76ers

Sixers try to make sense of Jimmy Butler's big night

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Sixers try to make sense of Jimmy Butler's big night

By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, the Sixers had already resorted to drastic measures against the Bulls’ Jimmy Butler.

They tried jumping pick-and-rolls, double-teaming and even grabbing and holding on to Butler — everything aside from pushing him over or punching him.

But no matter what the Sixers tried, Butler got his shots, and much to the Sixers’ chagrin, his buckets.

Butler scored a visiting-team record 53 points against the Sixers at the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday night in the Bulls’ 115-111 overtime victory (see game recap). He scored 51 at the end of regulation, before the Sixers’ defense in overtime went into, “anybody-but-him” mode.

That’s when reserve point guard E’Twaun Moore hit for seven straight points on his way to 14 on 6 for 8 shooting. Regardless, Butler was the difference for the Bulls, dragging them back from a 24-point first-half deficit with 25 points in the first half, 11 in the third quarter and 15 more in the final frame.

“The philosophical thing is at the end of the game we have an anybody-but rule, so we hit him and double-teamed him and we changed the pick-and-roll to keep JaKarr (Sampson) matched up against him,” head coach Brett Brown said of the Sixers’ defensive scheme against Butler. “We did that and we made the adjustment and then Moore punished us at the end. To me, that was the game. Butler was doing his thing and we persevered and made the adjustment and then Moore came out and punished that.”

All told, Butler went 15 for 30 with two three-pointers. But where he did his most damage was the free throw line, converting 21 of 25 attempts to go with 10 rebounds and six assists. With former All-Stars Pau Gasol and Derrick Rose out with injuries, Butler figured he had to do the heavy lifting.

He did that and then some.

In addition to Butler’s 53 points going down as the most by a visitor at the Wells Fargo Center, he is also the fourth Bull to score 50 points in a game joining Jamal Crawford, former Sixer Chet Walker and Michael Jordan, who did it 30 times.

He also is the third Bull to attempt at least 20 free throws in a game, joining Artis Gilmore and Jordan, who did it five times.

Meanwhile, Butler is the second player to score 50-plus against the Sixers this season. James Harden hit for 50 on Nov. 27 in Houston on 16 for 28 shooting and 16 for 20 from the line. The only other 50-point game in the NBA this season was Steph Curry’s 53-point showing against New Orleans on Oct. 31.

“Jimmy is a heckuva of player,” said Ish Smith, who played for New Orleans this season when Curry scored 53 points. “That was fun, it was fun to watch with both teams going back and forth. He’s an All-Star for a reason and he’s having an MVP-type of season. I’m not just saying that either. I thought we did some things well defensively, but when someone gets it going like that you have to tip your hat to him. He got some good shots up over us.”

Sampson knows all about those shots because he had to attempt to guard Butler for most of the game. With Jerami Grant out with a sore calf, Sampson was thrown into the starting lineup and matched up against Butler in his 25 minutes.

Trying to find the silver lining of a 53-point performance hanging there against them, Sampson is trying to use the game as a learning experience.

“I’m trying to find my way in this league and I have to step up and take the challenge, but he’s tough player. He’s a great player and my job was to try and make it tough for him and I tried, but he had it going on,” Sampson said.

“He’s a smart basketball player. We tried to stop him from doing one thing and he found another way to get it. We tried to deny him and he got the ball.”

Even when Sampson and the Sixers stopped Butler, they ended up getting whistled for fouls. The Bulls as a team went 26 for 31 from the line with Butler counting for 21 for 25 of that. In the fourth quarter, Butler went 7 for 13 from the field while the rest of the team went 5 for 7.

In other words, the Sixers couldn’t take the ball away from Butler even when they tried.

“We tried to change up some of the defensive schemes,” Sampson said. “When I was guarding him we tried switching up a lot and getting quick hedges before going back on him, but it’s tough when a player is that hot.”

It’s also tough when the Bulls’ second and third top scorers were out, too. But with Butler entering the game averaging 22.2 points and Rose and Gasol combining to average 31.0 points, Butler simply made up the difference.

2020 NBA schedule: Sixers set to play 3 scrimmages before season resumes

2020 NBA schedule: Sixers set to play 3 scrimmages before season resumes

The NBA on Saturday released its scrimmage schedule for the 22 teams participating in the league’s restart in Orlando. 

The Sixers are set to play three scrimmages:

July 24, 3:30 p.m. — Grizzlies
July 26, 12 p.m. — Thunder
July 28, 8:30 p.m. — Mavericks

The scrimmages are intended to serve as a final ramp-up into the resumption of the season. The Sixers, who began holding mandatory individual workouts at their practice facility in Camden, New Jersey, starting on Wednesday, are scheduled to arrive at Disney World next Thursday.

Brett Brown said Wednesday he’d like his team to be at a “B” fitness base that he can help improve to an “A” by the time seeding games start. It’s been challenging for many players to stay in shape because of restrictions related to the coronavirus. Matisse Thybulle, for one, said Thursday he doesn’t like running but it was his “only choice.”

"It’s obviously not basketball-type conditioning,” Thybulle said, “but it kept me at a cardio fitness level to where now that we’ve come back and started, and I’ve started doing my basketball workouts, I have a really solid baseline to build off.”

The hiatus has allowed Ben Simmons to recover from the back injury that sidelined him for the Sixers’ last eight games, and Simmons noted he's added muscle and feels more explosive.

Al Horford also said, “I probably wasn’t where I wanted to be this season” in terms of health, and that the time off has been helpful for him. 

Below is the Sixers’ schedule for the final eight games:

Aug. 1, 7 p.m.: Indiana
Aug. 3, 8 p.m: San Antonio
Aug. 5, 4 p.m.: Washington
Aug. 7, 6:30 p.m.: Orlando
Aug. 9, 6:30 p.m.: Portland
Aug. 11, 4:30 p.m.: Phoenix
Aug. 12, 6:30 p.m.: Toronto 
Aug. 14: Houston 

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How bubbly Matisse Thybulle is taking things in stride during bizarre rookie year

How bubbly Matisse Thybulle is taking things in stride during bizarre rookie year

Matisse Thybulle was his usual bubbly self Friday. The Sixers’ rookie literally hopped — like he actually jumped into his seat — on a video conference call with reporters. He signed off by calling all of us nerds.

The 2019 first-round pick was having a standout first season before play was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. Though his playing time had fluctuated, head coach Brett Brown said earlier in the season that he was grooming the young wing for the playoffs.

Still, Thybulle won’t take anything for granted as the team prepares to leave for the Disney World “bubble” next week.

“For me, every time I get out on the court, it’s a challenge to maintain, to keep my spot on the team,” Thybulle said. “And then with keeping the spot, you can never be stagnant.”

On opening night, Thybulle was asked to defend All-Star guard Kemba Walker. Walker had given the Sixers problems in the past and the rookie didn’t get off to a great start, committing two quick fouls. As the game went on, Thybulle settled in and showed the defensive prowess the Sixers drafted him for.

All season long, Thybulle has done well to take things as they come during a bizarre rookie year. He’s planning to take that same mentality to Florida.

Nobody really knows what’s going to happen," Thybulle said, "nobody really knows what to expect, or how things are going to go, or what anybody or any team looks like. Instead of setting expectations for myself or what I think the experience is going to be like, it’s been just trying to take each new step of this process as a new challenge, and then figuring out, when I get there, how I’m going to get through it.

"If you want to look at all the unknowns, you’ll just go crazy. Taking what I know and what I can control and trying to make the best out of that.

What we know about Thybulle is he has a propensity for disruption on the defensive end. He leads all rookies in steals — by a healthy margin — and is fifth in blocks. He’s one of only eight players in the NBA to have at least 80 steals and 40 blocks.

In order to get so many deflections and wreak havoc defensively, you need to be in top shape. If you’ve seen Thybulle’s Tik Tok adventures from early in the quarantine, you know that he lives in a small apartment and didn’t have the opportunity to keep up with basketball activities.

So, he turned to the only form of exercise he thought could help — even if he didn’t enjoy it.

“I don’t like running. I really don’t like it,” Thyulle said. “But through the quarantine, it was like my only choice. ... It’s obviously not basketball-type conditioning, but it kept me at a cardio fitness level to where now that we’ve come back and started, and I’ve started doing my basketball workouts, I have a really solid baseline to build off. In a matter of two weeks, I feel like I’ve gotten back into really good shape and I think it’s going to be easier to build on after this.”

Thybulle has been given a bunch of tough assignments this season. While he’s looked like a rookie at times, when he’s kept his fouls down and his three-point percentage up, you see a player that should be able to help come the postseason.

And in a year where nobody knows what the NBA playoffs will be like, it could be to the rookie’s advantage during his first postseason run.

“I think what I’ve heard about the playoffs is a little different than what the playoffs are going to look like this year,” Thybulle said. “Obviously, I’ve heard amazing things. Especially playing in Philly, I’ve heard so many great things about having our fans behind us.

"We’re finding ourselves in a situation where that’s not going to be the case, so I think it’s going to be new for everyone, even vets who have been part of the playoffs, trying to get a feel for what this is going to be like. But I’m open to the challenge and I’m excited for what’s in store.”

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