76ers

Jimmy Butler knows and is 'cool' with his role on the Sixers

Jimmy Butler knows and is 'cool' with his role on the Sixers

There’s been so much made of Jimmy Butler’s role and perceived lack of aggressiveness offensively.

And Butler did little to silence those critics through three quarters Tuesday night. 

Then, with the Sixers clinging to a one-point lead late in the fourth, Butler did what he does. He hit two big fadeaways, made two huge defensive plays and set up a dagger three for Mike Scott in a 114-106 win over the Magic (see observations).

Brett Brown was reminded of a future Hall of Famer from this area by Butler’s clutch performance.

“It’s like years ago when the Lakers were my team [to scout with the Spurs], I used to see Kobe [Bryant] do that all the time,” Brown said.

It’s fair to say that Butler can have that “mamba mentality” to close out games like we saw in Brooklyn and Charlotte earlier this season. He has adopted a role as the team’s closer ever since he was acquired.

“I think I know when my number’s going to get called,” Butler said. “I’m cool with it. I understand my role. I just got to make shots late in the game. That’s why I’m here. I’m just happy that we can win.”

The difference between Butler and Bryant is that generally Bryant had that mindset through all four quarters, not just the fourth. 

While it’s easy to say Butler is too passive early in games, part of that is just the way Butler is. He picks his spots and a lot of his early points are scored as the result of good offense from his teammates.

On Tuesday, scoring was not the issue for the Sixers in the first half as the team scored 70 points and shot 61 percent from the field.

“Jimmy went through the first half — he didn’t practice yesterday, he didn’t go through walkthrough today, I really wasn’t 100 percent certain he was going to play — and the gym was moving,” Brown said. “The ball was moving. People were scoring and he was a part of that. 

“When it got to a stage of a game where we needed something a little different, a little more, there he was.”

That “something a little different” was Butler’s ability to score in isolation. For as great as Ben Simmons is, you can slow him down by clogging the paint. Same goes for Joel Embiid. Tobias Harris can excel at iso ball at times, but isn’t the playmaker Butler is.

With the way the Sixers were moving the ball in the first half — 18 assists on 27 makes — and the way they were getting baskets in transition, Butler wasn’t going to force the action.

He waited patiently, and when the time came, he answered the bell.

“I just play basketball the right way,” Butler said. “When I’m open, I shoot it. If I’m not, I pass it. As long as we win, I’m cool with it. I’m telling you, I’m not worried about nothing. We’ll just figure everything out when we get to these playoffs, clicking on all cylinders. To me, I think that’s where the real basketball starts.”

It’ll be nice for the Sixers to have a player like Butler when the real basketball does start.

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Sixers sweat out a win over Knicks and end skid on road

Sixers sweat out a win over Knicks and end skid on road

BOX SCORE 

The Sixers’ six-game road losing streak is over thanks to a 90-87 win Saturday night at Madison Square Garden over the New York Knicks. It was certainly not an easy victory.

Tobias Harris’ three-pointer with 27.7 seconds left gave the Sixers the lead.

Marcus Morris’ heave from near half court at the buzzer to tie the game went off the back rim. 

The win moves the Sixers to 28-16 this season and 8-14 on the road. 

Here are observations from the game: 

The same story for Simmons 

Ben Simmons, as he’s made a habit of doing lately, started in attack mode. 

He shifted gears very well. He drew two free throws off a Furkan Korkmaz ball screen in the first quarter by picking the right occasion to drive when the Knicks hedged. In the second, he took advantage of the Knicks’ confusion to go right through the heart of their defense. 

It probably doesn’t need to be said because he has shown it so often, but Simmons always seems on the verge of a highlight in transition. 

Yet again, Simmons was much less effective on offense after halftime and especially so in the fourth quarter, when he was scoreless. He scored 16 of his 21 points in the first half and has now scored 20-plus points in four straight games. 

It’s understandable that Simmons isn’t the focal point of the Sixers’ offense in the second half, but the team needs him to be a little more of a threat to score late in games. He was too deferential in the fourth, content to run the called play and then wait for something to happen. 

Make no mistake, though: Simmons was the Sixers’ best player Saturday. He had eight assists, no turnovers and two steals. 

Furkan’s on fire 

Friday night was all about Korkmaz. He scored a career-high 24 points, made six threes and even took a charge in the fourth quarter on the Bulls’ Zach LaVine. His confidence didn’t wear off during the commute to New York.

Korkmaz had eight points in his first stint, dropping in a floater before hitting one three from the right wing and another from the left. 

He made his next shot, too, absorbing contact from Allonzo Trier and converting a four-point play early in the third quarter, and he followed that up by running a sharp two-man game with Al Horford and driving smoothly to the rim. 

Korkmaz finished with 17 points on 6 of 12 shooting. 

They’ll take it … 

This was far from the Sixers’ finest performance.

They only managed 38 second-half points, allowing the 11-32 Knicks to stay competitive. Josh Richardson was too careless with the ball, turning it over seven times. Harris shot 5 for 13. New York had 12 offensive rebounds, while the Sixers only had five. 

All that said, earning a road victory for the first time since Dec. 23 was important. Heading into Monday’s game in Brooklyn (3 p.m./NBCSP), what matters the most for the Sixers is just that they found a way to win away from Wells Fargo Center. 

Scary moment with Horford

Horford went down after being fouled by Reggie Bullock with 6:31 left in the third quarter, and he appeared to be holding his left hand as he went to the bench.

Though Horford didn’t play well in New York (four points on 2 of 9 shooting), a serious injury to the 33-year-old obviously would have been big. 

The Sixers are a massive team, but losing Horford would have tested their depth and perhaps forced Simmons to play minutes at center.  

Another start for Thybulle 

Matisse Thybulle, who started for the third straight game, still regularly makes plays that, as they unfold, are hard to believe.

The speed with which he closed out on Reggie Bullock and swatted his shot early in the third quarter was impressive.

Thybulle has a rookie-high 51 steals and 32 blocks in 36 games. 

Guaranteed entertainment 

Two-way player Norvel Pelle was back with the Sixers on Saturday night.

The 26-year-old rookie sure looks like he has NBA skills in his shot blocking and screening and rolling. It will be interesting to see how his situation shakes out. 

If nothing else, he is highly entertaining to watch. 

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Sixers at Knicks: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Sixers at Knicks: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

The 27-16 Sixers begin a three-game road trip Saturday night against the 11-31 New York Knicks.

Here are the essentials:

When: 7:30 ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 7 p.m.
Where: Madison Square Garden 
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia Plus
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch: 

Campaigning for Simmons 

Despite posting 20 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists in addition to playing smothering second-half defense, Ben Simmons might have been a bit overshadowed Friday night by Furkan Korkmaz’s career-high 24 points.

Brett Brown didn’t want that to happen.

How can we not recognize Ben Simmons' defense? After the first timeout in the third period, are you serious? He was just the adult in the room defensively. He's a physical presence by a lot when you watch him play defense. I thought he changed the game. How can he not be a First Team, All-League defensive player? I don't know.

A great chance to win on the road

The Sixers are 20-2 at Wells Fargo Center and 7-14 on the road. Simmons doesn’t know why there’s such a disparity. 

“If I knew the answer I’d probably fix it on the road,” he said Friday.

A game against the Knicks presents the Sixers with a strong opportunity to win away from home for the first time since Dec. 23. The Knicks are 6-14 at Madison Square Garden.

“At the end of the day, it comes down to playing defense, locking in from the first to the fourth quarter, and keeping that mentality and not letting up,” Simmons said. “Just staying locked in to that team game and playing defense.”

The Sixers beat the Knicks in New York on Nov. 29 without Al Horford, Josh Richardson and Kyle O’Quinn, coming back from a 16-point second-quarter deficit. All three of those players should be available tonight, while Joel Embiid is set to miss his sixth straight game after having surgery last Friday for a torn ligament in the ring finger on his left hand. Knicks rookie RJ Barrett is out with a sprained right ankle. 

Not so fast … 

We all expected the Sixers to play at a quicker pace in the absence of Embiid. So far, though, that hasn’t been the case.

The team’s 95.8 pace since the Boston game last Thursday is 29th in the NBA. 

They have, however, taken better care of the ball since Embiid’s injury, turning it over only 11 times per game, tied for best in the league. 

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