Tenacious Sixers don't back down from physical battle

Tenacious Sixers don't back down from physical battle

The Raptors didn’t go down without a fight.

Well, not an actual fight, but the game got heated before the buzzer sounded and the Sixers had fended off the Raptors’ 21-point comeback attempt.

With only 6.5 seconds left and the Sixers' 117-111 win iced (see observations), Ben Simmons and Kyle Lowry had words after a trip to the free throw line. Both were tossed, hand motions seemed to be made to toward the locker room, and buzz quickly circulated about a postgame altercation away from the court (see video).

Both players said that was not the case.

“Off the court? No,” Simmons said. “I just went to the locker room … Nobody was back there."

Lowry said of the incident, “Nothing at all. Things happen.”

Meanwhile, the Sixers locker room had a leak and the team was redirected after the game to a different one a few steps down the hall in the Wells Fargo Center.

Brett Brown believes the incident began when Jakob Poeltl hit Simmons on a box out. Simmons didn’t know what exactly sparked Lowry. He pointed to the possibility of a frustration over a loss, only the Raptors’ 13th of the season. Whatever the reason, Simmons didn’t need an explanation.

“I don't know if they're just trying to test me or see how I am on the court,” Simmons said. “But I don't play around. I'm not going to take s--- from anybody.”

This is not the first time Simmons had been involved in a situation like this. In the Sixers' previous game against the Celtics, he dealt a hard foul to Marcus Morris, who bounced up and shoved him.

"It's been two Philly guys," Simmons pointed out. “Maybe it's a Philly thing. I don't know. They're tough players, I've seen them play. I'm the same way. I'm not going to let you push me around or push me and say whatever you want just because I'm not that type of player.”

Before Lowry and Simmons got into it, T.J. McConnell and DeMar DeRozan also had a chippy exchange. McConnell regained possession off a Raptors turnover and DeRozan pushed him for a foul. As the two guards exchanged words, DeRozan then pushed McConnell with one hand. The refs whistled DeRozan for a personal foul and both with technical fouls (see video).

“It's basketball,” McConnell said. “That kind of stuff happens. I kind of thought the shove wasn't needed, but I know he had no intent behind it. He's a good guy, so it was just the heat of the moment stuff.”

Brown said he could feel the physicality of the game right from the start. The Sixers needed that extra fire to beat the Raptors for the first time since Jan.18 of last year and improve to 20-20. They had been 0-8 so far this season against the top-three teams in the Eastern Conference (Celtics, Raptors, Cavaliers).

“That just shows you that a lot of guys on the team have passion,” Joel Embiid said. “We all want to compete.”

Ben Simmons, Donovan Mitchell headline NBA All-Rookie first team

Ben Simmons, Donovan Mitchell headline NBA All-Rookie first team

Sixers guard Ben Simmons and Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell continue to be linked in the quest for Rookie of the Year. 

They both were unanimously named to the 2017-18 NBA All-Rookie first team with first-place votes on every ballot. 

Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma and Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen rounded out the first team. Tatum was one vote short of also being a unanimous selection. 

Lakers guard Lonzo Ball, Kings guard Bogdan Bogdanovic, Hawks forward/center John Collins, Suns forward Josh Jackson and Mavericks guard Dennis Smith Jr. were named to the second team. 

Simmons (15.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, 8.2 assists, 1.7 steals), Mitchell (20.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.5 steals) and Tatum (13.9 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.0 steals) are the finalists for Rookie of the Year. The award will be announced on June 25.

The All-Rookie votes were cast by global broadcasters and sportswriters, choosing five players at any position for each team. First team votes were weighted with two points, second team votes one. 

Sixers 2017-18 player evaluation: Amir Johnson

USA Today Images

Sixers 2017-18 player evaluation: Amir Johnson

Amir Johnson

Position: Power Forward/Center

Status for 2018-19: Unrestricted free agent

Johnson in 2017-18
The Sixers signed Johnson to provide solid backup minutes to Joel Embiid. He certainly wasn’t spectacular in that role, but that’s not who he is. He did his job.

Johnson averaged 4.6 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, playing in 74 contests. He averaged 15.8 minutes per game, his lowest since the 2008-09 season.

It seemed like Johnson’s name was always linked with Richaun Holmes, the younger, springier center also competing for backup center minutes (see Holmes' evaluation). While Johnson doesn’t have Holmes’ athleticism or offensive ability, Brett Brown preferred the veteran’s defense. During the regular season, Johnson had a 101.3 defensive rating, while Holmes’ was nearly five points worse, at 106.2.

At the start of the postseason, Johnson played some important minutes with Embiid working his way back from a left eye orbital fracture, and he played well. Despite Johnson not creating much of his own offense, the Sixers had no problem scoring when he was on the floor. In fact, Johnson’s 121.5 offensive rating was the best of any player in the first round of the playoffs.

Brown then drastically cut his minutes against the Celtics, Johnson’s former team, leaning heavily on Embiid. Johnson only played 17 minutes the entire Boston series, sitting on the bench for all of Game 4 and 5. He didn’t score in the series.

Signature game
In the Sixers’ 121-113 win over the Hawks on April 10, their 15th straight victory, Johnson posted 15 points, eight rebounds and five assists. That game was during Embiid’s recovery from his eye injury, which gave Johnson more of a chance to shine.

When Embiid was active, however, Johnson mainly just held down the fort while the big man got some rest.

Looking ahead to 2018-19
Johnson sometimes seems older than he actually is, mainly because of his experience and the way he carries himself. At 31 years old, Johnson has already played 13 years in the NBA, since he was the last player to be drafted directly from high school in 2005 before the league changed its eligibility requirements.

JJ Redick and Johnson were two players the young Sixers could always turn to for wisdom. Johnson never complains about his minutes, always plays hard and goes about his business like a true professional — there’s no doubt he’s a good guy to have in the locker room.

Does that mean he’ll still be a part of the Sixers’ locker room next season? Not necessarily. With the Sixers looking to acquire a superstar this offseason, Johnson would likely have to take a pay cut from the $11 million he made this year if he wants to stay in Philadelphia.

And in the long term, the Sixers may ultimately want to place their faith in Holmes, who’s seven years younger and has a higher upside. If Holmes can improve his defense, Johnson could be expendable.

On Johnson
“It was amazing, to a man, how consistent the reviews were. People skills, works his butt off, could handle sitting and swinging a towel or coming in and making a difference. He’s a good person and he’s a pro. To be able to bring him in the game, and not worry about is he happy, is he fresh, is he in shape, does he need 10 shots isn’t ever on my mind with Amir. He’s a perfect teammate.” 

- Brett Brown on Johnson after the Sixers' 107-86 win over the Jazz on Nov. 20