The Sixers wanted a player who could create his own offense in crunch time.
Jimmy Butler showed on Saturday night in Charlotte he is very much that player.
Butler’s contested three-pointer with 0.3 seconds remaining in overtime gave the Sixers a 122-119 win over the Hornets. Brett Brown cleared out for Butler and let him go to work after his new star missed an open mid-range jumper for the win at the end of regulation.
Butler made a great defensive play the possession before his game-winner, blocking Kemba Walker and making an acrobatic play to keep the ball inbounds.
Somehow, some way, the Sixers survived a career-high 60 points from Walker.
• It doesn't matter that Butler only shot 4 for 11 from the floor. Regardless of what's happened earlier in the game, you can tell him, "Get me a shot" and he will deliver when it matters. It's a quality the Sixers have been missing, and it's a quality he clearly possesses.
• To say that no lead is safe with the Sixers is only a slight exaggeration. They led by as many as 17 points in the second quarter but finished the second quarter poorly and didn’t start the third well either. Saturday night was the third straight game they squandered a lead of at least 16 points. The Sixers also blew leads of 10 points with under four minutes left in the fourth quarter and five points with under two minutes remaining in overtime. Big leads dwindle all the time in the NBA, and the excuse of playing the second game of a back-to-back on the road is valid, but the larger pattern of allowing opponents back into games is a problem.
• Brett Brown said after Friday’s win that Ben Simmons faces the “biggest adjustment” playing with Jimmy Butler (see story). Whereas Simmons tended toward deferring to his teammates in his first two games with Butler, in Charlotte he found the right balance between borderline reckless drives to the rim and intelligent, classic point guard facilitation.
There was also another beautiful example of Simmons already being on the same wavelength as Butler.
And a reminder that Simmons is a pretty special athlete.
Simmons posted a season-high 23 points, with 11 rebounds and nine assists. He made 9 of 11 free throws.
• Walker can score against any player in the NBA, and that includes Butler. The Sixers held Walker to 33.3 percent shooting in their first two matchups against Charlotte, but it was only a matter of time before Walker had a big night against the Sixers. Walker is just too quick, too crafty, and simply too good to stop.
At a certain point, though, you wonder why the Sixers didn’t start sending immediate double teams at Walker or trapping him on pick-and-rolls to make his job more difficult.
• For the second straight night, the Sixers’ offense started out hot. After scoring 38 points on 13 of 15 shooting in the first quarter Friday vs. the Jazz, the Sixers put up 42 in Charlotte.
Embiid had 18 of those points, starting off 7 for 8 from the floor and scoring at all three levels. Unsurprisingly, Cody Zeller proved to be a much easier matchup than Rudy Gobert.
• Brett Brown has, for the most part, been very consistent with his first-half rotations — Embiid always plays the first five or so minutes before being taken out. In each of his first three games, Butler has played approximately the first eight minutes of the game and the last eight minutes of the half.
Embiid told reporters after Wednesday’s loss to the Magic that he was “pissed” about being subbed out after five minutes despite hitting three early three-point shots. There is again an argument to be made that Brown should have diverted from his typical plan against the Hornets and stuck with Embiid, given the big man’s great opening stint.
At this stage of the season, however, there’s no reason to overextend Embiid early in games. After years of having to worry about minutes restrictions, Embiid has played more minutes than any player in the NBA. Even if a couple more minutes for Embiid in the first half of a game might help the Sixers on occasion, it’s just not worth it in November.
• Speaking of minutes restrictions — With the Sixers on the second night of a back-to-back, Wilson Chandler was limited to 12 minutes, all in the second half. Mike Muscala started in his place.
While Muscala only had six points, this was one of his better defensive games of the season. He acquitted himself reasonably well when switched onto the Hornets’ guards.
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