76ers

Sixers' Ersan Ilyasova reportedly agrees to return to Bucks on free-agent deal

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Sixers' Ersan Ilyasova reportedly agrees to return to Bucks on free-agent deal

With all of the talk about who the Sixers could gain in free agency, overlooked was a discussion about which players they could lose from the roster.

It didn’t take long for the first one to get pulled away. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, veteran forward Ersan Ilyasova has agreed to a three-year, $21 million deal with the Milwaukee Bucks. 

Ilyasova spent the first seven seasons of his NBA career with the Bucks before bouncing around the league the past few years.

The Sixers really found their rhythm once Ilyasova rejoined the team for his second stint last season after reaching a buyout with the Atlanta Hawks. Including the playoffs, the Sixers posted a 25-8 record once Ilyasova came aboard on March 1.

Now the Sixers will attempt to replace his 10.8 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game off the bench. Not to mention his league-leading total for charges taken.

Shortly after the news of Ilyasova's departure broke, the Sixers reportedly lost another of their free agents. Wojnarowski reported that Marco Belinelli has agreed to a two-year, $12 million deal with the Spurs (see story).

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Ben Simmons' stat line doesn't begin to tell story of his impact in Sixers' win over Nets

Ben Simmons' stat line doesn't begin to tell story of his impact in Sixers' win over Nets

Before every game, Ben Simmons tweets out an emoji of an angry face with steam coming out of its nose.

In Monday’s 117-111 win over the Nets (see observations), Simmons was the personification of that.

Simmons played angry from start to finish in tying his career-high of 34 points while also notching his fourth triple-double of the season with 12 assists and 12 rebounds. He also had five steals, making him the first NBA player to record at least that stat line since steals were first tracked in 1973-74.

The scary thing: He was even better than the box score indicates.

“We learned that he was Conference Player of the Week during this game,” Brett Brown told reporters in Brooklyn. “I would have given him that just for his second half of this game.”

For as good as Simmons was in the first half, he was especially spectacular after halftime. That’s especially notable for all the recent scrutiny he’s faced.

For as well as Simmons has played in Joel Embiid’s absence (19.2 points, 8.7 rebounds, 7.2 assists per game), many pointed to Simmons’ inability to score late in games. He had just two points (1 of 4) in 37 fourth-quarter minutes over his last four games. To be fair, he also had 11 assists to just two turnovers.

If you didn’t notice him in the second half of this game, you weren’t watching very closely. He had 19 of his 34 points after halftime. He also snagged three of his steals while only turning the ball over once.

Along with rookie Matisse Thybulle, Simmons ignited the team’s defensive effort coming out of the locker room. The Sixers held the Nets to just 43 second-half points and forced 15 turnovers.

“I think Ben's energy, honestly, is just contagious,” Al Horford said. “I think that at the level that he was playing — that kind of All-NBA-type, taking over the game — I just think it really rubbed off on all of us and we just stepped our game up and played free and played hard.”

With Embiid out, Brown turned to little-used Kyle O’Quinn and the even less used Jonah Bolden to back up Horford in the first half. They were a combined minus-six with six fouls in 15 minutes.

Enter Simmons.

We haven’t seen a ton of Simmons at the five this season, but desperate times may have caused the Sixers to “trip on something,” as Brown likes to say. They went to a lineup with Raul Neto at the one and found success using Simmons as a screener and roller.

Rookie Nicolas Claxton, who had a big first half for the Nets, wasn’t a physical match for Simmons. That won’t happen on most nights in the NBA, but when teams go small, the Sixers have quite an answer.

“It’s tough for any big to really guard me when I’m going at them,” Simmons said. “That’s not a knock on any bigs, I’m just pretty fast and can get to the rim.”

As we’ve seen many teams do this season, Brooklyn head coach Kenny Atkinson used a center, Jarrett Allen, on Simmons. Allen just sat in the paint and dared Simmons to shoot. 

In the past when the strategy was deployed, Simmons wouldn’t attack it. That's changed of late. Instead of trying to beat that tactic by shooting, Simmons has eaten that space and taken on opposing bigs at the rim — with a ton of success.

We all know the strengths of Simmons and that one glaring weakness. It seems like Brown has maximized those strengths recently and Simmons has taken on a different mindset.

“Same s---, you know what I’m saying? That’s Ben Simmons,” Mike Scott said. “He’s an All-Star. He’s our leader. I thought it was as he should.”

While Simmons recorded easily the best stat line of his NBA career, this may have been his finest performance as a pro.

“He just peppered the stat sheet all over the place,” Brown said. “But what I see is his spirit, his body language, his facial expressions. They reeked of, ‘We’re going to win, and you guys hang on to me and I will carry you.’ And I felt like he did that in many, many ways.”

By the way, that emoji is known as “face with look of triumph.”

Yeah, that works.

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Matisse Thybulle taken aback by Ben Simmons' impressive stats in postgame interview

Matisse Thybulle taken aback by Ben Simmons' impressive stats in postgame interview

Matisse Thybulle had been alongside Ben Simmons for much of his dominant performance Monday afternoon in Brooklyn.

Still, hearing NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Serena Winters run through the stats Simmons had accumulated — a 34-point triple-double in the Sixers’ 117-111 win — took the rookie aback.

Thybulle was, unsurprisingly, not the only Sixer impressed by Simmons’ day.

Furkan Korkmaz dug up an old gem.

That prompted Simmons to thank Korkmaz and show what the Turkish wing might look like as, it appears, a retiree who spends his days strolling the beach with a metal detector and his nights soaking up the NBA.

Josh Richardson acknowledged Simmons’ Eastern Conference Player of the Week award in his Instagram story.

And Rhys Hoskins got in on the “triumph” emoji train, too. 

Simmons, who’s averaged 23.8 points, 10 rebounds, 8.2 assists and two steals over his last five games, told Winters he’s felt an obligation to raise his game with Joel Embiid sidelined.

“I know Joel’s out, so a lot of guys gotta step up,” he said. “I take a lot of responsibility in that, just being a leader. And offensively, I’ve gotta pick it up. I’m glad we could get this win.”

You can watch the full interview with Simmons and Thybulle below.

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