Did the Sixers really win that game last night?

Did the Sixers really win that game last night?

“Someday, the Sixers will be the other team,” I optimistically predicted on Jan. 11, after the Philadelphia 76ers’ lone “home” loss of 2018, against the Boston Celtics as the hosting team in London. The Sixers had been up big in the first half, stretching the lead to 20+, but the Celtics surged in the second half as the Sixers flailed, and the C’s ended up winning handily. 

Well, someday has arrived, and it was a Valentine’s Day present Process Trusters won’t soon forget: Down 24 to the Miami Heat in the third quarter, the Sixers reeled off a 12-0 run to half the deficit, then battled back to recapture the lead in the fourth. They didn’t win handily, perhaps — a Dwyane Wade triple at the buzzer could’ve sunk ‘em — but they won, and after a year of seemingly ceaseless come-from-ahead losses, they finally put a come-from-behind 104-102 W in the books. 

I’m still not totally sure how it happened. The Sixers, missing Joel Embiid with an ankle flare-up (that’ll be fine, right?), looked thoroughly lifeless in the first half as the Heat seized momentum, and even through their reanimated second half, they were still hardly hooping immaculate — they only shot 9-35 for the game from three, they turned the ball over 17 times and they committed 23 fouls. All that, combined with an early deficit and no Embiid… I mean, I made peace with this one ending up an L pretty early.

Luckily for us, the Sixers didn't. Their ability to hang around and fight back in this one can probably be most directly tied to their awesome effort on the boards: No less than six individual players grabbed at least seven rebounds last night — including J.J. Redick and Robert Covington, both of whom had frigid nights shooting — and their 23-3 advantage on the offensive glass was probably the ultimate difference-maker. Those extra possessions helped make up for the team's overall brickiness, and the lineup got a big boost from Richaun Holmes (11 and 9, with a couple blocks and assists, in his first real run in two weeks) and Marco Belinelli (17 points on 7-12 shooting in his impressive Sixers debut) off the bench. 

But the real takeaway from this one is the same as it's been for most of the last month: Goddamn, Ben Simmons. In the 12 games since Simmons was first snubbed as an All-Star reserve, the rookie point guard has averaged 17-7-8 on 59% shooting, with two steals, a block and three turnovers. Last night was one of his finest all-around efforts — another triple-double (18-12-10) on efficient shooting (8-15 FG) with stellar defense (including four steals, a couple of which were huge second half momentum-swingers). There's still no doubt who this team's MVP is, but if there's a reason the Sixers now have a chance in games even without our JoJo, it's Simmons. May his All-Star revenge rampage last forever. 

So, the Sixers go into the All-Star break with the 7th seed in the East at 30-25, a game and a half up on Miami, just two back of Washington in fourth, and with the third-best scoring differential in the conference. Right now, it seems like injuries are the only thing that could really threaten the Sixers' first playoff appearance in a half-decade, so let's just hope Joel, Ben and Dario make it out of All-Star Weekend alive and we can breathe a little easy for the rest of the season. Lord knows this franchise has long been owed a little karmic relaxation. 

Zhaire Smith has already unlocked the cheesesteak photo op

Zhaire Smith has already unlocked the cheesesteak photo op

Cheesesteaks are great.

People who are new to Philadelphia should eat cheesesteaks. People who are not new to Philadelphia should also eat cheesesteaks.

New 76ers draft pick Zhaire Smith is new to Philadelphia so he went to eat a cheesesteak.

Thankfully, it was a pretty good one at Jim's Steaks on South Street. It appears as if there is no ketchup or other strange substances on his cheesesteak. Hot peppers are not only acceptable but encouraged, in my humble cheesesteak eating opinion.

Congrats, Zhaire for enjoying a cheesesteak successfully without embarrassment.

You can learn much more about Smith and his abilities and fit with the Sixers right here.

Sixers put organization ahead of Mikal Bridges' feelings ... and that's OK

Sixers put organization ahead of Mikal Bridges' feelings ... and that's OK

Brett Brown sold me.

I agree with my colleague Andrew Kulp that the moment the news of the Sixers trading Mikal Bridges broke that I was flabbergasted. His mother works for the Sixers! Bridges was literally talking about how excited she was for him to be in Philly when the news broke. His poor mother! It was pretty much as rough as it gets in terms of optics. 

It looked awful from a PR perspective. There are tons of disappointed Villanova alums today.

But it's an unfortunate situation, in my opinion, not an organizational embarrassment, as Kulp wrote.

An unprotected first-round pick though? Damn. That's enticing.

Then Brett Brown came out after the first round ended and put my mind at ease that the Sixers made the right move.

They did what they believed to be best for the Sixers, a "Godfather offer" if you will. Here's Brown's, incredibly honest and thoughtful opening statement. You can watch it in full above. I think it's worth watching to realize how much thought Brown and his decision-makers put into this one.

"We had 1A and 1B and when the ninth pick was selected you realize, we’re going to get one of our two, and we chose Mikal. And to see that play out knowing the history that he has had in this city and at Villanova, it was very much aligned and he was somebody that could come in a fit with what we had. And so it goes from that level of excitement in the extreme coincidence, given his history in this city, to a situation in between that the phones were active and we knocked back an incredible deal where we would lose him. We didn’t rate it to be a Godfather type of deal, something that really would impact the franchise to the level that it would have to in order to trade Mikal, who we valued very much."

"And then Phoenix came in and offered a 2021 unprotected plus our 1B in Zhaire (Smith), who we value very highly, and you’re in a position that you’re on the clock and you really have a decision to make. And for me, and all of us in that room, what also rules our day is a few things. First — and in this order — what is always best for the organization, I’m going into my sixth season with the Philadelphia 76ers and so what is best for the organization and how do you win a championship, how do you acquire things that can attract stars or develop stars? That pick might be the key to all of this. That pick might be the thing that links a possible trade, and we have our 1B in Zhaire."

The trade was jarring emotionally. There's no sugarcoating that. Bridges is, by all accounts, a wonderful and thoughtful kid. Not to mention a hell of a basketball player who would absolutely help the Sixers in 2018.

Brown later added a line that should make you more comfortable with the Sixers moving on from him: "We are star hunting or we are star developing."

If the Sixers didn't believe that Bridges would be one of those stars, they added an incredibly valuable piece in the unprotected first that can help acquire a star. Either via trade or in a future draft. And they got their 1B on top of it.

Some very smart NBA people even believe that Smith is a better prospect than Bridges. Only time will tell on those two players. But the Sixers did what they believed put them in the best position to land a star.

Isn't that what the Process is all about anyway?

"I'm here to win a championship," Brown said at the introductory press conference for Smith Friday morning.

They pulled off this trade because they believe it helps them get closer to a championship. At the end of the day, are you worried more about one family's feelings or the Sixers winning a championship?

If you watched Bridges speak to the Phoenix media following the trade, he'll be just fine growing alongside Deandre Ayton. That kid is a pro. And the Sixers put them in the position they believe best sets them up to land a star.

Now they just need to go out and do it.

More on the Sixers