The Philadelphia 76ers were… fun?
After an unnecessarily dramatic 24 hours, a couple provocative tweets, and some hardcore opinioning from the national media, the Philadelphia 76ers finally took the court Tuesday evening. The result was not only a Sixers win, but the most promising win in weeks.
The Sixers finally changed course on Al Horford — he was moved to the bench in favor of Furkan Korkmaz. While Korkmaz himself underperformed, the change worked. Horford looked spry and focused, and the Sixers’ offense looked considerably smoother.
Ben Simmons was a maniac, dropping 26 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists en route to his sixth triple-double of the campaign. He took a season-high 22 shots, he bothered Kawhi Leonard and Paul George all night, and he worked effectively alongside Joel Embiid.
Embiid scored 26 of his own. He was able to establish deep post position early and often, which Simmons was kind enough to reward. The Embiid-Simmons two-man game worked magic all night.
In fact, the Sixers’ most effective play was Embiid screening for Simmons. Not even on the three-point line — screens just outside the paint. The space was tight, but it consistently gave Simmons a switch and the momentum needed to sweep across the lane and finish inside. He ate.
Tobias Harris cooked early in the contest, and Josh Richardson found his groove late. Richardson hit several timely baskets in the fourth and scored 21 overall, an emphatic return to form. He had struggled recently after returning from a hamstring injury.
While Korkmaz fell back to earth, the Sixers were able to find steady minutes from Matisse Thybulle, Alec Burks, and Glenn Robinson III. The bench wasn’t exactly an offensive hub, but Horford managed to anchor the second unit effectively. He scored nine points, played good defense, and contributed positively to the win.
This should play out as a full-time move. There was talk of moving Horford to the bench to combat the Clippers’ so-called small ball, but this was not a matchup issue. Horford is a massively clunky fit in the starting five, and switching the rotation up had clear benefits. He is much more comfortable at the five.
Embiid and Horford didn’t touch the court together until the third quarter, and the original starting five — Embiid, Horford, Harris, Richardson, Simmons — didn’t congregate until the fourth. The O.G. starting five was solid when together, however, and Brown effectively closed the game with Thybulle over Horford.
This was a strong win against a legit contender in the West. Philadelphia remains a handful at home, and ideally, the rotation change will lead to a bit more spunk on the road. Embiid was his regular self tonight, for the first time in a long time. He played to the crowd, got TTP chants at the line, and even blocked Marcus Morris into the astral plane after a mini-scuffle.
This was Simmons at his best. The unclogged paint worked wonders, and he looked genuinely comfortable next to Embiid — not as shocking a development as some will make it out to be. He took 22 shots, a positive sign, and was a strong deterrent for Leonard and George on defense. When Simmons attacks, the Sixers are typically in a good place.
Embiid dropped 26 in 28 minutes after a light sprinkling of boos during pre-game introductions. Otherwise, the Embiid/crowd relationship returned to its once colorful state — loud cheers after strong post moves, TTP chants at the line, and a pump-up moment after a scuffle. This was the happiest, most good a–hole we’ve seen Embiid in a long while.
Harris was dominant in the first half, where he scored 13 of his 17 points. A quiet second half earns a moderate reduction in overall grade, but he scorched the nets earlier, grabbed 12 boards, and contributed a poster jam over top of Paul George. It was a solid night against his former team.
Richardson canned several big shots in the fourth quarter and helped put L.A. to bed. His first three quarters were quiet, but a series of high-difficulty shots down the stretch gave Philadelphia a boost when it mattered. Consider it a strong night in his first start since the injury.
Horford was thoroughly solid in his first game off the bench since 2007. He only took four shots, but it was his best defensive performance in ages. He kept things afloat when Embiid sat, and his feet weren’t stuck in wet concrete on the perimeter. The minutes he did share with Embiid and Simmons were solid too. Is it too late to start a Sixth Man of the Year campaign for Big Al?
The Sixers head into the All-Star break on a three-game (home) win streak. After the four-game road skid, this caps a much-needed positive stretch. Embiid and Simmons will hit the court as opponents in Sunday’s All-Star Game.
Philadelphia’s next game is Thursday, Feb. 20 at 8 PM ET. The Brooklyn Nets will come to town.