November 04, 2017
Here's a sentence you haven't been able to write in a long time: the Philadelphia 76ers are an above .500 team. After a 121-110 victory over the Indiana Pacers, the Sixers are 5-4, pushing them above the .500 mark for the first time since 2013. It's about damn time.
Here's what I saw during an action-packed evening at Wells Fargo Center.
This is the sort of game that prompted Bryan Colangelo to pay a small fortune to secure Redick's services. The Sixers did not get an A-1 game from Joel Embiid, who struggled with foul trouble and coughed up the ball six different times. It did not matter because Redick nailed eight triples and almost singlehandedly brought the offense back to life at times.
The shot many fans will come back to was his circus shot late in the game when an offensive possession for Philadelphia looked like it was about to come up empty. With Myles Turner crowding him, Redick didn't have many options. He decided to improvise:
J.J. Redick cares not for your soul. pic.twitter.com/pJVlo3mcaC— Justin Russo (@FlyByKnite) November 4, 2017
I don't think the TV angle does this one justice. The media section is under that same basket Redick shot at, and when that ball left his hands, it looked like the shot was going to fall about five feet short. And then it just kept going, and going, and going, and it rattled in for the most improbable make of Redick's Sixers tenure so far.
Just don't tell Redick that was a lucky shot. He told reporters after the game that he's practiced that one a few times in the past, and it just came down to executing. From the sound of things, the crowd in Philadelphia may have just willed him into making that dagger three."I had goosebumps tonight, I really did. It was as loud as you’d ever seen for an NBA arena, regular season for sure. The end of the shot clock three, was as loud as they get," said Redick. "We play with energy, and we fed off that energy. To me, the most beautiful basketball you can play is having a symbiotic relationship with the fans. It becomes beautiful. To get them that win was huge."
Whatever the reason was, Redick deserves to take a bow after that performance. On top of the made shots, he piled up six assists, keeping the ball moving even with a crazy hot hand. Money well spent.
Perhaps the most encouraging thing about Philadelphia's four-game win streak is they have yet to play a complete game yet this season. There have been some sensational individual performances from guys up and down the roster, but in every game it has felt like something was left on the table.
Friday night, Brett Brown honed in on their defense of the paint, which was atrocious in the first half and tightened up in the guts of the game. From the coach's perspective, having problem areas in a victory is a good thing, because it gives his staff something to teach to his players following a good win."I think to be able to isolate and zoom in on an area, like middle pick-and-roll defense, you get the attention a lot more after a win to say we won, but look how poor we were here," said Brown. "This group is so, at times, painfully young with just crazy turnovers or things that aren't going to script, but they play together, they play hard and those things, like middle pick-and-roll defense, is sure a lot easier to talk about after you win."
One area they have to tighten up is their defense in general, not just in transition or in the pick-and-roll. The Sixers have been winning shootouts, which is a real departure from years past, but teams are carving them up whenever Joel Embiid hits the bench. They need to learn to survive without their anchor back there because they can't count on him to fix every problem and missed rotation.
Holmes made his triumphant return to the lineup on Friday night, and boy did the Sixers need it. That's no disrespect to Amir Johnson, who has been rock solid over the last week or so, but this was a game that suited a player like Holmes. The pace was furious and demanded young legs that could get up and down the floor.
A few things stood out about Holmes' performance. We can start with the first bucket he got because it is the most Richaun Holmes play there ever was.
But the more important work for Holmes will be done on the defensive end. There's a misconception that he's a good defensive player, mostly because he has some highlight blocks in his catalog. The same activity that makes him a valuable offensive piece can sometimes get him into trouble on defense.
That wasn't the case, for the most part, in his first game back. Holmes was fairly measured in his approach to defending the paint, and at his best, he was able to force tough shots and spark buckets for the Sixers in transition.
As Brown has mentioned previously, Holmes presents him with a good problem. He's going to want the veteran qualities provided by Johnson on some nights, and he'll absolutely need Holmes' athleticism and activity on other nights. Holmes brings a different element to Philadelphia's bench unit, and I guarantee you'll be seeing quite a few put-back dunks before the season ends.
When you go back through a game in your head, the mind tends to gravitate toward the big plays and shots that decided the victory. So much of our focus drifts toward the end result of a play, the punctuation of the sentence, rather than everything that came before it.
Robert Covington hit a massive three-point shot with 238 left. That's what tends to stick in your mind as you're running back the final few minutes from memory. But the fracas that created the three is an illustration of why this Sixers team is winning games without having their best team effort.
That dive by Jerryd Bayless not only got the Sixers three points, it prevented a breakaway for Indiana going the other way. That's a potential five-point swing in a game the Sixers were trailing in at the time, and that could have completely flipped the script on crunch time. Instead, they grabbed control of the game and stepped on Indiana's neck.
We are quickly running out of adjectives to describe what Simmons is doing as a rookie. He joined Oscar Robertson as the only other rookie in NBA history to put up two triple-doubles within the first nine games of their career, and he did it naturally, without forcing the issue throughout the game.
Simmons was aware of the achievement after the game, of course, but he insisted his focus was on getting a W and not on the box-score feat.
"I'm just happy we won," Simmons said after the game. "The triple-double is a bonus."
One of the biggest accusations from Simmons' detractors—can you believe he had those?—in college was to call him a stat-padder, a player who chased his own numbers at the expense of winning. That looks even more ridiculous than it did at the time because Simmons is racking assists up just by letting the game come to him.
In the first 8 minutes of the game, Simmons picked up a quick five assists. Hearing this, you might think he was dominating the ball in the pick-and-roll and constantly kicking to shooters. But because he was matched up with Darren Collison, who gives up roughly 10 inches to Simmons, the Sixers had an enormous mismatch in the post. So Simmons went straight to the block, and he brutalized Indiana there for almost all of the opening period.
Simmons treats a post opportunity just like any other possession, and on this play, the ball barely hits his hands before he's hitting Dario Saric for a wide-open three.
You just can't cheat off your guy to help on Simmons, because his first instinct is to move the ball to the open man. The Sixers would also be quite content if nobody ever sent help. Even after Indiana adjusted and put Victor Oladipo on Simmons instead of Collison, the size advantage was just too great. This is what it looks like when there's a mouse in the house.
Whenever Markelle Fultz returns to form, expect to see a lot more of this out of Simmons. He's still going to lead the offense as a ballhandler, but Simmons' gifts in the post are pretty damn special too.