Sixers avenge last week’s loss to the Rockets

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Philadelphia 115, Houston 107 – Box Score

Just 5 nights earlier, the Sixers had let a late-game lead to the Rockets slip away, culminating in a heartbreaking, game-winning Eric Gordon three at the buzzer. Monday night in Houston, Philadelphia’s two budding superstars made sure history didn’t repeat itself.

After the Sixers had led the entire game, with just inside of three minutes remaining in the game, a Clint Capela lay-up attempt that would have given Houston a one-point lead somehow rimmed off. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons took care of the rest. After Embiid converted a short hook shot to extend the lead to 3, the big man swatted away a James Harden drive, got the ball to Ben Simmons, and the rookie did the rest.

PJ Tucker is listed at 245 pounds, but a running joke in NBA circles is that he put on 10-15 pounds in the offseason alone (and not in the typical ‘best shape of my life’ way). After the way Ben Simmons bodied him up there, Tucker might want to hit up even more barbecue joints down in Houston.

All night, Simmons and Embiid were the driving forces behind the Sixers’ victory. Simmons finished with 24 points on 10-15 shooting, 7 rebounds, and 9 assists. Most importantly, he hit three elbow jumpers, confidently stepping into them even with a hand in his face on one occasion. If he can hit those shots, I don’t know what defenders are going to do to prevent him from scoring in the pick-and-roll aside from throwing a double-team at him. If you had to nitpick about Simmons’ game, he did go 4-9 on free throw attempts, including making just 1 of 4 in the final minute. Sixers fans will gladly accept that small flaw for now.

Meanwhile, Joel Embiid was limited to 25 minutes by foul trouble, but still put up 22 points on 9-12 shooting, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, and one block. In the 21 minutes he and Simmons were on the floor together, the Sixers had a net rating of 23.7. Brett Brown had the pair working together on offense quite a bit, to great success. Here, both defenders stick with Embiid on the pick-and-roll, ceding a wide-open jumper for Simmons.

Later, Simmons would cut to the rim off a feed from Embiid at the top of the key, part of a back-to-back sequence where Embiid assisted Simmons in high-low action.

Having two highly-skilled passers standing 6’10” or taller (three if you count Dario) has been amazing to watch this season. There’s really nothing opposing can do when Simmons and Embiid are tall enough to survey the entire floor at all times and have the ability to fling the ball wherever they want.

Of course, you don’t defeat a talented Houston team on a two-man effort alone; the Sixers had plenty of help from the supporting cast Monday night. Dario Saric, making his second straight start in place of J.J. Redick (back tightness), had his best game of the season with 14 points and 6 rebounds. Starting 4 players 6’9″ or taller certainly helped the Sixers outrebound the Rockets by a 48-35 margin.

Amir Johnson recorded his first double-double of the season with 12 points and 10 rebounds. He had absolutely no lift in those veteran legs when Simmons tried to throw him a lob pass, but Johnson had the old man hook shot game working, and fought hard on the glass (3 offensive boards).

T.J. McConnell was a perfect 3-3 from behind the arc and is now shooting 55.6% from downtown on the season (small sample size caveats apply). McConnell scored 11 points, to go along with 5 assists, 1 steal, and 2 blocks. There was a lot of worry about whether TJ could space the floor well enough alongside Simmons, but although it still takes him awhile to load up his shot, McConnell has worked hard to become an accurate shooter. Thanks to the gravity of both Simmons and Embiid, TJ has plenty of time to get those open shots off.

Finally, I love having Redick on the team, but without him, it would have been interesting to see what an expanded role might have looked like this season for Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. TLC dropped 17 points in 17 minutes against the Rockets, including an 11-point outburst in the first quarter. Luwawu-Cabarrot showed off his full offensive arsenal, running the floor for a bucket in transition, knocking down a pair of open threes, and cutting to the basket for an and-one lay-in. TLC should never be DNP’d again; Jerryd Bayless doesn’t need to be playing 35-40 minutes per night.

The Sixers are now 3-4 and will look to grab their first home win of the season Wednesday night against the Hawks.

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