76ers

Sixers limit Luka Doncic but slide to loss in worst shooting performance of season

Sixers limit Luka Doncic but slide to loss in worst shooting performance of season

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The Sixers held Mavericks star Luka Doncic to 19 points on 4 for 15 shooting and took 19 more shots than their opponents Saturday night in Dallas — those are the major positives.

The glaring negative is that they also had their worst shooting performance of the season, hitting only 37.8 percent of their field goals in a 109-91 loss. From three-point range, the Sixers shot 24.3 percent. 

The loss drops the Sixers to 25-15 overall and is their fifth defeat in a row on the road. They’re now 4-5 this season without Joel Embiid, who had successful surgery Friday on a torn ligament in his left hand.

Lasered in on Luka 

The Sixers were both aggressive and intelligent early in their coverages against Doncic, blitzing and hedging against him several times in the pick-and-roll. Their scheme was smart, but the best part of their defense was simply Ben Simmons. He had four first-quarter steals as the Sixers forced eight turnovers in the opening period against a Mavs team that entered Saturday averaging only 12.9 turnovers, the fewest in the NBA. 

Simmons scored six of the Sixers’ first nine points and leaked out for two dunks, including an uncontested one after Doncic considered resistance, then thought better of the idea when Simmons started to accelerate.

When Simmons left with three fouls in the middle of the second quarter, others picked up the slack defensively for the rest of the half. Josh Richardson guarded Doncic full court at times, James Ennis frustrated him with dogged defense on the Mavs’ final possession of the first half and Al Horford was solid in protecting the rim. There was a team-wide diligence and high effort in rotating and scrambling when Doncic did manage to penetrate, too. 

A woeful third quarter 

Following a half in which they grabbed the game’s first 10 offensive rebounds, had eight fewer turnovers than Dallas and missed a bunch of open shots, the Sixers could easily have led by more than nine points. They’ll regret not building a double-digit lead. 

Along with continuing to struggle shooting in the third quarter, their level dropped across the board in other areas, and they understandably appeared frustrated. The Mavs won the third period, 32-16.

Simmons (11 points, 11 assists) was stymied in the second half, producing little in half-court offense and going scoreless. 

Horford heats up too late

Horford’s began 1 of 10 from the floor but didn’t stop shooting. He hit his next five attempts and finished 6 of 16 for 16 points.

There wasn’t a discernible difference in the quality of Horford’s looks, just an improved rhythm and confidence once his jumpers started to fall. 

Especially with Embiid out, much of the Sixers’ offensive success will fall on how frequently Horford converts the open outside shots that teams give him. 

Mike Scott, the fifth starter for a second consecutive game in Embiid’s absence, had nine points (3 of 9). 

Pelle is the backup center, for now 

Norvel Pelle’s skill set isn’t all flashy dunks and blocks. The two-way player carves out space for his teammates as a screener and seems to understand timing and body positioning well. 

The Sixers’ offense early in the second quarter featured Richardson-Pelle and Simmons-Pelle spread pick-and-rolls.

Pelle again received the backup center minutes over eighth-year veteran Kyle O’Quinn, which was unsurprising after his strong performance Thursday vs. the Celtics. 

A former Sixers backup big, Boban Marjanovic, hurt his former team with an efficient offensive night, scoring 12 points on 5 for 6 shooting. 

As for Pelle, he finished with four points, six rebounds, five fouls and a block in 15 minutes. The NBA days remaining on his current two-way deal are dwindling (see story). 

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'It's a gift and a curse' — Steve Nash shares his thoughts on Ben Simmons

'It's a gift and a curse' — Steve Nash shares his thoughts on Ben Simmons

On the surface, Steve Nash and Ben Simmons don’t have a ton in common. 

Nash, inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2018, shot 42.8 percent from three-point range and 90.4 percent from the foul line in his NBA career. Simmons’ shooting is not a strength.

However, the two chatted Saturday night at Madison Square Garden after Simmons’ 21-point, eight-assist performance in the Sixers’ win over the Knicks (see observations).

Simmons told reporters he talked with Nash, a co-owner of the MLS’ Vancouver Whitecaps FC, about soccer.

“He was such a great leader, a competitive spirit,” Simmons said. “Just watching highlights and some of his games, the way he played, he was just relentless. He played through anything." 

Nash sees a lot to admire in Simmons’ game, too. He said he thinks Simmons is worthy of being an All-Star for the second straight season.

Ben’s a generational talent. Crazy athlete, can play multiple positions on offense and defense. Obviously his glaring weakness is the shooting, but he’s so gifted that he can make up for it in other ways, and it’s about finding a way for him to be at his best for this group. And that’s a challenge for this club, is how do all the pieces fit together? Ben’s ability at both ends of the floor is unique and he’s a special, special player. 

“I wouldn’t put it past him to become a reliable shooter at some stage in his career, but he still does so many things at both ends of the floor that if you could find a way as an organization to promote that, you have an incredible, incredible piece. That is a huge challenge — how do all the pieces fit? … I think it’s something that Brett [Brown] and everyone are working through every day. It’s a gift and a curse.

Though his game isn’t much like Nash’s, Simmons said he can still take a lot from the 2004-05 NBA MVP. 

“He’s a legend, so definitely,” Simmons said. “I definitely want to talk to him and pick up things.”

Nash was asked whether Simmons can keep going as an infrequent jump shooter. 

“He can, in the right environment,” Nash said. “If he can figure out how to make some shots in some parts of the court, it can change everything. … He can do so many things. He can change positions four or five times in a game. That in itself is huge. So, how do you absorb that? That’s the challenge. Like I said, it’s a gift and a curse, and they’ll have to figure that out.”

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Tobias Harris trolls Ben Simmons before and after Sixers' win

Tobias Harris trolls Ben Simmons before and after Sixers' win

There are probably quite a few people that would like to be Ben Simmons.

Tobias Harris took that a step further before the Sixers game Saturday night against the Knicks, rocking Simmons' expensive looking neckwear.

The Sixers sweated out a win and snapped their six-game road losing streak at Madison Square Garden Saturday (see observations). Harris had a rough night, going 5 of 13 overall, but he did hit a huge three with 28.2 seconds left off a Simmons’ inbounds pass to give the Sixers a two-point lead.

“I was just trying to get it in,” Simmons told reporters postgame. “I don’t think we had any timeouts left, so I’m glad he came to the ball and put up a great shot. He made it look good.”

The chemistry between the two seems to be paying off on the court.

“He’s locked in,” Simmons said. “He’s been aggressive taking shots. We want him to keep shooting the ball and taking those open looks. He’s a great player."

Postgame, Harris went back into Simmons mode.

The team also had a little fun with Harris’ “Fresh Prince” impersonation.

Simmons had a big night, posting 20 points for the fourth straight game — the first time in his career he's done so. The duo of Harris and Simmons also combined for the biggest defensive play of the game, trapping Julius Randle and causing a turnover with 7.6 seconds left.

Even though Harris accidentally gave Simmons a smack in the face in his haste while celebrating.

The Sixers have won three games in a row and it looks like they’re having fun again.

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