76ers

Sixers-Rockets observations: No heartbreaking collapse this time

Sixers-Rockets observations: No heartbreaking collapse this time

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HOUSTON — A double-digit lead is never safe against the Rockets, is it? 

The Sixers beat the Rockets for the first time in eight meetings, 115-107, but it wasn’t without another near-letdown in the fourth quarter. 

Ben Simmons turned in a team-high 24 points as the Sixers had seven players score in double figures Monday night. Joel Embiid was right behind him with 22 points.

Let’s get right to the final minutes of the game and then see how they got there.

Fast-forward to 9:30 to go when the Sixers were up 10. The Rockets started to chip away, cutting the Sixers’ lead all the way down to five with 8:37 to play. The Sixers responded by going up 10 again behind an offensive rebound, layup, block and steal by Embiid. 

From that point, the Rockets went on a 6-0 run to make it 103-99 with four minutes left. Embiid grabbed the rebound off Clint Capela’s attempted go-ahead layup to halt the Rockets’ momentum. 

The Sixers hit two straight baskets to go up five, but just like they did in their last meeting with the Rockets, committed a 24-second violation down the stretch. Ryan Anderson and Trevor Ariza both missed threes that would have brought the Rockets back within two.

• The last time the Sixers beat the Rockets was Nov. 13, 2013. Does that feel like a long time ago? Well, consider this: Tony Wroten posted an 18-point, 10-rebound, 11-assist triple-double in his first career start. The Sixers’ James Anderson led all players in scoring (36 points). 

And the last time the Sixers won in Houston dates even further back to Feb. 16, 2011.

• So how did it all begin on Monday night? The Sixers shot a season-high 65.2 percent from the field in the first quarter to jump out to a 10-point advantage. The Rockets saw a window of opportunity when Simmons took a seat halfway through the second. They went on a 7-0 run and cut the deficit to one point. The Sixers pushed their edge back up to seven points after Simmons checked back in. Dario Saric hit a pair of threes and Simmons found Embiid for an alley-oop. The Sixers ended the quarter with three straight turnovers, though, and were up just two at halftime. 

• The Rockets’ backcourt took turns dominating in the first half. James Harden played the entire first quarter and scored 12 points, including 6 of 7 at the line, which the Sixers wanted to limit. Eric Gordon didn’t attempt a shot in the first but exploded for 15 points as he played the entire second quarter. He hit a trio of threes, which wasn’t even the biggest standout. He took a whopping nine shots, 75 percent of his total season average of 12.0 attempts per game. Harden (25) and Gordon (29) were the only Rockets with over 15 points.

• The Sixers were locked in on limiting the sharpshooting Rockets from three and at the line. Their efforts paid off as the Rockets shot 13 of 47 (27.7 percent) from long range. The Rockets outscored the Sixers 28-17 at the free throw line, led by 10 of 12 from Harden.

• Embiid, Saric, Simmons and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (see below) combined for 47 of the Sixers’ 58 first-half points. Harden and Gordon were responsible for 30 of the Rockets’ 56.  

• The Sixers kept the Rockets at bay in the third, going up by as many as 14 points. The Sixers again reached 65 percent from the field, partially in thanks to T.J. McConnell, who led the team with eight points (2 for 2 from three) in five minutes (read more on McConnell here). Amir Johnson pulled down six rebounds in the third to match the Rockets’ team total. Harden added another 11 points but no other Rocket scored more than four. 

• Embiid didn't show signs of being bothered by his right hand contusion. He knocked down 9 of 12 field goals (22 points), pulled down nine boards and dished five assists (see highlights).

• Simmons made three jump shots — yes, jump shots — from 16 and 17 feet from the basket. Entering the game, he had shot just 0 for 2 in the 16- to 24-foot range from the hoop. Simmons neared a double-double with 24 points, nine assists and seven boards (see highlights). He was mixing up his shot locations, not just focusing in the paint, during pregame drills.

• Luwawu-Cabarrot broke out to a hot start. He scored 11 points on a perfect 4 for 4 from the field in six minutes during the first quarter. Luwawu-Cabarrot also went 2 for 2 from three, seeing the results of taking hundreds of three-point shots every practice.  

• Robert Covington was in a very different situation in Houston nearly three years ago to the day. He was waived by the Rockets on Oct. 27, 2014. 

• Embiid fouled Luc Mbah a Moute and knocked him to the ground. Embiid helped him up and Mbah a Moute replied with a friendly tap on the back. Mbah a Moute has played a major role in Embiid’s career, first recognizing the big man’s potential when Embiid attended his basketball camp in Cameroon back in 2011. 

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.” 

Ben Simmons keeps getting linked with Magic — and for good reason

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USA Today Images/AP Images

Ben Simmons keeps getting linked with Magic — and for good reason

Ben Simmons and Magic Johnson. It’s not such a crazy comparison.

With 17 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists in the Sixers’ 106-102 Game 4 win Saturday, Simmons became the first rookie to record a playoff triple-double since Johnson in 1980.

It’s not the first time Simmons has been linked with Magic, nor will it be the last. At 6-10, Simmons’ elite passing ability, versatility and flair in the open court mirror the 6-9 Johnson. With 12 regular-season triple-doubles, Simmons passed Johnson for second on the all-time rookie list, behind only Oscar Robertson’s 26.

Oh, and without Joel Embiid in Game 2 of this series, the point guard Simmons jumped for the opening tip, just as Johnson famously did with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar out in Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals against the Sixers.

You can chalk up some of the early comparisons with Johnson to the natural tendency to see parallels when looking at graceful point guards in big bodies or just insane statistical coincidences, but there’s one important similarity it looks like Simmons might have with Magic — an affinity for big games.

Simmons guided the Sixers to a massive win Saturday, helping his team take a 3-1 series edge over the Heat despite a season-high 26 turnovers. Though Simmons posted seven turnovers himself, he directed the offense masterfully in the second half.

In the fourth quarter, the Sixers had just three turnovers and executed well in their half-court offense despite the extremely physical Heat defense. Simmons scored 15 of his points after halftime, including a powerful drive and dunk with 58.2 seconds left to give the Sixers a 102-99 lead after Dwyane Wade had cut the deficit to one.

As he typically does, Simmons deflected the attention away from himself after the game when asked about joining Johnson, Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry Lucas and Tom Gola on the list of rookies with playoff triple-doubles.

“I think it just means I’m doing my job,” Simmons told reporters. “The stats I’ve averaged all season have been up there, so it’s not really anything new for the team or myself. As long as we’re winning, I’m happy. All those accolades will come if we’re all doing the right thing.”

Joel Embiid, however, wasn’t shy in talking up his point guard’s accomplishment.

“He was a monster,” Embiid said. “I think that’s the first time the Sixers had a triple-double [in the playoffs] since Charles Barkley, so that’s big-time.”

Embiid knows his Sixers history. Barkley was indeed the last Sixer to record a postseason triple-double. He recorded 22 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists on April 27, 1991, in a 116-112 OT win in Milwaukee.

JJ Redick was also impressed with Simmons, though he’s getting used to these sort of historic games.

“Ben is Ben,” Redick said. “It’s almost become expected now that he’s gotta go average a triple-double. He’s very tough physically, but he’s even tougher mentally. The last four games have been as vocal and demonstrative as I’ve seen him all season. He’s been fantastic. He’s coming out of his shell in regards to leadership, and that’s huge for us.”

Simmons is averaging 19.3 points, 10.8 rebounds and 9.8 assists through the first four games of his playoff career. He’s not quite averaging a triple-double, but he’s about as close as you can get.

And for the record, Magic had five triple-doubles in that incredible 1980 postseason with the Lakers. With Simmons' immense talent and poise under pressure, that’s another Magic milestone within his reach.