3 observations after Sixers’ bench plays pivotal role in bounce-back win originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
With a victory Wednesday against the Jazz in their final game before the All-Star break, the Sixers will guarantee first place in the Eastern Conference through the first half of the season.
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After a blip Saturday in an overtime loss to the Cavs, the Sixers again looked like one of the league’s better teams Monday night in a 130-114 win at Wells Fargo Center over the Pacers. They’re now 23-12 on the season, 15-3 at home.
Shake Milton had 26 points on 9-for-14 shooting in the win, while Joel Embiid recorded 24 points on 10-for-17 shooting and 13 rebounds. Ben Simmons had 18 points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals. Both stars were able to sit out the entire fourth period.
The Sixers’ Tobias Harris (right knee contusion) and Pacers’ Jeremy Lamb (sore left knee) were sidelined. Harris had been listed as questionable during the day, so perhaps he’ll be available against the West-leading Jazz.
Here are three observations on Monday’s game:
Sixers’ bench starts clicking
It didn’t take long for Milton to provide the complementary offense the Sixers lacked against Cleveland as he ran the second unit with poise and decisiveness. He converted a four-point play on a 2-for-1 situation late in the first period, played through contact effectively and helped the bench extend a lead, not a normal occurrence for the Sixers over the last month.
Two of his best plays were passes to an open Furkan Korkmaz that yielded no reward, though Korkmaz soon got into a groove and poured in 13 second-quarter points. Sixers head coach Doc Rivers liked the idea of Korkmaz and Milton as a playmaking bench duo heading into the season. Until Monday, though, we’d rarely seen both play well simultaneously.
As for Milton, his mobility and off-the-dribble explosion don’t appear hampered by the left ankle sprain that sidelined him for five February games, though he noted last week he was still dealing with some soreness and called the rehab process “annoying and tedious.” He shook Myles Turner with a series of tight crossovers that the Sixers’ bench loved and drained an open jumper during a second-quarter stretch that was packed with highlights and grew the Sixers’ lead to 19 points.
The Sixers’ bench outscored the Pacers’ by a 67-47 margin.
Mike Scott started for the fourth time this season, taking Harris’ spot, and posted 11 points on 4-for-4 shooting, four rebounds and four steals in a good showing.
Simmons still happy to drive (and score)
The Pacers continued with their approach of guarding Simmons tightly far from the hoop, opening up driving opportunities for the 24-year-old. The high ball screens Rivers said he called to give Simmons a “head of steam” when the teams played each other on Jan. 31 were again a part of his playbook for that reason.
Simmons missed his first two shots but was undeterred, scoring six of the Sixers’ points during a 10-0 run after Indiana grabbed a 16-9 lead. If he hadn’t taken charge, perhaps thoughts of Saturday’s slow start and disappointing loss to Cleveland would’ve creeped into the Sixers’ mind.
Though Simmons had four turnovers, giving him 11 over the past two games, that was the only notable negative from his performance. His consistent determination to attack the rim and find scoring chances for himself has been a very positive development over the past month.
The Sixers are undoubtedly a greater postseason threat if opponents have to account for Simmons as an aggressive driver and post scorer who regularly exploits his physical advantages in the half court.
He is, needless to say, tremendous in transition.
No questions about Embiid when the spotlight’s on
We’ve learned over the years that, when Embiid is questionable to play, how he looks during his pregame routine is not often a reliable indicator of whether he will suit up. Rivers said Embiid was “very questionable” with left ankle soreness during his pregame media availability and the All-Star center didn’t work out at anywhere close to full intensity, but he was good to go.
Embiid converted a face-up jumper on his first touch before a Pacers double team could arrive. Neither All-Star Domantas Sabonis nor likely All-Defensive Team selection Myles Turner could dependably stop Embiid 1-on-1, meaning Indiana sent frequent double teams. Embiid was patient, letting the defense dictate his move and passing well when that was the right play.
His five assists were tied with Seth Curry for the team-high, and he didn’t turn the ball over until he shuffled his feet after catching an inbounds pass during a Pacers run to begin the third period. Turner should’ve cut the Sixers’ 17-point halftime lead to nine, missing an easy layup, but Rivers called a timeout anyway. It was a smart decision as he recognized, regardless of Turner’s miscue, that the Sixers hadn’t opened the second half sharply.
The Sixers’ lead then ballooned again as Embiid played strong individual post defense on Sabonis and Turner and the team’s energy collectively surged. Scott made one of the hustle plays he said after Monday’s shootaround that he’s focused on this season, stripping Sabonis in the backcourt after a defensive rebound and laying it in.