Villanova bombs away to blast its way to the title game

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

https://twitter.com/NovaMBB/status/980280675248017408

Villanova 95, Kansas 79 – Box Score

The story coming out of Villanova’s Elite 8 victory over Texas Tech was how the Wildcats found a way to win despite being uncharacteristically cold from behind the arc. Saturday night’s Final Four matchup against Kansas went in an entirely different direction.

Two minutes into the game, the Wildcats went on a run where they scored on five straight possessions, including going 4-4 from the three-point line. In the blink of an eye, the Jayhawks found themselves down by double digits. It was enough to make your head spin even if you’re weren’t a former Jayhawk on pain meds from facial surgery.

 

But the onslaught from downtown by no means ended there. Before the first half was even over, Villanova had already tied the record for made threes in a Final Four game (13). They would go on to set the record at 18 (on 40 attempts), leading by as many as 22 points in the second half to easily advance to Monday night’s title game against Michigan.

The game was vintage Villanova, who has already set the records for most threes made in an NCAA tournament and for a season. They were so hot from downtown that they didn’t even need to shoot their first free throws until there were less than nine minutes remaining in the game.

It was a true egalitarian effort, as every Villanova starter made at least two threes in the first half. Two of those opening four threes came from big man Omari Spellman, who finished the game with 15 points, 13 rebounds, and 3 blocks. Kansas center Udoka Azubuike was simply not accustomed to having to guard his man that far away from the basket, and Spellman made him pay.

The Wildcats went with a true 5-out offense, and Kansas’ propensity for helping off their man to stop dribble penetration constantly provided Villanova with open looks. They certainly did not squander those opportunities. Time after time, Player of the Year Jalen Brunson (18 points, 6 assists) would get into the lane and either find a teammate behind the arc or someone making a savvy backcut to the rim. Kansas head coach Bill Self could be seen pleading with his guys to stay with their men no matter what, but it was to no avail.

Even when Kansas did everything perfectly, things still seemed to go Villanova’s way. Early in the second half, the Jayhawks blocked a Villanova drive and the Wildcats were scrambling to get a shot off before the shot clock expired. Eric Paschall pulled up from about 28 feet, canning the triple and basically extinguishing any hope for Kansas that the second half would go differently.

https://twitter.com/marchmadness/status/980265875998613504

Paschall basically couldn’t miss on the night, shooting 10-11 from the field and 4-5 from three for a game-high 24 points. It was a fitting display for a guy who has really put the work in to improve his shot. Paschall shot just 31.5% from three at Fordham, 27.9% last year with the Wildcats, and started this season an abysmal 1-25 from downtown. He’s now up to a a very respectable 35.7% on the season and torched a #1 seed on college baskeball’s biggest stage.

Villanova will enter the title game as a 7-point favorite over Michigan. In the last week alone, the Wildcats have shown both how dangerous they can be at their peak and how resilient they can be otherwise. 40 minutes left will decide if they can grab their second national championship in the past three seasons.

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Sixers pass first test without Joel Embiid

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Philadelphia 101, Atlanta, 91 – Box Score

Just as everything was finally coming together for the Sixers, the bottom dropped out on their dream season. The recently returned Markelle Fultz collided with Joel Embiid, causing the star center to suffer a concussion and orbital fracture which would require surgery and sideline him for an estimated 2-4 weeks. The tail end of that time period would leave Embiid unable to play in the first round of the playoffs. Understandably, the last two days have seen a Chicken Little “sky is falling” mentality envelop Philadelphia fans.

If their first game without Embiid is any indication though, maybe the sun will keep shining. Granted, Atlanta is on the fast-track to a high lottery pick and their leading scorer Friday night was Damion Lee, a guy who wasn’t in the NBA a couple weeks ago and comes from Philadelphia’s 6th-most well-known college basketball program (love you, Drexel). Still, the Sixers unloaded a whopping 39 points in the third quarter, enabling Brett Brown to empty out the bench with a 27-point lead heading into the fourth. Joel who?

As expected, the Sixers used a committee-approach to pick up the slack for Embiid. Ben Simmons recorded his 5th triple-double of the month with 13 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists, not to mention a steal and 2 blocks. Ben has firmly grasped the fact that teams with nothing to play for have no desire to step in front of a 230-pound freight train in transition.

The Sixers also ran a lot more offense through their shooting guards, as J.J. Redick and Marco Belinelli combined to score as many points as the entire Hawks team in the third quarter. Redick finished with 19 points on 8-14 shooting for the game, with only 3 of those attempts coming from behind the arc. The star podcaster has seen his usage rate jump from 21.3% on the season up to 26% the last two games (Embiid having missed most of the Knicks game). We’ll see if that trend holds going forward.

The reinforced bench came through as well, led by Ersan Ilyasova’s 21 points and 16 rebounds. In a game against his former team, Ersan was happy to take all the available shots afforded by Embiid’s absence. His work on the boards allowed the pairing between him and Richaun Holmes to be particular effective. The top-two five-man lineups for the Sixers last night both featured the Ilyasova-Holmes frontcourt. I don’t know how viable those two together are defensively, but they certainly have the potential to blitzkrieg teams offensively with Ilyasova spacing the floor and Holmes rim-running and dunking on fools.

Finally, Markelle Fultz finished with 10 points in 19 minutes off the bench. His huge dunk in semi-transition went viral, but I was much more excited by this fadeaway jumper over Mike Muscala.

That ability to create shots out of nothing is the ingredient the Sixers offense has been lacking this season. Defenses are still staying well off Fultz at the three-point line, but the jumper is still hidden in there somewhere. I remain very encouraged.

Cleveland also won Friday night, keeping the Sixers a half-game back of Cleveland for the third spot in the East. They did move a half-game ahead of idle Indiana. Most importantly, they showed they can still mop the floor against the tankers of the league even without Embiid. Simmons announced after the game that even without the self-proclaimed Process, this group isn’t going anywhere.

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Embiid suffers facial injury as Sixers topple Knicks

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Philadelphia 118, New York 101 – Box Score

When Brett Brown announced Markelle Fultz would be returning to the court for the tail end of the season, Sixers fans hoped he would be able to make an impact. They just didn’t figured that impact would come with Joel Embiid’s face.

Moments into the start of the second quarter, a botched dribble-handoff between the two resulted in Fultz’s shoulder colliding with the big man’s dome. Embiid was down on the floor for a bit before heading off to the locker room, where he sat out the remainder of the game.

Fortunately, it would appear the result isn’t as bad as it could have been. The diagnosis in the arena was a facial contusion, with Embiid having cleared the concussion protocol. However, he’s still going to the hospital for some precautionary tests, so the team may not be completely out of the woods yet.

Despite the injury, there was a game still to be played. The Knicks may be in full tank mode, but somebody on the Sixers had to keep up with the mid-range jumpers from Michael Beasley (22 points).

In a flashback to last year when Embiid was shut down for the season, it was Dario Saric who stepped up and carried the load. The second-year forward finished with 26 points, a season-high 14 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals. Saric always gets credit for his hustle and making winning plays on the margin, but he’s also more than capable of taking a star turn with a larger share of the spotlight.

Others chipped in up and down the roster. Ben Simmons fell two rebounds shy of yet another triple-double (13 points, 8 rebounds, 10 assists). J.J. Redick assumed some of that extra usage with Embiid out, handling the ball more on his way to 21 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists. Richaun Holmes saw his most playing time in a while with both Embiid and Amir Johnson (flu) sidelined. Holmes was as active as ever, bouncing around the court for 15 points and 7 rebounds.

As for Fultz, he certainly does not lack for aggressiveness attacking the basket in his return. He also had 7 assists without a turnover, giving him a 15:1 assist-to-turnover ratio in his two games back. For whatever learning curve Fultz might have in getting back up to game speed, rediscovering his court vision doesn’t seem to be an issue. We also saw his first free throws post-shoulder mystery! There was definitely still a bit of a hitch, but it wasn’t an abject disaster.

The win was the 8th straight for the Sixers and completed the first season sweep against the Knicks in nine years. Philadelphia remains just a half game back of Cleveland for 3rd place in the East; the Cavaliers also won Wednesday night in Charlotte. The Sixers will be back in action Friday night in Atlanta, but their top priority will be ensuring there are no lingering effects of the blow to the head for Embiid, and that he’s fully healthy whenever he returns to the court.

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Sixers win again as Markelle Fultz makes long-awaited return

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Philadelphia 123, Denver 104 – Box Score

(Disclaimer: Despite his +16, Markelle Fultz was not the reason the Sixers won Monday, their 7th straight win to pull within one game of Cleveland for the third seed in the East. Joel Embiid was an absolute monster, dunking somebody the announcers were calling Paul Millsap into oblivion and roaming everywhere defensively, at one point guarding three different people on a single possession. Ben Simmons had a double-double on rebounds and assists because Rookie of the Years don’t have to be shoot-first guards. Dario Saric, Robert Covington, and J.J. Redick combined to shoot 11-21 from three, with Dario doing a Super Mario leap that you’ll see in GIF form for the rest of his Sixers career. Still, Monday night was all about Markelle Fultz. So is this recap.)

Where were you when you heard the news? Less than two hours before tip-off, Brett Brown made the out-of-nowhere announcement that Markelle Fultz would be playing in his first game since October 23. Suddenly, everything else in the world became secondary. Every local and national basketball writer/reporter/fan instantly declared Monday night’s Sixers/Nuggets game Must-See-TV. A friend texted me if I wanted to buy tickets on the secondary market last-minute and go down for the Fultz return game (I could not because I was helping to facilitate a puppy finding a new home, long story).

The point is, Fultz playing after missing close to 70 games with a mysterious shoulder injury, that we still haven’t received a clear explanation about, provided the perfect combination of shock, fascination, and intrigue. Once you heard, you weren’t doing anything else Monday night.

Even watching the game from home was a surreal experience. As soon as Fultz rose up from the bench to enter the game, the crowd rose in unison to give him a standing ovation.

They continued standing and cheering as he brought the ball up for the first time. After his nervous energy caused Fultz to turn it over on his very first possession, they still stood and cheered the second time he brought the ball up. And you better believe folks were excited when he swooped in for his first points of the game.

With minutes left in the game and the Sixers running the clock down on another blowout victory, the crowd began chanting for Fultz to re-enter the contest.

Remarkably, Brett Brown acquiesced. It’s a good thing he did, as those last three minutes became a showcase for Fultz to make like Austin Powers and regain his mojo. The Sixers repeatedly put Fultz in the pick-and-roll and got him switched onto Mason Plumlee, who had already blocked Markelle a couple times earlier in the game. Fultz made some sort of adjustment though, and finally got a 14-footer up and over the Nuggets center, hitting the front rim and backboard before finding its way down. It wasn’t pretty, but it was a made jumper, and Philadelphia rejoiced. The next one was both successful and pretty.

https://twitter.com/SInow/status/978443545148383233

During what was essentially a high school showcase atmosphere centered around Fultz, the Wells Fargo Center crowd did the Vikings skol chant with “Fultz” now replacing “Foles”, because we have become a crazy town fueled by non-stop victory in 2018.

Final line for Markelle Fultz: 10 points on 5-13 shooting, 4 rebounds, and 8 assists against just that very first turnover. Questions answered about the shoulder: zero. Maybe we’ll get those someday. For now, everything we witnessed on the court was enough.

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Villanova keeps dancing on to the Final Four

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

https://twitter.com/NovaMBB/status/978008784026198016

Villanova 71, Texas Tech 59 – Box Score

After ripping through their first three tournament games by shooting a combined 47.8% from behind the arc, the inevitable bad shooting game befell Villanova in their East Regional Final matchup against Texas Tech. The Wildcats shot just 4-24 from three and 33.3% from the field overall, going especially ice cold during a 7-minute second half stretch where they made just a single basket.

Yet, mirroring their Elite 8 contest against Kansas two years ago, even when their shots weren’t falling, the Wildcats found another way to survive and advance. Instead of winning the game behind the arc, Villanova won it in the paint, more specifically on the boards. Jay Wright’s club grabbed nearly 50% of their missed shots, securing an incredible 20 offensive rebounds, while the Red Raiders only grabbed 22 defensive boards.

No offensive rebound was bigger than one by Donte DiVincenzo, after Texas Tech had whittled Villanova’s 15-point lead all the way down to 5. With Mikal Bridges’ three-point attempt sailing through the air, DiVincenzo (12 points, 8 rebounds) found himself unchecked racing down the lane. As the shot bounced off the rim, the 6’5″ guard threw down a vicious flush to once again make it a three-possession game and seemingly restore the momentum back in favor of the Wildcats.

 

https://twitter.com/marchmadness/status/978002346985713669

Some other members of the supporting cast also stepped up big for the Wildcats. With Omari Spellman and Mikal Bridges in second half foul trouble, Eric Paschall rose to the occasion, double-doubling with 12 points and 14 rebounds. He had 6 offensive rebounds and converted those second chance opportunities at the free throw line, where he went 8-10. Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree also contributed in a larger role with 5 offensive rebounds in his 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, it was far from his best shooting game, but Jalen Brunson still found a way to contribute in leading the team with 15 points. As Villanova’s offense bogged down, they often resorted to the 6’3″ point guard backing someone down on the baseline for some sort of fadeaway jumper or bank shot. It was a necessary bit of versatility to Brunson’s game that came in handy on an afternoon when not much was working offensively for the Wildcats.

Unlike Michigan the day before, things never got too uncomfortable for the Wildcats down the stretch because they were able to convert at the free throw line, going 29-35 on the game. The victory marks the third Final Four in the past 10 years for the Villanova program. It’s truly remarkable the level of high-end consistency Jay Wright has brought to this small private school on the Main Line. Next, it’s wheels up to San Antonio, where Villanova will meet the winner of Kansas and Duke.

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Make it 6 straight for the Sixers in win over Wolves

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Philadelphia 120, Minnesota 108 – Box Score

At this point, the Sixers are basically Achilles on the battlefield, screaming “Is there no one else?” Riding a 5-game winning streak, Philadelphia entered play Saturday night having made a habit of beating up on teams tanking their way to the lottery, even giving their starters a rest for the entire fourth quarter the last couple games. Surely a Minnesota team fighting to maintain its place in the war zone Western Conference playoff picture would pose more of a challenge? Not so much.

Instead, the Sixers treated the Wolves like every other also-ran they’ve torched lately. Ben Simmons repeatedly carved up a Minnesota defense that showed only a passing interest in staying with cutters or Sixers coming off screens. The stone cold Rookie of the Year (per Brett Brown) was denied a triple-double last game because he sat out the fourth quarter, so this time, he made sure to get his 10th triple-double in the third quarter. Simmons finished the game with 15 points, 12 rebounds, and 13 assists, making a handful of incredible passes, including this half-court bounce pass to Dario Saric that justifiably had people invoking Magic Johnson.

https://twitter.com/SportsCenter/status/977686166005837826

Meanwhile, Joel Embiid comfortably won the battle of the unicorn big men, recording 18 points and 3 blocks, all while holding Karl-Anthony Towns to 3-15 shooting from the field. Embiid’s denial of Towns at the rim here perfectly encapsulated the way the night went for both of these young stars.

In a game the Sixers led in the third quarter by 29 points, there were no shortage of contributors. Dario Saric hit three triples in the first quarter alone and finished his night with 18 points. Robert Covington was outstanding defensively, tallying 4 steals and 2 blocks.

The only downside on the evening was the bench being unable to hold a 27-point fourth quarter lead. Brett Brown had to bring his starters back in with a few minutes left after the Wolves had cut their deficit to 10. The starters are over goofing off behind Molly Sullivan on the television broadcast. They don’t have time to come back in and clean up your mess, bench unit!

Even with the bad taste in the mouth from that fiasco, the win still guaranteed Philadelphia’s first winning season in an 82-game campaign since the 2004-05 season. They’re 12 games over .500 for the first time in 15 years and have a playoff magic number of 0 (there’s some obscure tiebreaker that kept them from already clinching a playoff spot). The Sixers have figured out how to beat up on the league’s bottom-feeders, and now they’re doing the same thing against the middle class. It’s only a matter of time before the big boys will have to watch their backs as well.

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Villanova outlasts West Virginia to advance to Elite 8

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

https://twitter.com/NovaMBB/status/977363404267671554

Villanova 90, West Virginia 78 – Box Score

Well, they don’t call them Press Virginia for nothing. Up against the tenacious full court pressure of the Mountaineers, Villanova looked to be on the ropes in their Sweet 16 contest in Boston. With fast, athletic defenders swarming around them at all times, the Wildcats often looked frazzled and completed uncomposed on the court.

Villanova entered the game 13th in the nation at just 10.4 turnovers per game, but turned it over 16 times against West Virginia. Donte DiVincenzo melted into a pool of Italian sauce in the heat of coach Bob Huggins’ forge-like pressure, turning it over 6 times. Collin Gillespie was limited to 5 minutes thanks to a textbook deer-in-the-highlights look, coughing it up twice and badly missing a wide-open jumper in the lane before Jay Wright gave him the quick hook.

West Virginia was also the more physical team, out-rebounding Villanova 39-36, including grabbing 16 offensive rebounds. Mikal Bridges had been limited for much of the first half with foul trouble. With 11 minutes left in the game, the Mountaineers held a 6-point advantage and you had to wonder if this is when the Wildcats’ season would end.

But Player of the Year candidate Jalen Brunson wasn’t ready to let this game be his last in a Wildcats uniform. He scored 4 quick points to spark an 11-0 Villanova run that changed the complexion of the game. That surge was finished off by Omari Spellman, who had one of the best two-way sequences in college basketball this season. The redshirt freshman volleyball spiked James Bolden’s shot straight down, collected the loose ball, and then flushed a putback dunk over the back of Logan Routt on the other end.

That play forced a West Virginia timeout, and the Wildcats certainly looked re-energized from there on out. Jay Wright’s club would then put the game away with, what else, three-point shooting. The Wildcats made four threes over a 4-minute stretch to suddenly take a double-digit lead. It was part of an excellent shooting night for the Wildcats, who went 13-24 from behind the arc on the game. Down the stretch, they kept the Mountaineers at arms-length by successfully converting at the foul line, finishing a stellar 23-27 at the charity stripe on the evening.

Through it all, Villanova fans were treated to a nice snapshot of both the present and future of the program. While many of his teammates on the perimeter were falling apart, Jalen Brunson was the reliable, steadying force for the Wildcats. The soon-to-be-pro went off for a game-high 27 points, going 8-15 from the field, 3-6 from three, and 8-9 from the line. More importantly, he turned it over just three times in 37 minutes, often having to take care of breaking the West Virginia press himself because no one else appeared capable. Doing all that while carrying the offensive load was truly a Herculean effort.

Then, there was Spellman, who finished with 18 points, hitting 4 of his 7 three-point attempts, 8 rebounds, 2 steals, and 3 blocks. In a game where West Virginia was just plain bigger than Villanova, Spellman rose to the occasion to provide rim protection and do just enough on the glass to keep the Wildcats competitive in that area. His ability to stretch the floor not only provided much-needed offense, but helped open up the lane for Brunson to go to work. I can’t wait to see the big man with a larger role next season.

But first, there’s at least one more game this season. Villanova will re-take the court Sunday against the victor of Texas Tech and Purdue. Winner heads to the Final Four.

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Another night, another big win for the Sixers

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Philadelphia 118, Memphis 98 – Box Score

Like the Globetrotters of old, the Sixers are traveling around the country beating up on inferior opponents. One night after grinding the Grizzlies into dust, Philadelphia flew out of a snowstorm and down to sunny Florida, for what could have been a trap game in normal times.

But there’s no trap game when you’re up against a team tanking as hard as the Magic. The Sixers dropped 70 first half points, as Orlando showed less effort on the defensive end than we ever saw even during the darkest days of Philadelphia’s Processing. Ben Simmons was denied a triple-double (6 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists) because the blowout eventually became too large, but he wasn’t denied in the least when he grabbed a rebound and went completing unmolested down the length of the floor for a dunk.

The Magic also neglected to mark the large 7-foot social media troll galloping down the floor.

Sometimes though, it wouldn’t have mattered how tight the defense was playing. Late in the first half, Joel Embiid (17 points, 9 rebounds) did his best Steph Curry impression, dribbling back into the corner and draining a three. Embiid was already celebrating down court while the shot was splashing through the net.

A 21-point lead quickly ballooned to 35 points in the third quarter. For the second straight night, Brett Brown emptied the bench early, this time giving Furkan Korkmaz 12 minutes in his first game back from a Lisfranc injury. Korkmaz only went 1-5 from the field, but it was good to see him on the court for the first time since December.

With the win, their 41st of the season, the Sixers not only guaranteed themselves their first non-losing season since 2011-12, but they pulled within one game of 3rd place in the Eastern Conference. Philadelphia completed a perfect 5-0 stretch against lottery opponents, but will facee a stiffer challenge in upcoming games against Minnesota and Denver. Still, both of those contests will be at home, where the Sixers have only lost once in 2018. Plus, Joel Embiid will be well-rested, having only played a combined 40 minutes over the last two games. With just 11 games left before the start of the postseason, the big man appears ready to rock.

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Sixers rout Grizzlies for fourth straight win

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Philadelphia 119, Memphis 105 – Box Score

On a snow-filled night in Philadelphia, Sixers fans were treated to both free hot dogs and a stark reminder of how far the team has come. Currently sporting the second-worst record in the league, Memphis is basically what the Sixers were the last few years (minus a cogent long-term plan), Marc Gasol and a roster of borderline D-league-level talent. Grit n’ Grind is dead and now the Grizzlies just get ground into dust. Meanwhile, just two seasons after winning 10 games total, the Sixers are now 10 games over .500, reaching 40 wins with 12 games left to play. Eat your heart out, Colin Cowherd.

Philadelphia didn’t play their best in the first half, but thanks to an endless series of missed Grizzlies jumpers, they held a comfortable 14-point lead at the half. The third quarter is when the Sixers really broke the game open, going on a 24-3 run to eventually build a lead as large as 35 points. In truly balanced fashion, all five starters (plus Marco Belinelli) would finish the game between 13 and 15 points. The lopsided score allowed head coach Brett Brown to empty the bench, as we were treated to 15 minutes of Richaun Holmes trying to atomize the rim with a series of dunks.

The blowout came at the perfect time for the Sixers, who are traveling to Orlando for a game tomorrow night. People had been speculating the team would try to find a game to rest Joel Embiid, but they may have found a loophole with the big man only logging 20 minutes. Embiid was rather emphatic that he wouldn’t be in favor of showing up to the arena in street clothes any time soon.

The Magic game is the final of five straight against the true dregs of the league; the Sixers have taken care of business in the first four. Philadelphia is straddling the line brilliantly between having one of the youngest teams in the league and still managing to achieve on-court success. What a difference a Process makes.

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Sixers top Hornets behind another Simmons triple-double

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Philadelphia 108, Charlotte 94 – Box Score

No one would argue the Sixers are playing their best basketball at the moment. But right in the thick of the easiest part of their schedule, they keep doing just enough to pull out the necessary wins to keep pace in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Tied at 88 with 6 minutes remaining in the game, Philadelphia pulled away with an 13-0 run that was emblematic of everything that went right for the Sixers on the evening. It featured hot outside shooting, including three straight threes from Robert Covington (18 points) and Marco Belinelli (21 points). Those two and Joel Embiid combined to shoot 13-24 from behind the arc on the game. As a team, the Sixers made 18 threes, tying a franchise record.

However, that run and Philadelphia’s win as a whole wouldn’t have been possible without the lone guy on the team who doesn’t shoot threes, Ben Simmons. During that pivotal run, Simmons scored or assisted on all 13 points during the run, unsurprisingly playing a pivotal role on a day where he recorded his third triple-double in his last four games.

The rookie point guard went off for 11 points 12 rebounds, 15 assists, 3 steals, and ZERO turnovers. It’s only the second time in league history a rookie has had 15 assists in a game without a turnover (Brevin Knight on 4/1/98 was the other). Simmons had previously alluded to being a bit mentally fatigued adjusting to the longer NBA season. Head coach Brett Brown joked after the game that he hopes his point guard is more mentally fatigued going forward.

While Simmons efficiently carved up the Hornets defense, Embiid was a larger-than-life presence in more ways than one (some of them bad). The big man tallied 25 points, 19 rebounds, tying his career-high against Brooklyn last week, and 4 blocks. Charlotte’s centers refused to come out to the arc and defend Embiid and he made them pay. Defensively, not only did he do a great job defending the rim, but he forced Dwight Howard into a couple offensive fouls. The Hornets center was in foul trouble for the majority of the game as a result.

However, Embiid also ended the game with 9 turnovers, the lone blemish for a Sixers team that only had 15 giveaways total. Only one of the turnovers was a bad traveling call on a quality jump stop, the majority were bad decisions, either dumb passes in traffic or examples of over-dribbling. Usually, the Sixers fall apart without Embiid on the court, but he actually had a -9 plus/minus in a game the team won by 14. I’m willing to bet that’s the first time this season we’ve seen that sort of disparity. It’s ridiculous that he still had a 25-19 line in a game that wasn’t close to his best effort.

Unfortunately, the Sixers didn’t gain any ground on the teams immediately above them in the East, as the Pacers and Cavaliers both also won Monday night. The good news is that the Sixers still have the Grizzlies and Magic up next, more opportunities to take care of business against the dregs of the league. It sure is good to be on the other end of these March basketball tankfests.

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