76ers

Sixers-Timberwolves observations: Salvaging the road trip

Sixers-Timberwolves observations: Salvaging the road trip

BOX SCORE

MINNEAPOLIS — Joel Embiid scored 28 in his return, and JJ Redick added 26 points as the 76ers defeated Minnesota, 118-112, in overtime on Tuesday.

Embiid, who missed the Sixers’ last two games with back tightness, tied the game with a pair of free throws with 14 seconds remaining in regulation. He finished the night 11 for 12 from the free throw line and 8 for 16 from the field, a stat line that included a three-pointer with 1:39 remaining in overtime.

The win snapped a four-game losing streak for the Sixers (14-13), who had struggled in the fourth quarter in their recent losses. The team trailed, 86-77, with six minutes remaining in regulation Tuesday but went on a 14-4 run that culminated with Richaun Holmes' three-point play with 2:17 to go.

Holmes finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds as he played 33 minutes while filling in for the injured Robert Covington. Dario Saric added 14 points and eight rebounds in 40 minutes.

• Embiid appeared comfortable throughout the night, moving past Minnesota defenders for dunks on several plays while guarding Karl-Anthony Towns and Gorgui Dieng. He fell in pain late in the third quarter under the Sixers' basket but returned early in the fourth and played a total of 39 minutes, a new career high. He also nearly had a triple-double by adding 12 rebounds and eight assists. 

• Backup point guard T.J. McConnell also returned for the Sixers after missing five of the past six games with a shoulder injury. He made his first three shots and also didn't appear to have trouble with movement as he finished with seven points in 26 minutes.

• Redick was just 6 for 15 shooting but scored 16 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. 

• Ben Simmons was also surprisingly quiet for most of the night. He went most of regulation without a point as Minnesota's Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins guarded him. But Simmons scored seven points in the game's final 6:17, including two baskets in the final 1:17, and also added eight assists (see highlights).

• The 76ers struggled with turnovers throughout regulation but committed just one in overtime. They still finished with a season-high 24, many coming on errant cross-floor passes.

• The team mitigated the turnovers by limiting Minnesota to just 41.7 percent shooting in regulation, including just 3 for 24 from three-point range. Butler was the Timberwolves' most effective scorer as he finished with a game-high 38 points, including 14 in the fourth quarter. However, the Timberwolves were 4 for 12 shooting in overtime.

• The Sixers limited Minnesota's ability to drive to the basket throughout the night as they forced the Timberwolves to take lower-percentage two-pointers. The Timberwolves (16-12) had just two turnovers in the first half but finished the game with 10. Wiggins scored 20 and Towns added 17 for Minnesota.

• Veteran forward Trevor Booker scored 12 points on 6 for 8 shooting in his third game with the Sixers since joining the team in last week’s trade with Brooklyn.

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

ap-usa-magic-johnson-ben-simmons.jpg
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.

Sixers-Heat reaches new level of physicality as stakes heighten

Sixers-Heat reaches new level of physicality as stakes heighten

BOX SCORE 

MIAMI — Just when it seemed like the Sixers-Heat first-round series couldn’t get any more physical, guess what? It did. 

Whichever teams win this series isn’t going to do so without a fight, and now the Sixers are one victory away from advancing to the second round. 

“I love the physicality,” Joel Embiid said following the Sixers' 106-102 Game 4 win

The Sixers and Heat have had no choice but to embrace it. Each squad has come out swinging (not literally, though at times it has felt close to that) in a fervent battle for postseason survival.

The tone of the series was encapsulated in a sequence that began with a turnover and subsequent fight for a loose ball and ended with players being separated on the other end of the court. 

With under five minutes to play in the second quarter, Goran Dragic stole the ball from Dario Saric. Sixers and Heat players hit the floor grappling for possession, during which Josh Richardson suffered a shoulder injury and Justise Winslow suffered a cut to his face. 

Dragic ran the fast break across half court, where he was fouled by Ben Simmons. As he continued to go up toward the basket, Covington pushed off on him. 

“He just kept playing,” Covington said. “In order to not allow him to run into me or run me over, I braced myself. That’s just how that play happened. His momentum took him to where I braced myself and he just bounced off of me.”

James Johnson then pushed Covington into the stanchion. Simmons interjected to get Johnson away from Covington. Embiid ran down from the other end of the floor, too, as whistles sounded and players were tangled up. Double technical fouls were called on Covington and Johnson.

“He was protecting his guy,” Covington said of Johnson. “Ben did the same exact thing. I was protecting myself in the first place. If he’s going to keep playing and keep playing on, there’s consequences. Overall, it wasn’t a means to try to hurt him or anything, but I was bracing myself.” 

The first-round matchup has been a crash course in the importance of chemistry. Players hurried over to their teammates during the tie up and on other plays throughout the afternoon. 

"If someone is going to push my teammate, I'll be there for them," Simmons said. "Everyone's got my back on my team. I think vice versa, it's the same with everybody on the Heat. They have each other's back and that's the way we want to play. We play as a team." 

There have been 10 technical fouls called on the Sixers and Heat in Games 3 and 4 combined. Will that number increase by the end of the series? The Heat are on the brink of elimination and plan to bring an unrelenting attitude to the Wells Fargo Center Tuesday. 

"We still have a chance," Dragic said. "So we're not going to go home and feel sorry about it and just come to Philly with the white flag. That's not us."

That wouldn't be characteristic of the series, either.