76ers

Jimmy Butler urges Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons to be more aggressive for Sixers vs. Raptors

Jimmy Butler urges Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons to be more aggressive for Sixers vs. Raptors

Kawhi Leonard’s back has to be killing him with the way he’s carrying the Raptors.

Through four games in the second-round series with the Sixers, Leonard has averaged 38 points while shooting 62 percent from the field. The only player to average at least 35 points and shoot over 60 percent in a playoff series is some guy named Michael Jordan.

Unfortunately for the Sixers, a similar theme is arising on their end. After a rough Game 1, Jimmy Butler has been an absolute monster. But he needs help if the Sixers are going to take the series over Leonard and Toronto.

Butler’s brilliant 29-point performance in Sunday’s Game 4 loss was almost enough. He was his typical fourth quarter Jimmy Buckets, netting 10 of his points in the final stanza.

There’s a physicality that he plays with, he’s just a runaway train at times,” Brett Brown said. “Him coming up with some rebounds and loose balls, you see his just jaw-dropping athleticism. Then you just see his toughness emerge. We talk a lot about trying to play to mirror the spirit of the city — this is Philadelphia — and there is a toughness that he has that I think reflects the spirit of the city. I think tonight, once again, you saw him do everything that he could to will us a win.

The shame of it is that the Sixers wasted Butler’s brilliance.

Joel Embiid, who is dealing with yet another illness, went just 2 of 7. Outside of Game 3, Embiid is shooting just 9 of 32 in the series. Embiid averaged 27.5 points in the regular season. His taking only seven shots, sick or not, is simply not enough.

Then there’s Ben Simmons. The 22-year-old is exerting an awful lot of energy chasing around Leonard for 40 minutes a night, but he’s barely averaging double digits for the series. He’s still a young player in just his second postseason, but there are no excuses. It looked like Simmons was passing up opportunities Sunday, especially when Nick Nurse switched things up and put Leonard on Butler. At that point, Simmons needs to win his matchup.

Not only has Butler led the Sixers offensively, but he’s definitely taken on a role as a leader on the team. After the game, he wanted to make sure his two young All-Star teammates realize how important they are.

I want Ben to be as aggressive just like I tell Jo to be aggressive. We’re not going to win without you guys. You have to be ready to attack at any point in time. Damn sure in transition — if he has the ball in transition. Ben, don’t pass the ball in transition. Attack every single time. That’s how we’re going to win this [series].

Butler has developed a strong relationship with Embiid and Simmons. This wasn't him calling out younger players or "aggressively challenging" anyone. This is a leader emerging.

"I have seen him grow from a leadership standpoint in noticeable ways," Brown said. "It's reflective with his performance on a court, it's reflective of what goes on in the locker room, it's reflective of you see him on a bench, not playing. You can point to multiple examples to say that is a leader. He's been able to back that up with some strong court performances."

After the Sixers steamrolled the Raptors in Game 3, it seemed like they had a stranglehold on the series. That lasted about two days. Now they got back to Toronto at 2-2. 

Embiid mentioned that the team felt overconfident last season heading into its series against Boston. Perhaps those same thoughts crept in this year.

Butler was glad they got knocked down a peg Sunday.

“We’re confident. But I don’t think we can get too confident, settle, get comfortable,” Butler said. “We know how good a team we are and we know how we’re supposed to perform. … I like it. We got humbled tonight. I’m proud of it. Hopefully we go and do what we’re supposed to do.”

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Tobias Harris keeps the Sixers entertained on their bus ride to Toronto

Tobias Harris keeps the Sixers entertained on their bus ride to Toronto

Around 10:30 p.m. Monday night, we were blessed with a Ben Simmons Instagram Live video of "DJ Tobi," Tobias Harris, on the Sixers’ bus from the airport to the hotel.

“There’s a soul plane and there’s a soul bus. You’re on the soul bus, ya dig?”

DJ Tobi then proceeded to interview all the players, coaches and team personnel who entered the bus, as you can see in the videos below, which do contain profanity. 

“State your name, where are you from and where are you going,” head coach Brett Brown said Tuesday morning, laughing about last night’s bus ride. “And when there is a lull, he's got Spotify hooked up, and he's got some hip hop going on.”

“DJ Tobi,” Matisse Thybulle laughed, struggling to find the words for Harris’ performance. “He was putting on a show for everyone. … It was funny because you were seeing people out of their comfort zone.”

With the rigors of an NBA season, and through all the travel, bus rides and plane rides, the value of that type of team bonding can go underestimated.

“It's team bonding,” Simmons told NBC Sports Philadelphia. “We're a pretty close group. We like to have fun and there are a lot of different characters and personalities on the team. … It's awesome. But that's just who we are as a team, everyone just likes to have fun, everyone has good personalities and means well."

Of course, it’s easier when you’re winning, and the Sixers delivered one of their most impressive defensive performances of the year in their win over Brooklyn, led by Simmons and Thybulle.

“We could carry that good energy over,” Thybulle said of the win over the Nets. “But it definitely help to keeps things light because the travel gets tedious and boring.”

For the Brown, it’s yet another characteristic he’s seen blossom out of Harris.

“Leadership comes in all different forms … and he does it naturally,” Brown said.

“It’s what makes team sport, for me, as enjoyable as it gets, when you can win with people that you respect and trust that care. And this group does.”

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Jameer Nelson, Phil Martelli react to troubling Delonte West video

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Jameer Nelson, Phil Martelli react to troubling Delonte West video

Troubling video surfaced Monday on social media of former Saint Joseph’s great and NBA player Delonte West.

The 36-year-old appeared to get into a physical altercation and then was recorded spewing profanities with his hands behind his back. The video contains inappropriate language.

On Monday night, West’s former college teammate Jameer Nelson and head coach Phil Martelli voiced their concern and offered support.

West has opened up in the past about his battle with bipolar disorder and run-ins with the law. The most notable incident was when he was pulled over in Maryland on a three-wheeled motorcycle and subsequently arrested and charged with speeding and two counts of carrying a handgun.

When he was on Hawk Hill, West starred during his sophomore and junior seasons alongside Nelson. The duo led St. Joe’s on an incredible run in 2004. The Hawks were the No. 1 team in the country at one point and earned a one-seed in the NCAA Tournament. They lost in a thriller in the Elite 8 to two-seed Oklahoma State.

After choosing to forego his senior season, West was selected by the Boston Celtics with the 24th overall pick. He last played in the NBA with the Mavericks in 2012 and his professional career ended in 2015 after a brief stint in the G League.