By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
Philadelphia 107, Utah 86 – Box Score
This is what it’s like to root for a good basketball team. The Jazz came to the Wells Fargo Center, still missing star center Rudy Gobert. Without the Stifle Tower manning the middle, Utah’s usual lockdown defense was significantly less imposing. With Gordon Hayward having departed for Boston during the offseason, their offense essentially consists of rookie Donovan Mitchell and Rodney “contract year” Hood throwing up whatever garbage shots they want. Simply put, the Sixers are the better basketball team.
For a change, there was no drama, just the better basketball team controlling the action and grabbing the win at home. Despite missing all 8 of their three point attempts in the first half, the Sixers still led by double digits at halftime. The shooting naturally normalized in the second half, including a pair of threes from J.J. Redick, who finished with 20 points on the evening. Suddenly, Philadelphia was up 20 in the third quarter, and unlike against Golden State, there would be no remarkable comeback in store for the Jazz.
Ben Simmons turned on the jets in that third quarter, tallying 14 points in the period alone, on his way to a career-high 27 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 steals. Simmons was a boulder rolling down a mountain, carving his own way to the basket time and again; any Jazz defenders in his way were simply parts of the landscape subject to an implacable force of nature. Ben (please stop with the Big Ben references, Alaa) had his little floater in the painted area working, and if he’s hitting that, I’m not sure what defenses can do to stop him.
Joel Embiid was a game-time decision with knee soreness, saying it was up to him whether he played or not. I’m not sure if that was true or not, but I know if it was, he would definitely choose to play. And play he did, with a good, not spectacular 15 points, 11 rebounds, and 2 blocks. These are the routine nights for him, performances which a good portion of the league would consider their best of the season. Embiid hit a fadeaway jumper along the baseline on the game’s opening possession which is literally unguardable.
And yet, you could make the argument Embiid wasn’t even the best center for the Sixers on the evening. Amir Johnson had his best game in red, white, and blue, with 8 points on a perfect 4-4 shooting, 13 rebounds, and 4 blocks. Johnson had his old man, pivot-forever game working around the basket, was dogged in going after every loose ball, and wisely used terrific positioning and timely stabs at the ball to defend the rim. I love Richaun Holmes and it’s a credit to how well Johnson played that I was never upset Holmes wasn’t in the game.
With the win, the Sixers are back up two games over .500, at 9-7 on the season. Another winnable game at home against the Blazers (Evan Turner revenge game?) is on tap for Wednesday night. Alshon Jeffery and Legarrette Blount were both at the game Monday, eliciting arena-wide E-A-G-L-E-S chants from the crowd. Right now though, there are two Philadelphia teams worthy of a standing ovation.