By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
Philadelphia 117, Toronto 111 – Box Score
As someone who just returned from a 4-day vacation in Texas, I can appreciate the difficulty in getting back to work after a long trip. Even a few days removed from the last time they actually played a game, the Sixers flying back home from London and grabbing their first win in four tries this season against a formidable Toronto opponent is no small feat.
Of course, as is unfortunately far too often the case, the Sixers nearly gave fans in attendance on MLK Day a heart attack along the way. Things started out great, as Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the two players Philadelphia is hoping will represent the city at the All-Star game, scored the first 20 points for the Sixers. Toronto had no answer for the Sixers big men, with both knocking down jumpers, driving to the rim, and working in tandem when too much attention was paid to the other.
Early dimes, early dunks. pic.twitter.com/c9xWedeB8Z
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) January 15, 2018
While Simmons was held down by foul trouble for much of the game, the scoring burden fell to Embiid, who appeared more than capable of handling the load. The Process went off for 34 points and 11 rebounds (5 offensive), knocking down 11 of 14 attempts at the charity stripe, as Toronto’s frontcourt had no legal way to prevent Embiid from scoring at will. It was one of the rare games where the Sixers actually shot and made more free throws than their opponent, a necessary component for success on an afternoon when the team shot just 6-25 from behind the arc.
On the other end, Embiid actually blocked Fred Van Vleet so hard that the Raptors guard had to leave with a knee injury (fortunately it was later diagnosed as just a bruise).
— Justin Jett (@JustinJett_) January 15, 2018
I would also be remiss in failing to acknowledge the contributions of T.J. McConnell. With Simmons bemoaning the referees’ calls from the sideline, the Sixers back-up point guard put together a loaded stat line with a career-high 18 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 steals, and a block. There were no weary travel legs for McConnell, who consistently pushed the pace in transition and knifed through the Raptors defense. He also refused to back down from DeMar DeRozan after a hard foul, to the delight of the Wells Fargo Center crowd.
TJ McConnell steps to DeMar DeRozan after an in game clash.
Things are getting heated between the Sixers and the Raptors. pic.twitter.com/UWuMIwpT4I
— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) January 15, 2018
The Sixers would lead by as many as 21 points in the third quarter, before the all-too-familiar huge collapse began to take effect. Philadelphia turned it over 21 times on the game (13 being committed by Embiid and Simmons), and a DeRozan jumper eventually pulled the Raptors all the way back within one point with three minutes remaining.
This time though, the lead proved too big to fail, and Simmons stepped up on back-to-back possessions, converting at the rim and then finding Dario Saric for a dagger three.
There were still some crazy moments in the final minutes, notably Simmons getting into it with Kyle Lowry with a few seconds left in the game. Both players were ejected and Simmons told Lowry to meet him in the hallway. Lowry was all too happy to oblige sprinting towards the tunnel, but the logistics of the Wells Fargo Center actually don’t allow such confrontations to occur. Lowry certainly doesn’t qualify as a villain here in Philadelphia, where he recently donated a record $1M to Villanova, but it’s interesting the mild-mannered Simmons as now been involved in some sort of scuffle in two straight games.
Ultimately, it’s a good win over a quality opponent to get back to .500 for the Sixers. They’ll have another chance to prove themselves in front of the Celtics in front of national audience Thursday night.