76ers

Ben Simmons hits a three, Sixers escape with win over Knicks

Ben Simmons hits a three, Sixers escape with win over Knicks

BOX SCORE

What a night for Ben Simmons.

The All-Star point guard hit his first NBA three and willed the Sixers to a 109-104 win over the Knicks at the Wells Fargo Center Wednesday night.

New York’s lead was as large as 17 in the third quarter, but Simmons’ took over the game defensively and Mike Scott got red hot in leading the comeback.

Josh Richardson (hip) was out for Wednesday’s game.

The Sixers improve to 9-5 and will host the Spurs Friday night.

Here are observations from the win.

OK, Ben

Admittedly, nobody knew Simmons would pull the trigger on a three Wednesday night, but it was an aggressive offensive start for the All-Star point guard.

On the first possession of the game, Simmons got veteran Taj Gibson on a switch. Simmons backed him down before taking a short fadeaway in the lane. Brett Brown has talked a lot recently about wanting to see Simmons attack, but that teams have just closed off the paint defensively.

This could help that cause …

He buried that thing. No hesitation and nothing but nylon. It’ll take more than just one make from three to keep defenses honest, but it’s a nice start.

On a night when the Sixers weren’t very good defensively, Simmons was excellent and helped stop the bleeding in the third quarter. With all the talk about his offensive struggles, nobody can deny how Simmons has played on the other end. He was otherworldly Wednesday.

He finished with 18 points, 13 assists, seven rebounds, a block and a steal.

Tough shooting night for Embiid

Despite Joel Embiid’s early shooting struggles, he appeared intent on getting every Knicks frontcourt player fouled out. First it was Gibson, then it was youngster Mitchell Robinson, then Bobby Portis. Despite that dominance, Embiid hit just 3 of his first 10 shots. He did have four assists and just one turnover in the first half.

Embiid mixed it up with Philly native Marcus Morris late in the first half. As Tobias Harris was hitting a midrange jumper, Embiid and Morris were fighting for position underneath. Morris pulled Embiid down by the shoulder and took him to the ground. Both players got up quickly and had words for each other, but the situation did not escalate as the players on the floor and the officials intervened.

Each player was hit with a technical and Morris was called for a Flagrant 1. These players have a history going back to when Morris was with the Celtics and he taunted Embiid in Game 4 while Boston had a 3-0 series lead.

Embiid went just 7 of 19 for the game but had 23 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks.

Up and down Harris

Harris had sort of an uneven game. He hit his first two shots — a corner three on his first touch and then a midrange jumper curling around an Al Horford screen. He then missed his next five shots before hitting 2 of his last 3 to end the half.

He took just two shots in the second half, but made a huge and-one bucket on a drive late in the fourth.

At practice Tuesday, Harris talked about his desire to get to the line more and you can see the concerted effort to draw contact. He’s simply not getting calls. He mentioned that he’s not a flopper and that could be hurting him. He might be right.

Horford and Korkmaz have nights to forget

Horford’s offensive struggles continued early on in this one as he went just 3 of 11. With the Knicks’ slew of power forwards, the Sixers made an effort to get Horford the ball in the post, but the veteran big still couldn’t get shots to fall. He was a team-worst minus-15.

They also didn’t get much out of Furkan Korkmaz tonight. Starting in place of Richardson, Korkmaz wasn’t hitting shots (1 of 5) and was having a tough team on defense. Brown was forced to go to Shake Milton early on in the second half.

Once again, the Sixers’ pick-and-roll defense was poor as guards Frank Ntilikina and Dennis Smith Jr. combined for 30 points. Eventually, Brown had to go to Simmons on Ntilikina to stop the bleeding.

Ennis the Menace is back

As Brown continues to sort his rotation out, James Ennis has stood out over the last few contests. Ennis was really struggling with his shot to start the season and it seemed to leak over into the rest of his play. Lately he’s been giving them a strong spark defensively and continues to clean up on the offensive glass.

This was an outstanding finish in traffic that showed off his athleticism.

Along with Simmons, Ennis was a huge part to the Sixers’ third-quarter run. He finished a team-high plus-15 and added 11 points.

Bench boost

Scott has been a steady reserve for the Sixers all season. On Wednesday, you saw what happens when the man gets hot. 

He made all four of his threes in the second half and played tough defense against the Knicks’ physical forwards.

Brown hinted that we might see Milton come off the bench following his assignment in Delaware that saw him play for the Blue Coats just last night. Milton was mostly a positive, showing off his ability to move without the ball and also his craftiness on a lefty finish in the second quarter.

Trey Burke continues to get the nod over Raul Neto as the team’s backup point guard. Since Neto struggled in Orlando, it appears Brown wants to give Burke a longer look. Against his former team, Burke hit a three and showed off his “waterbug” ability with a couple nice drives. He also took a huge charge in the fourth quarter.

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Criticism by analyst of Joel Embiid's opinion on NBA plan is well off the mark

Criticism by analyst of Joel Embiid's opinion on NBA plan is well off the mark

Joel Embiid on Tuesday gave a thoughtful and detailed explanation for why he initially “hated” the NBA’s plan to resume the season in Orlando and still does not believe it is safe enough.

Wednesday, Kendrick Perkins reacted to Embiid’s comments on ESPN’s “First Take,” and his stance was not as well-reasoned. 

In part, Perkins said, “To me, this is just an excuse. If they get knocked out, this is going to be an excuse because their superstar was halfway in. … Man, go down there and hoop. I ain’t trying to hear that, man. It’s a billion-dollar bubble.”

Perkins’ response evades the substance of Embiid’s remarks. Among Embiid’s primary points were that he is concerned about consequences the coronavirus might have for himself and his family, that basketball isn’t the only thing which should define him, and that he is skeptical other players will adhere to the NBA’s health and safety protocols intended to minimize risk of COVID-19 exposure. (Embiid noted he doesn’t do much outside of basketball besides playing video games and will personally do everything necessary to mitigate risk.) What Perkins said addresses none of those issues.

Instead, he focused on the notion of Embiid somehow being weaker than other superstars who committed to resume play without publicly voicing any concerns. To express worry about doing one’s job in these circumstances — playing basketball, in Embiid’s case — does not suggest a lack of character or toughness. It is a logical sentiment, and there is nothing wrong with Embiid being candid on the subject. 

… If you told me that the current trend is that people are getting sick and a lot of people are dying,” Embiid said, “obviously you don’t know what's going to happen and you don’t want to be in a situation where you put your life at risk ... and all that stuff, just for what? The money and all that stuff. At the end of the day, basketball is not all that matters. I've got family, I've got myself to look out for. That's all I care about.

Coronavirus cases have risen sharply in Florida, to the extent that many hospitals in the state have maxed out their ICU capacity. Embiid, who’s donated $500,000 to coronavirus relief efforts, has every right to say he is “not a big fan” of playing in Orlando. 

Familiar cliches in sports about sacrifice for the sake of the team and adversity over obstacles do not apply to a pandemic. This is a different category from Embiid shifting how he plays to accommodate teammates, and a topic that should be approached seriously. 

Perkins is allowed to criticize Embiid, of course, but his viewpoint is lacking in empathy and perspective.

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What to make of Joel Embiid's answers to big on-court questions

What to make of Joel Embiid's answers to big on-court questions

Since March, Joel Embiid has played a little under 27 minutes of competitive basketball.

He was impressive in that time on the floor, recording 30 points and 11 rebounds vs. the Pistons on March 11 after a five-game absence with a left shoulder sprain.

However, the most notable part of Embiid’s conversation with reporters Tuesday did not have to do with on-court matters. He said that he “hated” the NBA’s plan to resume the season in Orlando and does not believe it is safe enough. As Embiid said, he is more than just a basketball player. It is certainly valid to be critical of the idea of playing in Orange County, where ICU beds are at full capacity in several hospitals because of a spike in coronavirus cases. 

Still, we’re obligated to discuss Embiid the player, a three-time All-Star starter. 

Embiid didn’t volunteer many specifics about his fitness but said on multiple occasions he “feels good.” Over the last week, Brett Brown and Josh Richardson have praised his conditioning.

“I don’t think my weight is an issue,” he said. “The only thing to always watch is my body fat, and I feel good. Like I said, I’ve been chilling. Just doing what I have to do.”

He acknowledged Tuesday he did not always play at full intensity this season. 

“During this year, there were a lot of times when I was not into the offense and I was just basically going through the same motions and all that,” he said. “But with the playoffs coming, I’ve just gotta be more assertive and just be that guy — just demand the ball and do what I do.”  

Though no major statistic that might signify aggression — usage rate, free throw rate, post-ups, three-point attempts per 36 minutes — dropped significantly this year for Embiid, he feels he’s capable of more. In 44 games, he’s averaged 23.4 points, 11.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists, playing 30.2 minutes per game. Brown said last Wednesday he’d ideally like to have Embiid play 38 minutes a game in the postseason. 

I know what I’m capable of, and I know what my teammates think of me. I know I’m capable of carrying the team,” Embiid said. “It’s all about me being assertive. If I feel like I'm not getting the ball, I've just got to talk to them and do what I have to do, but at the end of the day, I should never be in a position to complain about not getting the ball, just because of who I am. 

“I believe I can carry the team. I believe that by being able to do that, I’ve just got to take matters into my own hands. … Obviously I need to be in positions where I feel comfortable, and I'm sure my teammates are going to help me.

Embiid’s partnership with Al Horford was a prominent storyline for the Sixers before the hiatus, mostly because it hasn’t worked as the Sixers hoped offensively. Among regular Sixers duos, the team has the worst offensive rating when that pair is on the floor together, and by a three-point margin

In Embiid’s mind, the pairing isn’t doomed to fail, though he thinks the players surrounding himself and Horford are an important factor. 

I don’t believe there is a problem,” he said. “It’s just a matter of everybody buying in and being able to play their role. The pairing with Al, I feel like it has been fine. At times it could be better but then again, everyone on the court has a job and with that type of pairing you need to have shooters around or you need to have people or guys ... wanting to take that shot, especially, when you’ve got two inside presences like me and Al. 

“He can post up, I can post up and then around, you’ve got to be able to have guys that are willing to shoot and that are going to shoot the ball. I think that's what needs to happen, but I don’t think there’s a problem. I think we're fine. I like him, great guy. We've got to keep on working together. … We are better suited for the playoffs. We’ve got about eight games to get back into it ... so I’m excited.

Horford and Embiid have not played together with a cast of willing and able shooters very often this season. The Sixers as a team are 22nd in three-pointers attempted (31.6) and 14th in three-point percentage (36.2 percent). The duo has shared the floor most often with Tobias Harris, who’s taken the most threes on the team, but the Sixers only have a 101.0 offensive rating when those three play together.  

Embiid seems to think an intuitive understanding of how to play the game — when to take open shots, how to accommodate each other, when to feed the dominant big man in the post — can override what we saw in the first 65 games.

More than anything, he trusts his own abilities when he’s determined to attack. 

“We didn’t get the chance to see it as much this year,” he said, “but you can go back and look at last year’s regular season and what I did, and that’s the mindset I need to have — and even better — if I really want to achieve that goal, which is to win the championship.”

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