76ers

Sixers 117, Nuggets 110: Sixers' new starting five shows off its firepower vs. Nuggets

Sixers 117, Nuggets 110: Sixers' new starting five shows off its firepower vs. Nuggets

BOX SCORE

There was a basketball game played at the Wells Fargo Center Friday night, but at times, it felt more like a party.

The Sixers' new juggernaut starting five got off to a strong start but had to hang on to beat the Nuggets, 117-110.

After leading by as many 16 in the first half, leaky defense allowed Denver to come back and make it a tight contest.

The win improves the Sixers to 22-6 at home and 35-20 overall.

Here are observations from the win.

• Well, Tobias Harris couldn’t have gotten off to a much better start.

He missed his first look, a bunny on a great look from Ben Simmons. But he buried his next chance, knocking down a transition three from the wing on a rope from Simmons. This is something we could be seeing a lot more of. 

He nailed a huge fourth-quarter three on a similar play.

The common theory has been that Harris will fit in nicely because of his ability to shoot, but what stood out in his debut is that he’s just a damn good basketball player. He recorded 14 points in his Sixers debut.

• The biggest beneficiary of all the added star power might just be JJ Redick. Redick likely had the cleanest looks he’s had all season. His movement away from the ball is so good and he continued to just find the open spots all night.

With Redick scorching the nets all night, it helped loosen things up around the basket for everyone else.

This Ben Simmons dunk is a prime example, as he fakes the hand off to Redick and drives to the basket instead.

He finished with a season-high 34 points and hit 6 of 7 from three. It’s nice to have four star-caliber players, but it’s even better to have a guy like Redick to open things up.

• Joel Embiid, who was questionable with a stomach bug, gutted this one out, but struggled offensively. He didn't look like himself all night, but you have to give him credit, he played hard all night. 

This block to end the third quarter was just pure hustle and effort.

The shooting numbers look ugly (4 of 17 from the field), but he still managed to record his league-leading 45th double-double with 15 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks.

• Nikola Jokic was a problem yet again for the Sixers. The All-Star center and guard Jamal Murray gave the Sixers' fits in running the pick-and-roll together. The pair finished with a combined 50 points.

• The Sixers’ defense is still very clearly a work in progress. They continue to struggle against the pick-and-roll and, with a bunch of new pieces, had a miscommunications that led to a few open looks.

With that said, you have to give Brand credit for the role players he picked up. A guy like James Ennis is a perfect example of the kind of guy this team needs. He defended a pick-and-roll better than I’ve seen any Sixers’ defender do it all season. If he can hit an open three every now and then — he hit two Friday — he could be a huge pickup.

• Speaking of the bench, it’s going to be interesting to see Brett Brown’s rotations going forward. He didn’t have his full complement of players with Jonathon Simmons, acquired from Orlando in the Markelle Fultz trade, not in uniform.

One intriguing thing was how Jimmy Butler worked in the pick-and-roll with Boban Marjanovic — who got a rousing ovation from the crowd. Their first play running it led to Marjanovic’s first basket as a Sixer.

Another rotational change that’ll probably benefit the Sixers going forward is the separation of Ben Simmons and T.J. McConnell. With both players unwilling to shoot from the outside, it just leads to poor offense.

It was nice to see Butler and Simmons get some run together again. They’ve had a connection pretty much since Butler arrived. Brown wanted to get Butler playing more with Embiid — for obvious reasons — but the chemistry between Butler and Simmons is undeniable.

Butler had an excellent all-around game, recording 22 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three steals. He did serious damage from the line, making 14 of 14.

• Simmons has to cut down on his turnovers. He had nine Friday night. When you're surrounded by so much offensive talent there's no excuse for it. 

• Needless to say, Sixers fans are pretty delighted with the moves the team made. GM Elton Brand got the rockstar treatment, at one point getting a, “Thank you, Elton,” chant by a section of fans.

• The Sixers finally retired the late great Moses Malone's No. 2.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on you device.

More on the Sixers

'Tired as s---' Jimmy Butler plays closer, seals the deal vs. Celtics

'Tired as s---' Jimmy Butler plays closer, seals the deal vs. Celtics

It was just a couple weeks ago that everyone was questioning Jimmy Butler’s role in the Sixers’ offense.

Why is he deferring so much? Does he not fit into the system? Has he lost a step?

Well, so much for all of that.

Butler’s role as the team’s closer was never more evident than in the Sixers’ 118-115 win over the rival Celtics (see observations).

The four-time All-Star put the team on his back, scoring 15 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter, including a dagger jumper with 5.5 seconds left. He helped the Sixers conquer their Boston demons while showing just what he brings to the team’s elite starting unit.

“They put the ball in my hands in the fourth and tell me to make plays and make shots,” Butler said. “I think as of late I’ve been a doing good job of that, but that could be anybody to tell you the truth. As many weapons as we have on this team, anybody could get the hot hand, anybody could put the ball in the basket — it’s just the last few nights it’s been me.”

All this begs the question: Why can’t Butler do this through the first three quarters?

Butler was just 2 of 9 for seven points as the Sixers managed to cut a 15-point deficit to five entering the fourth quarter. Having just played 38 minutes in Charlotte on the first night of a back-to-back, Butler offered a pretty simple explanation for why he couldn’t get going early Wednesday.

I was tired as s---. I’m not even going to lie to you. That back-to-back got me. And we didn’t have [Joel Embiid] last night either. So quarters one through three I was trying, it wasn’t going my way, but we won, so I don’t care about quarters one through three.

While it’s certainly fair for Butler to blame fatigue, there is probably a better analytical explanation.

When the Sixers’ offense is going, there’s a focus on pace and space. Brett Brown’s system is predicated on player and ball movement. Even on a poor shooting night, the Sixers had more assists than the Celtics despite 11 fewer made field goals.

Butler is a player that excels in iso and pick-and-roll situations. While that may not fit perfectly into what the Sixers do offensively, in grind-it-out games like Wednesday against Boston and Sunday in Milwaukee, it’s necessary.

Before Butler’s arrival, there was no player Brown could turn to and just say, “Go get me a bucket.” 

Butler is that guy.

I don't think his demeanor changes. I think he's more comfortable in that static set where we're playing at a slower pace,” JJ Redick said. “There's a real value in having someone who's capable of making plays against a set defense, somebody who can shoot over the top of guys and really take advantage of mismatches. I don't know that you want to play that way for four quarters, but certainly at times going down the stretch, there's value in that.

While Butler sealed the deal, it was Joel Embiid who willed the Sixers back into the game in the third quarter (see story). Embiid dominated and kept the Sixers afloat until it was time for Butler to play the closer role.

And that wasn’t an accident.

“We talked about it before the game,” Embiid said. “I told him that I needed him tonight, that I needed this win and he told me to get him to the fourth and he was going to take over. That’s all I tried to do and obviously in the fourth, he’s our best closer. [We’ve] got to put the ball in his hands in the fourth and I’m going to do my thing whenever I have the ball, but that was my job tonight and he showed up and in the fourth he was fantastic.”

Embiid sets ‘em up, Butler knocks ‘em down.

Sounds like a hell of a plan.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers

 

How long has Joel Embiid been trolling Marcus Smart? Look at his first Instagram post ever

How long has Joel Embiid been trolling Marcus Smart? Look at his first Instagram post ever

It turns out, Joel Embiid has been trolling Marcus Smart for way longer than we think. Even back into their college days. This trolling scheme has been five years in the making, in fact.

In honor of March Madness kicking off today, we’re going to bring you back to Embiid’s college days and his very first interaction on Instagram that cemented his legendary status as the GOAT of social media trolling. 

His very first Instagram post, which features him dunking on Marcus Smart in January of 2014. What a time. Here it is, in all it’s glory.

Guess Embiid really did invest in some real estate in Smart’s head, about five years ago and Smart has not forgotten about it. 

That much is clear, as tensions during the Celtics-Sixers game escalated to the point where Smart shoved Embiid from behind in what the center called a ‘”cheap shot” later in postgame. Smart was ejected from Wells Fargo Center for this incident. 

 

Bet he was thinking about that Instagram caption from 2014, which has aged so very well. 

So Smart, how much is the rent? Embiid will probably tell you it’s free.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers