When talking with reporters after games, one of Ben Simmons’ go-to phrases is “locked in." He certainly fit that description Saturday night, requiring only 26 minutes to grab the game by the scruff of its neck.
Simmons recorded a career-high 34 points on 12 of 14 shooting (9 of 12 from the foul line) in a 141-94 Sixers win over the 5-17 Cavs that included the Australian's second regular-season NBA three-pointer.
The Sixers are now 16-7 and 11-0 at home. A much more challenging matchup awaits them Sunday when the defending champion Raptors come to town (6 p.m./NBCSP).
Josh Richardson (right hamstring tightness) and Joel Embiid (left hip contusion) were out, but the Sixers still ran into minimal resistance in dismantling the Cavs. Richardson will miss Sunday’s game as well, which will be his sixth straight absence, though a team spokesperson said before the game that the guard participated in a full-court workout Saturday.
Here are observations from the Sixers’ blowout win:
It happened … again
The reaction to Simmons’ three approached the ecstasy over his long range jumper from the right corner on Nov. 20 vs. the Knicks.
It’s clear that the sight of Simmons knocking down a three is still nowhere close to normal.
With the Sixers well on their way to an easy victory against an inferior opponent, Simmons had nothing to lose. Of course, he hasn’t previously had the same attitude in similar situations.
Simmons spearheads historic first half
Before the fervor inside the Wells Fargo Center on his three, Simmons was determined to put his imprint on the game early. He scored eight of the Sixers’ first 10 points, with a righty hook shot sandwiched in between two dunks and a layup.
He had 26 first-half points on 11 of 12 shooting.
One would have to look awfully hard to find anything wrong or troubling with the first half for the Sixers as they led by more points at the break than the Cavs had scored, holding a 77-36 advantage. Simmons defended second-year guard Collin Sexton well, Kevin Love missed a few open looks, Cleveland misfired on its first 11 field goal attempts and things never got much better for them.
The Sixers’ point guard towered over Cleveland’s undersized backcourt and at times didn’t look like he belonged in the same league. He increased his NBA lead in steals with two, and he also added two blocks.
As a team, the Sixers shot 32 for 45 (71.1 percent) in the opening half and only turned it over four times. Their 25 assists were the most by any NBA team in a half this season. It was the ideal response to Thursday’s sloppy loss in Washington, D.C, in which they turned it over 21 times.
Before Saturday night, the Sixers had never outscored an opponent in a half by more than 36 points in franchise history. They led Cleveland by 41 at the half. The 47-point win is tied for the Sixers' third-largest ever.
Scott starts and rediscovers his shot
Mike Scott started for the first time this season, his 12th NBA start in 459 regular-season appearances. He came in shooting an ice-cold 20.6 percent from the floor and 18.5 percent from three-point range over the Sixers’ last eight games, but an opportunity against the lowly Cavs allowed him to rediscover his offensive game.
Scott’s first points came on a post-up against 19-year-old rookie guard Darius Garland, a mismatch which Al Horford encouraged him to exploit with a pass to Scott down low followed by a few deliberate nods of the head.
From there, Scott was looking to score, even after picking up two fouls within the first four minutes. He finished with 21 points on 9 of 12 shooting (3 for 5 from three).
Though Scott’s toughness and authenticity are part of why the Sixers like having him on their bench, one of the most important aspects of his value is simply the ability to hit open shots.
Thybulle leaves early
Matisse Thybulle, who went scoreless in nine first-half minutes, was ruled out in the third quarter after rolling his right ankle.
We’ll provide more information on Thybulle’s status as it becomes available, but the decision to hold him out of a game that was long past the point of being competitive does not seem too concerning on its surface.
Taking care of business
This loss was the Cavs’ 12th in 13 games. Players are “bristling” about John Belein’s coaching style, according to a report from The Athletic’s Shams Charania and Joe Vardon, and the team is ready to listen to trade offers for Love, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Love abstained from one third-quarter huddle during a timeout, choosing to stand near the basket with an exasperated expression instead of join his teammates.
In short, the Sixers will face far more unified and talented opponents this season. The Cavs did not play with much apparent effort or skill Saturday night, on the second night of a back-to-back.
The Sixers were supposed to blow out the Cavs, and they did. It would be stunning if they did not face a greater challenge Sunday.
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