Ben Simmons

#SixersJanuary back on with wire-to-wire win over Raptors

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#SixersJanuary back on with wire-to-wire win over Raptors

Well, it certainly doesn't feel like the Philadelphia 76ers never trailed in that game against the Toronto Raptors, does it? The Sixers technically held on for the wire-to-wire 117-111 victory against Toronto, despite that lead getting Cliffhanger precarious down the stretch, getting back to .500 on the season thanks to big efforts from Ben Simmons, T.J. McConnell and Joel Embiid. 

Of course, if the Raptors were on their game, the Sixers might not have escaped with this one. Following a hard-fought loss to the Warriors (and in Kyle Lowry's first game back since missing a few games with a bruised tailbone), the Raps seemed out of rhythm for most of the afternoon. The Sixers' stout defense certainly played a part in that, but the Raps also just missed shots, and generally lacked the tenacity they attacked Philly with in their two meetings this December. 

Nonetheless, the Sixers played well enough to win for three quarters, and snapped out of their usual late-game momentum funk in time to not totally give the game away. Credit for that part has to go to Simmons, who rolled in a layup and the kicked out to Dario for an open three with minutes to go, expanding a dangling one-point Sixers lead to a relatively secure six they were able to protect from there. He also made the Raps pay for intentionally hacking him late, calmly sinking two to keep Toronto at bay. Embiid also helped clinch things with late free throws, part of his 34-point, 11-rebound afternoon (see video), and with mighty defense around the basket that closed things off for the surging Raps. 

And yet, this was once again the T.J. McConnell game. He tangled early with Raptors star (and professional Sixers torturer) DeMar DeRozan, and that seemed to ignite an unusually aggressive T.J., as Timothy John went on to score a career-high 18 on 8-13 shooting, to go with eight dimes, six boards and three steals (see video) — also helping to hold DeMar to a manageable 24 points for the afternoon. He did get passive late, which he kicked himself for a little in his post-game interview, but it was still a magnificent afternoon for Teej, and his buckets were invaluable on an afternoon where our shooters weren't hitting much (6-25 from deep) and nobody besides JoJo was doing much in the half-court. 

Even though they had to work for it at the end a little more than we'd like, there's no denying the size of this win for the Sixers. Aside from giving them a statement W over one of the East's elite, it keeps them from falling too far back of the playoff pack, while the Pacers are surging and while the Sixers still have some tough games immediately ahead of them, I figured if they got one win in their four-pack against the Celts, Raps, Celts again and Bucks, they'd be in decent shape — now, they have two more chances to come out with a split. 

What's more, you can now add Toronto to the list of very good teams the Sixers don't have to worry about playing again this season — a list that already includes the Warriors and Rockets, and is one game away from also including the Celtics. Though it's dampened their 20-20 record until this point, it's pretty incredible to be halfway through January and already be done playing arguably the league's four best teams, two of which are in their division. Smooth sailing is on the horizon, and in the meantime we're officially in the midst of #SixersJanuary. Salvation is free. 

Sixers face, conquer late-game demons

Sixers face, conquer late-game demons

BOX SCORE

The Sixers on Monday exorcised two demons.

After nearly blowing a 21-point lead, the Sixers managed to take down one of the East's elite, holding on for dear life in a 117-111 win (see observations) over the Raptors during a Martin Luther King Day matinee game at the Wells Fargo Center.

Coming into today, they were 0-8 against the likes of Boston, Cleveland and Toronto — the top three teams in the Eastern Conference. They had managed just one against the Raptors in the last five seasons combined before today's win.

It took a strong defensive effort against Toronto's dynamic backcourt of DeMar DeRozan and Philly native Kyle Lowry.

"We tried to keep fresh bodies on them and we ended up doing quite a bit of switching," head coach Brett Brown said. "I think that the rules, by and large, of what we were doing in pick-and-roll were solid, I thought we executed them well. But I think that individually we understood that those two, when they get going, generate most of their wins and we understood that and I give credit to our guys, a collective group of guarding them."

As a team, Toronto shot 40 percent from the field and just 28 percent from three. A big part of that, as Brown alluded to, was the Sixers' ability to stifle DeRozan and Lowry. The duo combined to score 37 points on 11 of 34 (32 percent) from the field.

Other than giving a stellar effort against Toronto's All-Star guards, the Sixers didn't help themselves out too much. They turned the ball over 21 times against the second-best team in the conference and lived to tell about it.

There were some anxious moments down the stretch, but the Sixers held on.

"I think it shows how good we can be," backup point guard T.J. McConnell said of the win. "Twenty-one turnovers is ridiculously bad. Obviously blowing that lead ... we just got to be more mature with leads like that and continue to execute and lock up on defense and limit turnovers."

McConnell was nothing short of spectacular. The third-year guard scored a career-high 18 points on 8 of 13 from the field. He also added eight assists, six rebounds, three steals and a dustup with DeRozan in the second quarter, which resulted in double technicals (see video).

Big man Joel Embiid, who was spectacular in his own right with 34 points and 11 boards (see video), was effusive in his praise for McConnell. 

"He was great the whole game," Embiid said. "He brought some energy. We moved the ball with him on the court and he found me. He's a great piece for us and he helped us a lot."

The Sixers had been in this situation before and they're likely to see it a lot more as the season goes on. There was a particularly odd sequence with the Sixers holding a 113-108 lead with 25.3 seconds remaining in the game. 

McConnell stole an inbounds pass, which led to a Robert Covington missed layup. After Lowry turned the ball over again, Ben Simmons came up with another steal. He proceeded to miss a dunk which Embiid rebounded and then missed a layup of his own before eventually getting fouled.

All of this could've been avoided if the Sixers just took the rebound and dribbled the ball out.

"All we've got to do is dribble it out and instead we're playing volleyball," Brown said. "Just dribble it out and spread it out and just win the game. 

"That's the stuff that keeps me up late — really, really late — at night, but we found a way to win. To our team's credit, we went on a 7-0 run when the game was in the balance. 

"It's not a mystery to me why this stuff happens. And it's not as simple as, 'OK, now you know why you're sick, here's the medicine to fix it.' It's growing a bunch of young guys. It's part of the challenge."

A second-half collapse avoided with a win over an Eastern Conference giant will hopefully provide the Sixers a remedy going forward. 

Tenacious Sixers don't back down from physical battle

Tenacious Sixers don't back down from physical battle

The Raptors didn’t go down without a fight.

Well, not an actual fight, but the game got heated before the buzzer sounded and the Sixers had fended off the Raptors’ 21-point comeback attempt.

With only 6.5 seconds left and the Sixers' 117-111 win iced (see observations), Ben Simmons and Kyle Lowry had words after a trip to the free throw line. Both were tossed, hand motions seemed to be made to toward the locker room, and buzz quickly circulated about a postgame altercation away from the court (see video).

Both players said that was not the case.

“Off the court? No,” Simmons said. “I just went to the locker room … Nobody was back there."

Lowry said of the incident, “Nothing at all. Things happen.”

Meanwhile, the Sixers locker room had a leak and the team was redirected after the game to a different one a few steps down the hall in the Wells Fargo Center.

Brett Brown believes the incident began when Jakob Poeltl hit Simmons on a box out. Simmons didn’t know what exactly sparked Lowry. He pointed to the possibility of a frustration over a loss, only the Raptors’ 13th of the season. Whatever the reason, Simmons didn’t need an explanation.

“I don't know if they're just trying to test me or see how I am on the court,” Simmons said. “But I don't play around. I'm not going to take s--- from anybody.”

This is not the first time Simmons had been involved in a situation like this. In the Sixers' previous game against the Celtics, he dealt a hard foul to Marcus Morris, who bounced up and shoved him.

"It's been two Philly guys," Simmons pointed out. “Maybe it's a Philly thing. I don't know. They're tough players, I've seen them play. I'm the same way. I'm not going to let you push me around or push me and say whatever you want just because I'm not that type of player.”

Before Lowry and Simmons got into it, T.J. McConnell and DeMar DeRozan also had a chippy exchange. McConnell regained possession off a Raptors turnover and DeRozan pushed him for a foul. As the two guards exchanged words, DeRozan then pushed McConnell with one hand. The refs whistled DeRozan for a personal foul and both with technical fouls (see video).

“It's basketball,” McConnell said. “That kind of stuff happens. I kind of thought the shove wasn't needed, but I know he had no intent behind it. He's a good guy, so it was just the heat of the moment stuff.”

Brown said he could feel the physicality of the game right from the start. The Sixers needed that extra fire to beat the Raptors for the first time since Jan.18 of last year and improve to 20-20. They had been 0-8 so far this season against the top-three teams in the Eastern Conference (Celtics, Raptors, Cavaliers).

“That just shows you that a lot of guys on the team have passion,” Joel Embiid said. “We all want to compete.”