Chicago Bulls

Sixers close in on 'something special' with great escape

Sixers close in on 'something special' with great escape


CHICAGO — If the Sixers end their playoff drought this season, it’ll be because of the franchise’s big two.

All-Star Joel Embiid and rookie Ben Simmons showed just how much fun that could be Thursday night.

Embiid forced a turnover in the final seconds, Simmons scooped up the ball and made a pair of free throws with 5.6 seconds to play and the Sixers scratched out their sixth straight victory, 116-115, over the Bulls (see observations).

The win halted a four-game road skid but, more important to the Sixers’ fortunes, had Embiid and Simmons’ fingerprints all over it.

Simmons finished with a career-high 32 points and had 11 assists and seven rebounds to come close to his second straight triple-double while Embiid added his ninth straight double-double — 30 and 13 rebounds with four blocks — to pace the Sixers on a night when they didn’t get much else.

“Joel and Ben carried us,” coach Brett Brown said after his team won on the road for the first time since Jan. 26. “I thought everyone else really had subpar performances. You felt like we came out of a break.”

The tanking Bulls — starting center Robin Lopez was a healthy scratch as Chicago joins the dash for better NBA draft odds — made 18 three-pointers in both teams’ return from the All-Star break and appeared to have the Sixers on the ropes after Zach LaVine’s triple with 1:02 to play made it 115-110.

That was the last time Chicago scored.

Simmons followed his miss with a layup and JJ Redick made a pair of free throws with 8.0 seconds left to set up the final defensive sequence that put Simmons at the line.

“First of all, we needed a steal and I saw Joel get it and he kind of lobbed it to me and I said, ‘S---, I better get it,’” Simmons said. “Stepping up to the line, I knew I was going to knock ‘em down. You have to have that mentality. I was put to the line and I can’t be thinking I’m going to miss ‘em.” 

With 26 games to play, the Sixers can move into the upper half of the Eastern Conference with a late surge, but will need solid play — and the workloads that come with it — from Embiid and Simmons. If their contributions Thursday (both players were on the court for at least 30 minutes) are any indication, Sixers fans might have more postseason success to celebrate in the spring.

“We stole that win. Sometimes you need those and that’s what we did tonight,” Embiid said. “It’s fun when you win games like that.”

It’ll be even more fun when games like that happen in the postseason … which looks much more plausible every game lately thanks to the big two.

“They feel something special is close. They feel something special that we’ve worked hard for for four years is just around the corner and no one is taking that for granted,” Brown said.

“There’s no entitlement. We just fight for everything we can get.”

Whew! Sixers figure things out just in time

Whew! Sixers figure things out just in time


CHICAGO — That momentum the Sixers had at the All-Star break must’ve had a hard time making the trip to the Windy City, but they got it when they needed it most.

Ben Simmons scored the last of his career-high 32 points from the line with 5.6 seconds left and the Sixers pulled out a 116-115 win in both teams’ return from the hiatus.

The Bulls had a pair of looks at a game-winner in the final seconds but the ball bounced away and left the Sixers with their sixth straight victory.

All-Star Joel Embiid added 30 points and 13 rebounds — his ninth straight double-double — to help the Sixers end their four-game road losing streak.

Simmons had 11 assists and seven rebounds to come close to his seventh triple-double and Dario Saric chipped in 13 to help the Sixers take the season series from the Bulls.

JJ Redick made a pair of free throws with 8.0 seconds left to cut the lead to a point, then Simmons drew a foul to put the Sixers ahead for good.

Up 93-91 at the start of the fourth quarter, the Sixers watched Bobby Portis score 10 points during a 12-5 run that gave the hosts a lead they wouldn’t lose until the final seconds. Portis, who missed the first of the Bulls’ final chances, finished with a career-best 38 points and Zach LaVine added 23.

• Chicago left the door open by missing four straight shots in the final minutes, but an Embiid turnover with about a minute to play kept the Sixers from tying the game at 112-112 or taking the lead. LaVine nailed a three-pointer at the other end to make it 115-110 and keep the Sixers scrambling.

• The Sixers jumped out to a 25-7 lead midway through the first quarter after making their first five three-point tries — including two by Embiid — but trailed, 69-67, at the break. Chicago’s Portis led the charge for the hosts by scoring 14, a dozen of which came on triples, in the second period.

• One more triple-double will put Simmons in some rare company. Hall of Fame enshrinee Magic Johnson was the last NBA rookie to record seven during the 1979-80 season.

• Justin Anderson, who left a Feb. 12 win over New York with a sprained right ankle and missed the Sixers’ finale before the break, did not play Thursday night. 

• Chicago benched center Robin Lopez and guard Justin Holiday on Thursday as the franchise joins several others in a race for the best odds in the NBA draft lottery. 

Sixers coach Brett Brown remembers days like that and said there’s more to the story.

“It didn’t beat me down, but you had to coach yourself a little bit,” Brown said of recent seasons. “We went overboard just with the relational side and the development side. Anything that fell under those two categories, we went overboard trying to help guys, help them get better, help them stay in the league.”

• The Sixers return home Saturday hoping to extend an 11-game winning streak at the Wells Fargo Center. The Sixers tip off against the Orlando Magic on Saturday at 5 p.m.

Simmons does 'hardest thing to guard' in triple-double effort

Simmons does 'hardest thing to guard' in triple-double effort


On Australian Heritage Night at the Wells Fargo Center, Ben Simmons showed why Brett Brown believes “he will end up the best basketball product ever out of the country.” 

The rookie made a 19-point, 17-rebound, 14-assist triple-double look effortless in the Sixers’ 115-101 win over the Bulls Wednesday (see observations).

“I think the style of game, him rebounding, it allowed him to put his thumbprint on this game in a big way early,” Brown said. 

Simmons dominated from the start, grabbing 11 rebounds and scoring eight points in the first quarter. He became the first member of the Sixers to pull down at least 11 boards in a quarter in eight years, since Samuel Dalembert did it in 2010. 

He had an 11-point, 13-rebound double-double by halftime, and reached the triple-double mark in just the third quarter.

Simmons’ stat line particularly stands out because he did it in only his 43rd career game. He joined Oscar Robertson and Alvan Adams on the top-three list of most triple-doubles through 50 games. When it comes to this season, Simmons ranks third behind only Russell Westbrook and LeBron James in triple-doubles. 

Simmons, who is averaging 7.9 rebounds per game, had not been attacking the glass as much recently. In his previous seven games played in January, Simmons had five or less rebounds in as many matchups. That includes just one against the Raptors and two against the Celtics. He made a concerted effort facing the Bulls. 

“I think just being on the boards and making it one of those things where I’m actually trying to get boards and going to the boards every time I can,” Simmons said. “I'm usually getting those rebounds. I think I went away from it the last couple weeks. It was one of those things where I was just doing it. I had to be reminded.”

Perhaps more significant than getting the rebound is what Simmons does after he’s gained possession. The 6-foot-10 point guard uses his combination of speed, strength and ball-handling to run the fast break. That unique skill set gives Brown flashbacks to Hall of Famers. 

“He can rebound and take off,” Brown said. “I still think that’s the hardest thing to guard. Back in the day, you’d see Charles Barkley do that and rebound, lead a break. It’s hard to defend that with the exception of maybe the high kickout, the high outlet, that’s maybe the second-most effective way. You’d see Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson do it all the time. 

“I thought in the first half there was a lot of what we call dribble-out backdowns where he was out there, nobody was ahead of him, he’d turn and play and find other people on the other side of the floor or spin off and finish himself.”

Joel Embiid noticed those game-changing attributes, as well as another possible push. Simmons, who finished third among fan votes for Eastern Conference guards, was not named an All-Star reserve by head coaches.

“I felt like he was just focused from the get-go,” Embiid said. “We played tough defensively, especially the first quarter, so there was a lot of rebounds to grab and he was extra aggressive offensively. Besides Australia Night, I think that he just wanted it tonight and him not making [the All-Star Game] might have had something to do with it, too.”

Simmons answered “no” when asked if he was motivated by the voting results. He was selected to the World Team for the Mtn Dew Kickstart Rising Stars game, along with Embiid and Dario Saric.

“Things happen. They happen for a reason,” Simmons said. “I wish I did make it but it’s going to be hopefully plenty more years.”

With games like this, he's on the right track.