With how well Ben Simmons has played with Joel Embiid out, he's still been the target of scrutiny.
More performances like Monday's ought to quiet some of that down.
The Sixers used a dominant defensive effort after halftime and a virtuoso Simmons performance to beat the Nets in a thrilling 117-111 win at Barclays Center on Martin Luther King Day.
They held Brooklyn to just 43 points in the second half. It’s their second straight road win to improve to 9-14 away from the Wells Fargo Center and 29-16 overall.
The Sixers head to Toronto Wednesday to take on the Raptors (7 p.m./NBCSP)
Here are observations from the win:
Early on, it didn’t seem like the Sixers did enough to take advantage of their size offensively. With the Nets opting to use center Jarrett Allen on Simmons and Taurean Prince on Al Horford, Horford seemed to have an advantage. With Simmons, it seemed like he could’ve used his speed and quickness more to attack Allen.
That changed during that duo’s second-quarter run. Simmons was more aggressive, and Horford made his only shot attempts of the period. In the third quarter, Brett Brown used Simmons at the five and it worked wonders. With rookie Nicolas Claxton in the game, Simmons was attacking the basket and finishing with authority.
Overall, the freshly-minted Eastern Conference Player of the Week was outstanding. He recorded his fourth triple-double of the season, tying a career-high with 34 points (12 of 14), 12 assists and 12 rebounds. He missed his first two free throws but then made 10 of his next 12.
Defensively, he continues to dominate. Spencer Dinwiddie, a notorious Sixer killer, was just 6 of 17 for 22 points. Simmons had five steals and two blocks, but that doesn’t even tell the story. He shifted the entire momentum of the game with his defense and made everything difficult for Brooklyn. This was arguably the finest performance of his career.
Horford showing his worth
If you’re looking for a game that demonstrated Horford’s value to the Sixers, this is it. Joel Embiid missed his seventh straight game while two-way player Norvel Pelle was not active as his 45 NBA days are dwindling.
Horford, who was questionable coming in with a sprained left hand, was sharp defensively in defending the pick-and-roll. Most impressive were his defensive possessions where he was switched onto one of the Nets’ dangerous guards. Overall, Horford was outstanding, going for 19 points on 9 of 15. He made a couple huge shots down the stretch.
When Horford came out with two early fouls, the players behind him didn’t have that much luck. Veteran Kyle O’Quinn got the first crack and struggled to protect the rim and play the pick-and-roll. Brown turned to little-used Jonah Bolden.
Bolden, who was seeing his first NBA action since November and really his first meaningful minutes this season, also struggled early. To the second-year big man’s credit, he hung in there and was much better in his second stint. It was a tough ask. Considering the circumstances, Bolden handled it well.
Thybulle progressing and impressing
Matisse Thybulle has been so impressive on the defensive end this season. With that said, this was some of the best basketball he’s played. Like with Simmons, the four steals and block don’t tell the story. Thybulle was everywhere. He wreaked havoc and was a big part of the Sixers cutting a 12-point deficit to four in the first half.
They call him Mathief for a reason.— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) January 20, 2020
A Thybulle swipe leads to a Tobi bucket as the Sixers trail, 62-55 to the Nets. pic.twitter.com/tyOd21fmeH
What’s been so impressive about Thybulle is the way he’s adjusted in his first NBA season. He’s been disruptive from the jump, but the way he’s learned to guard different types of players is amazing. Sharpshooter Joe Harris learned his lesson when Thybulle got him for a block last week. Harris was attempting to take advantage of Thybulle’s aggressiveness by attacking closeouts. It seemed to throw off Harris, who went just 1 of 5 from three.
The bench turns it around
The Sixers’ bench was badly outplayed in the first half as Claxton and former Sixer Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot gave Brooklyn a big boost. The lineup Brown has used that features Josh Richardson and four reserves just hasn’t looked good.
Furkan Korkmaz has been red hot. He was up and down in this one but made a huge three down the stretch to help the Sixers close the game out. Mike Scott showed some signs off life, hitting a pair of threes and grabbing five offensive rebounds.
In addition to Simmons’ dominance, the bench turning their play around in the second half was huge.
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