76ers

Sixers top Jazz to open road trip with 5th straight win

Sixers top Jazz to open road trip with 5th straight win

BOX SCORE

SALT LAKE CITY – Figuring out how to guard Ben Simmons is a puzzle many NBA teams can't solve. The Sixers’ rookie keeps finding ways to contribute and impact a game – even when his shot isn't falling.

Simmons offered his latest evidence of that ability in helping the Sixers claim their fifth consecutive victory with a 104-97 win over the Utah Jazz on Tuesday night (see observations). He peppered the stat sheet with all sorts of impact stats as usual – 16 points, 13 rebounds, six assists, three steals and three blocks.

For Simmons, it is part of a continued quest for excellence. He wants to build a reputation as a winner, plain and simple. And he'll do everything to bring his team along with him.

“I'm not happy with losing,” Simmons said. “I feel like that defines me and that's just the way the game is. People are defined by how many rings they have. For me, I just want to win and while I'm in the league be one of those guys that's a winner.”

Simmons isn't just winning, he's elevating his game to a whole new level. He notched his seventh double-double in 10 career NBA games, becoming the first NBA rookie to have that many double-doubles in their first 10 games since Shaquille O' Neal did it 11 straight times to start the 1992-93 season.

Figuring out how to contain Simmons on either end of the court is a little like playing with fire. One way or another, teams end up being burned. Still, teams have to account for what he can do to influence a game as a 6-foot-10 point guard with loads of athleticism, an incredible wingspan and unmatched passing abilities for a big man.

“He's unique,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “I think everyone game plans against him, in one way or another, because he is the engine.”

One area where Simmons made his greatest impact against Utah came on the defensive glass. Simmons posted a career-high 12 defensive rebounds. It allowed him to get out and push the ball and set up some quick shots in transition.

The Sixers capitalized. As a team, they shot 12 of 27 (44.4 percent) from the perimeter. Dario Saric led the way with a career-high five three-pointers – part of his season-high 25 points. JJ Redick and Robert Covington each hit three three-pointers apiece. They finished with 20 points and 14 points, respectively.

When Simmons can rebound and push the ball like he did against the Jazz, the Sixers become a team that's almost impossible to guard.

“You’ve got to be ready to run when you play with Ben,” forward/center Richaun Holmes said. “It's an exciting way to play.”

Sixers coach Brett Brown said that Simmons grew tremendously after having the NBA equivalent of a redshirt year when he sat out last season with an injury. It allowed Simmons to watch the game and learn about it from a different perspective. Brown felt like it opened the door for him to get himself a little more acclimated to the pro game before diving in with both feet.

“None of us can dismiss the benefit that Ben Simmons had of effectively being a redshirt and taking it all in and not necessarily in real time,” Brown said. “The NBA is so unforgiving.”

If Simmons could turn back the clock, he would have erased the injury that cost him an entire season. Now, in hindsight, he can see where it helped him learn and grow. The biggest thing it taught him is learning how to be patient and pick his battles.

Now that he's on the court, he's going full speed and progressing at a rate that surprises even the coaches that worked with him from Day 1.

“I think it definitely helps, but you can't actually compare it to playing,” Simmons said. “I think I've learned more just being on the court and actually playing and seeing different teams and sets than watching. But it did pay off to be able to watch and learn the game.”  

Ben Simmons’ triple-double helps Sixers overcome mountain of turnovers

Ben Simmons’ triple-double helps Sixers overcome mountain of turnovers

BOX SCORE 

MIAMI — The Sixers are leaving Miami with a 3-1 series lead.

After a hard-fought battle, they rallied for a 106-102 win at AmericanAirlines Arena. They will look to close out the first round Tuesday night back in Philadelphia.

• The tone of the series can be summed up with this moment right here. There were falls on one end of the court, scuffles on the other and tensions flaring in between. Watch the video that resulted in a personal foul on Ben Simmons and technicals on Robert Covington and James Johnson.

• Joel Embiid got away with one-mask-less play late in the fourth quarter after forgetting it on the bench. He drew a foul and then after the free throws, he chased down a block with the mask lifted on his face.

Embiid (14 points) did most of his scoring at the foul line, where he shot 10 for 13. He struggled from the field, shooting 2 for 11 and 0 for 4 from three, along with eight turnovers. Embiid did his work on the boards with a team-high 12 rebounds.

• Dwyane Wade (25 points) scored 10 points in the final 1:45 of the game. But he missed a key free throw that would have made it a one-point Sixers' lead with 17 seconds to play. JJ Redick grabbed the rebound on the miss, got fouled and knocked down both shots to give the Sixers the final four-point advantage.

• The Sixers reverted back to their old ways in the first half with turnover trouble. They committed 17 … yes, in the first half alone. Embiid and Simmons combined for nine. Those errors by the Sixers led to 20 Heat points. The team committed 26 in the afternoon (30 points). They had been cracking down on the problem, averaging just 12.7 in the first three games of the series.

• Another triple-double for Simmons. He scored the first four points of the fourth quarter to erase the Heat’s lead and make it a tie game. He posted 17 points, including a driving dunk to give the Sixers a three-point edge with a minute to play. Simmons also had 13 rebounds, 10 assists, four steals and seven turnovers.

• Hassan Whiteside got the memo that the Heat needed a win. After scoring a total of 11 points in the first three games, Whiteside reached that total in the third quarter and scored 13 points with 13 rebounds in the game.

• The Sixers relied too heavily on three-point shooting to start the game. They went 2 for 9 in the first quarter and 7 for 31 overall. The Heat struggled, too, going 7 for 19. The Sixers were outscored 58 to 44 in the paint.

Sixers have already embraced key aspects of NBA postseason

Sixers have already embraced key aspects of NBA postseason

Perhaps the Sixers have been underestimated a bit.

Outside of Joel Embiid’s health, all of the chatter going into the playoffs was about how the relatively inexperienced roster would handle the big stage. 

Sure, the team has a crop of veterans that have been there and done that. However, young impact players such as Embiid, Ben Simmons and Dario Saric were all getting their first taste of the postseason.

So how are they feeling about it to this point?

“I love it,” Embiid said at Friday’s practice. “I live for these moments. I thrive in this type of atmosphere. I think I was built for this, especially playoff basketball.”

Embiid appears particularly fond of the postseason in environments where the Sixers are short on support.

After missing the first two games of the series in Philadelphia while still recovering from orbital fracture surgery, Embiid stepped back into the starting lineup on the road in Miami.

Was getting barked at by rowdy fans in hostile territory going to be a problem? Not for the villain now known as “The Phantom of the Process.”

“I actually think I play better on the road because I just love the atmosphere,” Embiid said. “I just love looking around the arena, people booing, people going against us. That just takes my game to another level.”

The Sixers’ performance isn’t the only thing that has been taken up a notch. Their intensity level and physicality have jumped in this first-round matchup with the bruising Heat.

“I said it before, I wish it was like this all season,” said Simmons, who is averaging 20.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 9.7 assists per game in the series. “I’m enjoying it. It’s very competitive and that’s the type of basketball I want to play.”

“It’s basketball. It’s fun,” Justin Anderson said. “Playing like that is fun. Every possession matters. You can tell there’s not a lot of empty possessions. Guys are getting shots up on every possession.

“… It’s intensified. It’s just basketball. It’s the best basketball in the world, and we’re putting ourselves in a position to hopefully go and get another one in Game 4.”