76ers

Ben Simmons joins elite company with triple-double in Sixers' 1st win

Ben Simmons joins elite company with triple-double in Sixers' 1st win

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DETROIT — Sixers coach Brett Brown was well aware of the risk when he asked Ben Simmons, who played forward in high school and college, to run his team’s offense.

It was a gutsy call, at the time, that many critics scoffed and questioned.

Not anymore.

In just his fourth career NBA game, Simmons pieced together a memorable triple-double Monday night to become just the third player in history to accomplish the feat in such a time span, and more importantly, help lead the Sixers (1-3) to their first regular-season win.

“It’s awesome to have a triple-double, but at the same time, it’s even better to have that win,” Simmons said. “Especially with these guys and a young team like this.” 

It wasn’t a do-or-die game for the Sixers by any stretch, but Monday night’s 97-86 win in Detroit certainly rejuvenated a fan base that may have started casting doubt as to whether the Sixers are a legit playoff-caliber team (see observations)

Moreover, it served as much-needed validation for Brown and his young, talent-packed squad, following three straight losses, including Saturday’s 34-point blowout loss in Toronto.

“I’m happy for our guys,” Brown said. “They really came into the building knowing that we needed to get a win. To get rewarded with the win, it just validates some of the work that everybody has put in.”

Particularly Simmons, who entered this season with the eyes of Philadelphia watching his every move during his first tour around the NBA after missing all of last season nursing a fractured foot. 

“We won, and, honestly, that means so much than stats for me,” said Simmons, who finished with 19 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. 

Simmons doesn’t fit the mold of a prototypical point guard, but — then again — the NBA has evolved into a position-less league. Players of all shapes and sizes do everything nowadays. And Simmons — just four games into his NBA career — is among those leading the charge.

“I mean, we all see how gifted he is physically,” Brown said. “Him, with the ball, able to do the things he does, produces a lot of these mismatches and numbers. 

“We’re able to post him. He’s able to seal the pick-and-rolls. You see how gifted he is in open court. He’s got that breakaway speed that is jaw-dropping. And he’s 6-foot-10.”

Simmons, to his credit, was extremely humble when asked about his triple-double accomplishment after the game. But it’s possible the 21-year-old phenom was unaware of the elite company he joined and how rare a feat it was to put up a triple-double just four games into his career. 

When Simmons notched his 10th assist on Joel Embiid’s layup with slightly more than minute to play, he became the first player with a triple-double in his first four career games since Hambone Williams in 1967. The only other player in NBA history to do so? Oscar Robertson, in 1960. 

“I feel like this stat line, we’ve kind of seen a snapshot of it the first three games,” Brown said. “It just seems a bit more special when it’s associated with a win.”

Win or not, Simmons has made it abundantly clear Monday night that — even with Markelle Fultz in the mix — he’s the Sixers’ point guard. No ands or buts about it.

When it was made clear in April that Brown wanted the versatile rookie to play point guard, the controversial decision was met with raised eyebrows. But Brown, to his credit, hasn’t wavered. And today, by all accounts, that gamble is paying off. 

“You know, the decision to make him our point guard is challenged in some some way,” he said. “But as an organization, we stayed strong that that’s where we want to play him.”

It was a gutsy call by Brown at the time, and while the Sixers may only be four games into the season, it’s proving to be the right call.

Sixers forced to wait for next opponent after Celtics-Bucks Game 7

Sixers forced to wait for next opponent after Celtics-Bucks Game 7

Waiting is the hardest part.

That’s the situation the Sixers are dealing with regarding their second-round opponent. They will face the winner of the series between Boston and Milwaukee, which is headed to a deciding Game 7 after the Bucks’ 97-86 home win on Thursday night. 

Game 7 is set for 8 p.m. on Saturday at TD Garden.

The Sixers have been idle since their Game 5 victory to eliminate the Miami Heat on Tuesday. It marked the franchise’s first series win since 2012.

The layoff hasn’t been a bother to the Sixers, who say their main focus is on themselves no matter who the opponent ends up being in round No. 2 (see story).

“We’ll manage whatever the Milwaukee-Boston tells us tonight, and that’s not on my mind,” head coach Brett Brown said after Thursday’s practice regarding the team getting rusty. 

“I thought we sweated and competed. I think we chose a tiny few things on defense and a tiny few things on offense that are helpful no matter if it’s Boston or Milwaukee. Some of it, which is always great, there was carryover from the Miami series. That’s kind of the holy grail. You can find stuff that’s going to do you well in the next series and tremendous carryover. We went there today. I thought today was good.”

Sixers focused more on themselves than Round 2 opponent

Sixers focused more on themselves than Round 2 opponent

CAMDEN, N.J. — Tuesday’s series-clinching victory was a monumental achievement for the Sixers. And while the team briefly savored Brett Brown’s first playoff series win as a head coach in memorable fashion, it was back at practice Thursday afternoon, with its focus shifted to Round 2.

“It was fun,” Joel Embiid said of the celebration with Brown. “I was happy for him because obviously after what he’s been through, two years ago he had a team that only won 10 games and this year he’s at, what, 56? I was really happy for him, and that was the first playoff series that he won, so it was something we felt like we needed to celebrate. But we’re on to the next one.”

That next opponent will be either the Celtics or the Bucks. Boston leads the series, 3-2, and can advance with a win in Game 6 Thursday night at 8 p.m. If the Celtics win, the Sixers will play Game 1 of the second round in Boston on Saturday night.

“Because we don’t know who you’re going to play, you don’t have that luxury of time,” Brown said. “No matter who you play, you better get back in transition defense and you better rebound. But it’s easier for sure when you can zoom in and say, ‘OK, you got Giannis, or you got Marcus Smart.’”

Though they don’t have the advantage of knowing their opponent, the Sixers do have a few extra days to recover from what was an extremely physical series against the Heat. They also have a chance to hone their own sets and to sharpen their execution. Ersan Ilyasova mentioned that, among other things, the Sixers worked on creating space for Embiid post-ups.

“At the end of the day, whoever comes out, I think it’s up to us,” Ilyasova said. “Recently, the way we’ve played, we have to focus on ourselves and if we do the right things, it’s going to be in our favor.”

Boston or Milwaukee is just not the primary concern at the moment. Sure, the Sixers will tune into Game 6 with interest. Embiid said he’ll be watching at home as usual with Markelle Fultz and Justin Anderson. But the intense, team-specific preparation won’t start in earnest until that series concludes.

“We just prepare for both teams,” Embiid said. “We’re going to be ready for whoever. We played them in the regular season, so we have a lot of scouting reports, so I’m sure the coaches will do their job to get us ready.”

The Sixers went 1-3 against the Celtics in the regular season, while they had a 2-2 record against the Bucks. However, Kyrie Irving, who is out for the playoffs with a left patella injury, played in three of those matchups with Boston. And the Sixers crushed the Bucks in the regular-season finale, 130-95. Regardless of who they play, the Sixers will be favored. If they play close to the level they’re capable of, they should advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Playing in his first postseason, Embiid gave the mature answer of a seasoned veteran when asked if he’d prefer to face Milwaukee or Boston.

“It’s the playoffs. I don’t think it matters,” Embiid. “As long as you play your game and stick to your concepts, you’re going to be fine.”