76ers

Sixers offer glimpse of dynamic offensive potential in preseason finale

Sixers offer glimpse of dynamic offensive potential in preseason finale

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There will be a time in the near future, perhaps even in the Sixers’ regular-season opener Wednesday night in Washington, when Markelle Fultz will fit seamlessly into the offense.

Until then, the Sixers showcased Friday night just how efficiently the trio of 7-foot-2 center Joel Embiid, veteran sharp-shooter JJ Redick and point-forward Ben Simmons can work together.

Start with Embiid, who followed up his dominant preseason debut with a clunker on paper. He scored just five points on 1 for 7 shooting, picked up a couple of silly fouls on defense and looked more like a prospect with 31 career games under his belt than the guy who was given a five-year, $146.5 million contract extension.

But his mere presence in the Sixers’ 119-93 exhibition win over Miami opened up driving lanes for Simmons, who was 9 of 11 from the floor and had 19 points, and carved out space on the perimeter for Redick, who buried five threes and also had 19 points in the Sixers’ most cohesive game of the preseason.

“When you look at the stats, you're going to say, you know, ‘Joel didn't appear to be that dominant,’ but it's so far from the truth,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “The stuff he does that you just feel as his coach, and his teammates feel, is hard to quantify because it doesn't say he had 12 rebounds or 20 points or whatever. But he still has that presence and mentality and cocky aggression that we love.”

He also drew three early fouls on the Heat’s Hassan Whiteside, sending him to the bench just three minutes into the game. That showed once more how difficult it is for another big man to guard Embiid one-on-one.

“I thought I was bad today but it’s going to take time,” said Embiid, who admitted to pressing after the news of his contract extension this week, and with a building full of his college fans from Kansas.

“I was trying to force it too much. Some days I’m going to force it.One thing I’m trying to change is my turnovers. Unfortunately last game I had one and today I don’t think I had any.”

Neither did Simmons, who had seven boards and five assists for a near-flawless stat line.

Simmons took over most of the ball-handling duties while Fultz rested his sore knee, and his unique ability at 6-10 to slash to the basket was on full display. But rather than just throwing dazzling no-look passes to set up his teammates, something that folks already knew he was capable of doing, the former No. 1 overall pick showcased a rapidly improving ability to finish at the rim.

That could add another dynamic to the Sixers’ entire offense.

“I took the sleeve off. Maybe that had something to do with it,” Simmons said with a wry smile. “I just felt comfortable. My mind was right. I came in and tried to let it come to me. Tried to be a slasher. You need someone to cut and cut hard. I try to do that for the team. It gives guys opportunities when I do that.”

Guys like Redick, who seemed to turn every pass from Simmons into an assist.

“Everybody is going to see him make threes,” Brown said of his veteran shooting guard, “but what I see is an incredible leader in the locker room. I see him being amazingly professional in the locker room. He’s an incredibly prideful pro, and we sort of see the end result that he makes shots. But it’s the ripple effect, the stuff that goes on behind the scenes.”

Indeed, Redick has been a guiding influence for both Embiid and Simmons, and the way the trio worked in concert in the Sixers’ final tune-up before the regular season was an encouraging sign.

“Ben was excellent moving off the ball, I think he's a very underrated off-ball cutter,” Brown said. “We've always taken tremendous pride on passing. The pass is king. The pass is everything. And when you talk about growing a true team offensively, and amongst that belief is how do you get Joel posted, how do you get JJ some shots, it all has to fit. And tonight it all fit.”

Sixers' turnover-filled nightmare comes with silver lining

ap-ben-simmons-heat.jpg
AP Images/ USA Today Images

Sixers' turnover-filled nightmare comes with silver lining

Brett Brown sat at the podium with a puzzled look on his face as he stared at the box score.

Sure, he’d likely already been told that the Sixers had a season-high 27 turnovers in their 106-102 Game 4 win over the Miami Heat. But it’s one thing to hear it from someone else and another to see it written down in black and white.

“The fact that you can actually win a playoff game with this volume of turnovers is mind-boggling,” Brown said.

The Sixers’ level of carelessness on Saturday was equally astonishing.

For three quarters, the Sixers resembled the regular-season version of the team we have become accustomed to seeing over the years under Brown. They had the ball stolen on dribble moves and their passes intercepted. They had passes sail out of bounds and committed offensive fouls.

Simply put, the Sixers were tripping over themselves to give the ball back to the Heat.

“The first three periods, I was shocked to look up at the scoreboard and not feel like you’re just down 15, 14, 18 given the way the game went,” Brown said.

“I’m shocked that we won this game. We really didn’t have a right to win this game. I thought that, defensively, in the first three periods, we were a C-minus. I thought that our turnovers were an F.”

While a lot of that had to do with the Sixers’ own sloppiness, the Heat’s level of desperation was certainly a factor.

“Coming into this game this afternoon, you know you’re going to get the Miami Heat’s best,” Brown said. “It’s a culture of winning. They’ve won championships. Spo’s (Erik Spoelstra) a hell of a coach. You knew they were going to be all wound up. Like I said before, you didn’t have to be a mystic to guess what this was going to look like. 

“And they jumped us and we didn’t handle it well. We had multiple turnovers. I thought in Game 3 we responded to the physicality with only 12 and we did some things fundamentally more correct. There were several times in tonight’s game that they got the better of us and this environment got the better of us a little bit.”

Not when it mattered most.

The Sixers committed just three of those 27 turnovers in the fourth quarter as they dominated another final period to finish off the comeback.

And while the Sixers know they will never reach their playoff goals if they continue giving the ball away at such a rapid rate, they were pleased the team could stop the bleeding in crunch time with the game on the line.

“I think we did a great job of coming back, staying poised and playing as a team,” Ben Simmons said. “Going through our structured plays, whatever it is, defensively and offensively.” 

“I feel that we have been trending in a way that the fourth-period execution, the fourth-period mentality — defensively driven — has been our identity,” Brown said. “Then you go to the other side and say, well, we did a pretty good job of not turning the ball over. Three turnovers, by our standards, is an A-plus.”

Why Dwyane Wade thinks Sixers are 'special'

Why Dwyane Wade thinks Sixers are 'special'

MIAMI — For the 13 first rounds Dwyane Wade has played in, the current Sixers-Heat matchup has made a strong impression.

“They’re good,” Wade said. “They’re special. They’re a good group. They put the right team together.”

Sitting at the podium, Wade spent a good amount of time during his press conference praising the team that has put the Heat on the brink of elimination. He’s been on the winning side often, including three championships, so he recognizes a unique team when he sees it. 

“This definitely is one of the best first-round series I’ve ever played in, first-round opponent,” Wade said.

The Sixers have gone up 3-1 on the Heat with a roster that is balanced both positionally and in experience. Seven players finished in double digits Saturday and only veteran JJ Redick had more than 20 points. Ben Simmons, with whom Wade already has a relationship (see story), recorded his first career playoff triple-double (17 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists). He became the youngest player to do so since Wade’s former teammate LeBron James back in 2006. 

"I give a lot of credit to their point guard, their leader, Ben,” Wade said. “He does a great job of getting them settled, getting the ball to his guys, and keep feeding confidence to them.”

Wade described the Sixers as having “an edge.” They will use it to test the Heat Tuesday when the series returns to Philadelphia. Wade encourages his teammates to play with maturity and withstand the Sixers’ runs. The Heat split the first two games at the Wells Fargo Center. 

“They’re going to play with pace, play with speed, play physical,” Wade said. “Obviously they’re going to play with their crowd. It’s going to be a high energy type of game from them … All we’ve got to do is just worry about this one game and giving everything we have for that game. You walk out of that game, you gave everything you had, you can live with whatever result is there at the end.”

Wade, 36, has had vintage moments against the Sixers in this series. He led all players with 28 points off the bench in the Heat’s Game 2 win. On Sunday, he scored 12 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter alone. 

Asked about the possibility of this game against the Sixers being his last game in Miami playing for the Heat, Wade said, “I won’t answer that right now. I’ve got another game to play. I’m focused on the next game and trying to win that one.”

What he will answer is questions about his competition. 

"They’re a very good team," Wade said. "I can’t say nothing negative about them at all. So far they’ve been great opponents.”