76ers

Sixers' starting 5 lives up to hype in 'scary' good performance

Sixers' starting 5 lives up to hype in 'scary' good performance

After all the excitement of the last couple days, there was a real life basketball game to be played on Friday.

The Sixers rolled out their new starting five, which had been touted as the NBA’s second-best unit before it even got on the floor. The Nuggets found out it’s not just hype.

Tobias Harris made his Sixers debut alongside Joel Embiid, Jimmy Butler, JJ Redick and Ben Simmons in a 117-110 win in front of a raucous Wells Fargo Center (see observations)

It’s hard for things to live up to the hype, but early on it appeared the juggernaut that is the Sixers’ starting five might just run Denver right out of the building.

“I think when we go back and look at film of this game — and even in this game you could see — there were pockets in the game where you said, ‘Dang. This is something scary there,’ Harris said. “I always knew the talent from afar but going out and playing and seeing it today, seeing how much spacing we have out on the court and playmakers was big.”

Of course it wasn’t perfect. There were moments of guys almost being a little too unselfish, passing up decent looks to make the extra pass. Defensively there were issues, a big reason the Sixers — who led by as many as 16 in the first half — found themselves in a dog fight.

Joel Embiid, who was battling a stomach bug, shot 4 of 17. Ben Simmons had nine turnovers.

None of that mattered in the end, as JJ Redick went off for a season-high 34 points, Jimmy Butler was quietly excellent all around with 22 points and Harris pitched in with 14 points.

Harris’ first basket could be the first of many like it. Simmons grabbed the ball off the rim, pushed it up the floor and threw a cross-court frozen rope to Harris on the wing for a three.

There were moments when the ball movement was a thing of beauty. The ball never seemed to stick.

“I think that we all feel the responsibility that we have to take this circumstance, this situation, in all of our sporting lives — it might sound cliche, but it’s true — and maximize it,” Brett Brown said. “And to come out in this fantastic basketball atmosphere and the home crowd and roll out our new team was a real special treat, it was for me. To see our guys and to see [Simmons] with new teammates was something special. The responsibility, the opportunity, this amazing home crowd — we wanted to capitalize on that. I think the momentum can easily grow from this type of base.”

While the Sixers won a basketball game against a good team, the vibe in the arena felt more like a party. A group of fans showed their love for Elton Brand — who was in his customary seat in the press area — chanting “Thank you, El-ton.”

What Brand has done is nothing short of spectacular. As a first-time GM, having played in his last NBA game less than three years ago, Brand has assembled the second-best starting lineup in the league. Not bad for a guy that’s been on the job for less than five months.

With that kind of firepower comes expectations, but that doesn’t mean these guys won’t enjoy it.

“It’s funny because after the game somebody texted me and sent me a video of me smiling after a play and wrote to me, ‘This is literally the first time I’ve ever seen you actually smile in a game’” Harris said. “And I was like, ‘You ain’t lyin’.’ It was cool to see. It was fun out there. I really had a lot of fun.”

Sixers fans are hoping the fun has just begun.

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'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.

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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.

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