It's getting increasingly hard to calibrate the Philadelphia 76ers' Moral Win-Loss record. The way the Sixers got up 25-8 in the game's opening minutes, only to slowly let the lead bleed away and ultimately fall behind by eight in the third quarter was so infuriating I wondered if I'd leave the game fuming even if we came back to win. But come back to win the Sixers did — largely thanks to the brilliance of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, who combined (almost evenly) for a staggering 40 points, 25 rebounds, 15 assists, 5 steals and 3 blocks — and the fourth-quarter was impressive enough you still had to leave the 119-109 victory with at least a half-smile.
But while our twin pillars were the primary reason the Sixers are currently sitting at .500 (with a record besides 0-0) for the first time since 2013, I wanna give credit to two of our much-maligned (by myself in particular) bench guys as well. As far south as things went in the middle of this one, they could've gone downright Key West if not for Amir Johnson and Jerryd Bayless.
After a slow-in-all-ways start to the season for Amir, he's really starting to show his value now as a rebounder, as a pick-and-roll partner, even as a low-post finisher. One game after posting his first double-double as a Sixer, he managed 12 and 8 in just 17 minutes last night, crucial in helping the Sixers get back to sea level when they were floundering in the third. And Bayless, coming off the bench for the first time all season with J.J. Redick's return to the starting five, was huge with his 14 points, three dimes and no turnovers. Not only did he hit one of the biggest shots of the game — a triple to put the Sixers up seven with five to go, which got them breathing room they never gave back — but he also made a couple crucial defensive plays, blocking a fourth-quarter drive by Isaiah Taylor and forcing (and winning) a late jump ball against Luke Babbitt.
I've been pretty hard on both of our pricey vets so far this season, because I've mostly found them exceedingly frustrating to watch — Bayless' decision-making has been largely woeful, and Johnson's low-post athleticism and finesse has left much to be desired. But Johnson appears to have steadied, averaging 10 and 8 on 67% shooting over his last three and looking at least mildly mobile on defense, and it's a lot easier to like Jerryd Bayless coming off the bench than it is to like him starting and playing 40 minutes (!!!) like he did in Houston on Wednesday. Maybe they're Sixers after all.
And boy, did we need 'em in this one, since everyone else was Breaking Benjamin-cold midway through the game. The previously scorching Robert Covington was temporarily sidelined with knee troubles, J.J. Redick couldn't get one to drop, Dario Saric's inability to convert from any range was reaching comedic proportions, and even Joel Embiid was looking too sluggish to be relied upon. Without Johnson and Bayless, this one maybe slips away altogether, leading to our worst loss of the early season — rather than just one we're annoyed to have to pay attention to for all four quarters.
So, 4-4 now, with a very reasonable chance to go over .500 at home on Friday against the Indiana Pacers. With Redick missing time, Markelle Fultz a sidelined mess and Dario going through Lonzo Ball-like shooting struggles, it's pretty remarkable that that things have evened out as quickly as they have. And with Embiid actually playing over 30 minutes against Atlanta last night — for the first time in the NBA — clearly anything is possible for Philly this season.