Brooklyn Nets

Sixers overcome hideous quarter to beat Nets in overtime

Sixers overcome hideous quarter to beat Nets in overtime

BOX SCORE

Never in doubt.

The Sixers overcame a hideous second quarter to beat the Nets in overtime, 112-104, on Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

Thanks to Joel Embiid’s relentlessness — and timely free throws — and Alec Burks’ clutch baskets, the Sixers avoided disappointment in their first game back from the All-Star break. They were also outstanding defensively in the extra period, holding Brooklyn to one point.

Ben Simmons missed the game with lower back tightness and his absence was felt throughout this one.

The win improves the Sixers to an NBA-best 26-2 at home and 35-21 overall. They’ll travel to Milwaukee to take on the NBA-best Bucks Saturday night (8:30 p.m./ABC)

Here are observations from the win:

Embiid leads the way

Embiid got off to a hot start but did struggle a bit with DeAndre Jordan in the second quarter. Still, it was Embiid and Tobias Harris that really provided the only offense early. Brett Brown went to the duo in the pick-and-roll to start the second half and did get a few good looks.

The Sixers didn’t get a point from their bench until an Al Horford and-one with 4:51 remaining in the first half. The only other points that came from a reserve before halftime were off an Alec Burks’ three. 

In the second half, Embiid just wouldn’t be denied. He had 13 points in the third and put the Sixers on his back. He grabbed 16 rebounds — six offensive — and was a plus-24. He was 18 of 19 from the line, with none bigger than the four he hit down the stretch. It was as active and spry as we've seen the All-Star center all season, diving for loose balls and crashing the offensive glass. He had a game-high 39 points.

Harris was also strong as Embiid’s running mate, scoring 22 points (10 of 20) and recording 12 rebounds and six assists.

Burks provides a spark

Speaking of Burks, Brett Brown mentioned at practice Wednesday he wanted to put Burks in positions to score. In the first half, we didn’t see that. In the third, Burks gave them a huge boost with nine points in the quarter. You saw what he brings to the table offensively working in the pick-and-roll and finishing on a nice floater in the paint. Burks also came up with a huge and-one in OT to put the Sixers up two. He scored 5 of the team's nine points in overtime and finished with 19 for the game.

The Sixers needed someone to create and make shots and Burks provided. It helped the Sixers get back into the game and eventually close it out.

A disastrous second quarter

After looking in control in the first quarter, the Sixers had arguably one of their worst quarters of the season — and maybe of all time. The Nets went on a 46-10 run … no, that is not a typo. The Sixers were outscored 24-2 to start the period. It took a late run by the Sixers for the Nets to have a 32-16 advantage in the second. Miraculously, the Sixers only trailed by 10 at the half.

The big swing coincided with Horford and Jordan. Horford was a minus-30 in 11 first-half minutes and just looked a step slow all night. Jordan was a plus-25, was extremely active on the glass and slowed down Embiid after a hot start — though Embiid ultimately got the better of the matchup.

The Sixers also just couldn’t make a shot. They went just 6 of 16 for the quarter and shot 3 of 12 from three for the half.

Missing Simmons

It was noticeable how badly the Sixers missed Simmons in this one. How often recently have we seen Simmons just attack open space and either finish or create for others when the Sixers’ offense is struggling? 

Coming into the night, Simmons led the league in assists on threes. Perhaps his ability to penetrate and dish would’ve helped the Sixers get some better looks. His absence also allowed the Nets to direct most of their attention to Embiid.

In his place, Raul Neto struggled on both ends. Brooklyn attacked him on defense, and he didn’t do enough offensively to make up for it. The Sixers didn’t need Neto to be Simmons, but they could’ve used more. Shake Milton was solid in his second half run as the team's point guard.

Slowing down Dinwiddie and LeVert

The Sixers have routinely been victimized by the guard duo of Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert. The Sixers’ trio of Josh Richardson, Glenn Robinson III and Matisse Thybulle did an outstanding job in containing them. They scored their fair share of points, but took an awful lot of shots to do it.

Even without Ben Simmons, who’s been playing at a Defensive Player of the Year level, the Sixers held Dinwiddie and LeVert to 47 points on 16 of 48.

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Sixers vs. Nets: 3 storylines to watch

Sixers vs. Nets: 3 storylines to watch

Updated: 1:22 p.m.

Welcome back, Sixers fans.

After a disappointing start to the season, the Sixers (34-21) hope to go on a run after the All-Star break starting tonight when they host the Nets (25-28).

Ben Simmons is listed as questionable with low back tightness. For the first time since having surgery on his left ring finger, Joel Embiid will no longer wear a splint and instead be taped.

Brooklyn will be without Kyrie Irving, who is dealing with right shoulder impingement and will see a specialist.

Here are three storylines to watch:

The evolution of Jo and Ben

The fit of Embiid and Simmons has dominated all other Sixers’ storylines this season and for good reason. This team will only go as far as the All-Star duo will take them.

Even their teammates know it all hinges on the play of their young stars.

“Those two are the guys that keep this thing moving and they have to really embrace each other and have that respect for each other’s games,” Tobias Harris said at practice Wednesday. “Their games are different, their games are different styles, but in a way they both do complement each other on the floor — I’ve said that since the day I got here and I truly believe it.

"When they are out there and they are both dominant, like the Clipper game, you can just see it’s like they played together since they were young kids. ... Those two, especially and most importantly, have to continue to embrace that night in and night out for us to be a successful team.”

Brett Brown ran more snug pick-and-roll than he ever had in the Sixers’ win over the Clippers last Tuesday. It was the most productive we’ve seen the pair execute the action using their size and skill. It may be a little tougher to run with a rim-protecting big like Jarrett Allen, but expect to see more of it if Simmons plays.

Sixth man Al Horford

Al Horford’s reaction to coming off the bench has been what you’d expect. He doesn’t appear to be thrilled about it, but he’s been a pro and understands that his role really won’t change all that much.

The goal is to have Horford and Embiid play less together, a move that should help both players offensively. Adding another shooter to the starting unit — whether it’s Furkan Korkmaz or Glenn Robinson III — should give Embiid more space. Playing Horford as a true five allows him to showcase more of the skillset that’s made him a five-time All-Star.

You should still expect Embiid and Horford to close games together because of how dominant they can be defensively. The Sixers’ original starting lineup is tied for second in the NBA in terms of defensive rating among five-man lineups that have played at least 200 minutes.

Containing the Nets

This Brooklyn team has given the Sixers problems in the regular season the last couple years. Even without their superstars in Irving and Kevin Durant, the Nets have multiple players that can take people off the dribble and cause problems.

Luckily for the Sixers, they are better equipped to handle the likes of Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert than they have been in the past. Simmons is playing at a Defensive Player of the Year level this season. The team has also gotten strong perimeter defense out of Josh Richardson, rookie Matisse Thybulle and will have another option in the newcomer Robinson.

Dinwiddie and LeVert can be dangerous if you’re not prepared, but if the Sixers play defense like they’re capable, they should be able to smother that guard duo.

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Ben Simmons' stat line doesn't begin to tell story of his impact in Sixers' win over Nets

Ben Simmons' stat line doesn't begin to tell story of his impact in Sixers' win over Nets

Before every game, Ben Simmons tweets out an emoji of an angry face with steam coming out of its nose.

In Monday’s 117-111 win over the Nets (see observations), Simmons was the personification of that.

Simmons played angry from start to finish in tying his career-high of 34 points while also notching his fourth triple-double of the season with 12 assists and 12 rebounds. He also had five steals, making him the first NBA player to record at least that stat line since steals were first tracked in 1973-74.

The scary thing: He was even better than the box score indicates.

“We learned that he was Conference Player of the Week during this game,” Brett Brown told reporters in Brooklyn. “I would have given him that just for his second half of this game.”

For as good as Simmons was in the first half, he was especially spectacular after halftime. That’s especially notable for all the recent scrutiny he’s faced.

For as well as Simmons has played in Joel Embiid’s absence (19.2 points, 8.7 rebounds, 7.2 assists per game), many pointed to Simmons’ inability to score late in games. He had just two points (1 of 4) in 37 fourth-quarter minutes over his last four games. To be fair, he also had 11 assists to just two turnovers.

If you didn’t notice him in the second half of this game, you weren’t watching very closely. He had 19 of his 34 points after halftime. He also snagged three of his steals while only turning the ball over once.

Along with rookie Matisse Thybulle, Simmons ignited the team’s defensive effort coming out of the locker room. The Sixers held the Nets to just 43 second-half points and forced 15 turnovers.

“I think Ben's energy, honestly, is just contagious,” Al Horford said. “I think that at the level that he was playing — that kind of All-NBA-type, taking over the game — I just think it really rubbed off on all of us and we just stepped our game up and played free and played hard.”

With Embiid out, Brown turned to little-used Kyle O’Quinn and the even less used Jonah Bolden to back up Horford in the first half. They were a combined minus-six with six fouls in 15 minutes.

Enter Simmons.

We haven’t seen a ton of Simmons at the five this season, but desperate times may have caused the Sixers to “trip on something,” as Brown likes to say. They went to a lineup with Raul Neto at the one and found success using Simmons as a screener and roller.

Rookie Nicolas Claxton, who had a big first half for the Nets, wasn’t a physical match for Simmons. That won’t happen on most nights in the NBA, but when teams go small, the Sixers have quite an answer.

“It’s tough for any big to really guard me when I’m going at them,” Simmons said. “That’s not a knock on any bigs, I’m just pretty fast and can get to the rim.”

As we’ve seen many teams do this season, Brooklyn head coach Kenny Atkinson used a center, Jarrett Allen, on Simmons. Allen just sat in the paint and dared Simmons to shoot. 

In the past when the strategy was deployed, Simmons wouldn’t attack it. That's changed of late. Instead of trying to beat that tactic by shooting, Simmons has eaten that space and taken on opposing bigs at the rim — with a ton of success.

We all know the strengths of Simmons and that one glaring weakness. It seems like Brown has maximized those strengths recently and Simmons has taken on a different mindset.

“Same s---, you know what I’m saying? That’s Ben Simmons,” Mike Scott said. “He’s an All-Star. He’s our leader. I thought it was as he should.”

While Simmons recorded easily the best stat line of his NBA career, this may have been his finest performance as a pro.

“He just peppered the stat sheet all over the place,” Brown said. “But what I see is his spirit, his body language, his facial expressions. They reeked of, ‘We’re going to win, and you guys hang on to me and I will carry you.’ And I felt like he did that in many, many ways.”

By the way, that emoji is known as “face with look of triumph.”

Yeah, that works.

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