PHILADELPHIA, PA — After a tough three-game stretch on the road, the Philadelphia 76ers returned to South Philly for one of their more prominent matchups of the year. With LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers in town, the 76ers had an opportunity to face the top team in the Western Conference.
The first time the Sixers faced the top team in the Eastern Conference, they came away with arguably their best win of the year. However, the circumstances were slightly different. At the time, the Sixers had their entire original starting lineup available.
Against Los Angeles, though, Philly was short-handed. For the last few weeks now, the Sixers have been without their superstar center, Joel Embiid. Though the Sixers have actually fared well without their All-Star available lately, it still felt like a tall task for the sixth-seeded team in the East to take down one of the NBA’s best squads.
Then suddenly, things got worse for the Sixers when they found out on Friday that their starting shooting guard, Josh Richardson, is going to miss some time moving forward as well. Without those two on the court, Sixers’ head coach Brett Brown had a tough decision to make regarding the starting lineup.
He stuck to his same recipe as of late by giving the rookie, Matisse Thybulle, a start at forward as Tobias Harris and Al Horford shifted positions. Then, Brown shook up the lineup and named an unlikely starter in Shake Milton. Thybulle and Milton held their own on Friday night against a challenging opponent.
But the performance put on by Tobias Harris and Ben Simmons overshadowed all other progress by the Sixers on Saturday night. Before the matchup, we mentioned the Sixers needed their two max players to take control and dominate if the Sixers want a chance to win.
Brett Brown gave them the minutes they needed to succeed, and both did not disappoint. In 41 minutes of action, Ben Simmons notched another double-double on the night with 28 points, ten rebounds, and eight assists.
Harris, on the other hand, clocked in for 38 minutes totaling for a team-high of 29 points with eight rebounds and an assist. Following the game, Brett Brown credited Harris for the veteran’s “spirit, mentality, and downhill aggression.”
“At the end, he was telling me ‘I got it,’ Brown said in regards to Harris taking over on the court. “[After that], we went on an 11-0 run.” As for his opinion on Simmons, Brown couldn’t help but rave about his multi-talented point guard. “Clearly [he had different energy],” the Sixers’ coach says. “He was so so good, and good at multiple positions. . . Again! He was very special tonight on a very talented court.”
While Simmons and Harris were the clear stars for the Sixers throughout all four quarters, their veteran Al Horford deserves tons of props for his late-game contributions. As the Lakers nearly climbed back from a 22-point deficit in the second half, Horford used his veteran ways to keep the Sixers going on offense while they struggled late in the game.
Once the Sixers’ big man put his experience to the test, the Lakers didn’t have an answer. Despite being underdogs at home, the 76ers managed to take down the Lakers 108-91. Now, the Sixers advance to 30-17 on the year, keeping a dominant record of 21-2 at the Wells Fargo Center. They return to the court on Tuesday night for another home game against the Golden State Warriors.
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him on Twitter: @JGrasso_
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