyone else salivating at the possibilities or is it just me?
Markelle Fultz has steadily become more comfortable with each passing game. While still missing the range in his repertoire, his unorthodox movements and handle have allowed him to navigate in and around defenders. A baseline jumper, a floater in the paint, a dump off pass, an explosive block... it may not be perfect but you can see the flashes. Fultz ended the night with 10 points, 2 boards and 3 assists in 20 minutes. Three weeks ago, it was hard to see Fultz back before next season. A week and change away and it’s hard not to see him in getting minutes this post season.
The 76ers travel to Detroit on the SEGABABA to face a Griffin-less Pistons. Another opportunity to hand Stan Van Gundy an L? Sign me up please. Win tonight and the road to 50 wins seems highly plausible.
Odds & Ends
- As the year has gone on and as pieces have shuffled in-and-out, it’s been fun to watch Brett Brown’s scheme take shape. From the addition of capable shooters to the maturation of a gifted ball handler, Brown’s pass happy, pace-and-space scheme is paying dividends. Despite the loss of two of their best players, the 76ers haven’t skipped really skipped a beat. #FireBrettBrown, am I right?
- I’m sure that if the 76ers were losing or if he were cold, Marco Belinelli would drive fans insane. However, while things are going well, let’s just take a second to appreciate how there isn’t an off-balanced jumper in the world that he won’t take.
- Seriously though, both Belinelli and Ersan Illyasova aren’t perfect players by any means. Defensively you have to deal with the lack of athleticism and lateral foot speed. Offensively you have to live with some of the gunner mentality. Yet, for all their warts, the two guys just fit with what and how the team plays. Credit to Bryan Colangelo in fixing his Booker trade mistake and utilizing the buy out market to fill in the gaps. While the youth and talent will ultimately move the needle, it’s these small moves that can grease the gears a bit.
- I don’t know when it happened but JJ Redick put up a quiet 19 points in 23 minutes. One of the Sixers favorite sets, especially at the end of quarters, has been a DHO where Redick wraps around a screener at the wing and pulls up for a jumper right above the FT line. That the set continues to find success without Joel has been surprising.
- Robert Covington’s final stat line: 12 points, 6 boards, 2 assists, 4 steals, 3 blocks. Solid as a Rock!
- Jahlil Okafor and Nik Stauskas really like to show out against Philly, no? Okafor rolled out of bed to a tune of 15 and 5. Stauskas became “Sauce Castillo” for a bit. Sure, most of it happened down 20+ with the 76ers not really playing good defense. But for guys that are probably auditioning for next year, no better way to stand out than putting up numbers!
- The Cavaliers won against the Raptors, therefore seeding remains the same with them at 3 and the 76ers at 4. The Pacers, however, lost to the Nuggets which means some breathing room between the 4th and 5th seed. Bring me a Philly home playoff series please!