PHILADELPHIA – On a night packed full of emotion, the Philadelphia 76ers' "Big 3” reminded everyone of their gaudy potential, lifting the Sixers to a 149-107 demolition of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Ben Simmons, who finished one assist short of another triple double with 20 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists, scored over 20 points for the third consecutive game for the first time in his NBA career.
Joel Embiid led the Sixers in scoring with 31 points, while Jimmy Butler, who was playing against his former side for the first time, recorded 19 points, four assists, three rebounds and two steals. Butler admitted that he was happy to secure victory over his former side, although he was quick to downplay the importance of a singular win.
“I do want to beat those guys,” Butler admitted postgame. “I want to beat every team, that’s for sure. Like I said, a win at home is always good. By that large of a margin is great too, because guys get rest. I’m taking any and all wins, not just against the Timberwolves.”
Jonah Bolden’s role with Brett Brown’s rotation changed tonight, with the rookie given an opportunity to play sustained minutes at center for the first time since establishing himself in the rotation. Bolden served as Joel Embiid’s back up tonight, a clear change from the past month that had seen the Australian spend the majority of his playing time alongside Embiid.
Utilising Bolden as a five man allows the Sixers to leverage his energy and athleticism. With Simmons accompanying Bolden for all of his non-garbage time minutes, Philadelphia was able to speed the game up, especially with Embiid on the bench tonight and Brown was very happy with the results.
“He’s really got a bounce,” Brown said of Bolden. “The fact that he can step out and make a three is a great combination. That is a modern day five man. And he can do some things at the rim. He’s not afraid of making tough plays.
Bolden entered tonight with four made threes in the NBA and matched that total in just 16 minutes. His outside shooting provides spacing benefits to the Sixers offence and this is something Brown was quick to raise postgame.
“He is able to make tough plays so using him as a backup five, and then using Mike [Muscala] as a four next to Joel Embiid and sliding Wilson Chandler down to a three, I think it’s a good look. I like his energy. I like his speed. When he can make a three, it does provide us a stretched floor and the ability to create more space especially for Ben.”
Over his last six games, Simmons is averaging 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 10.2 assists while shooting 62% from the field. From a pure statistical perspective this is the most impressive stretch of his NBA career.
Minnesota started by utilising Taj Gibson, their 6-foot-9-inch power forward, as Simmons’ primary defender. The move was an attempt to imitate the success Boston has had in throwing bigger bodies against the Australian. While Gibson had the size to match Simmons, he was unable to move quickly enough around the court, and the reigning Rookie over the Year drove through the Timberwolves with ease.
Speaking before the game, Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Ryan Saunders flagged the challenges of facing Simmons. The Timberwolves' new leading man correctly diagnosed what Simmons brings to the table, although he was unable to curtail him.
“Unique and challenging,” said Saunder,s when describing Simmons. “Being 6’10” with the way he moves with the ball. How athletic and fast he is in the open court.
“He is a different match-up. Just the size wise. He’s strong as well so you want to make sure you have a little bit of size on him. We’ll try a few different things.”
Seven Sixers players scored in double figures and their panache for sharing the basketball manifested into a season-high 40 assists.
“I think that we came out with energy,” Brown said. “I thought we had a tremendous spirit. I thought we played defence, we used that base to run and then when it became sort of a half-court game, and I also think an early offense game.
“We shared the ball, we really used our defence as a launching pad and did some good things there, but we really shared the ball. It was a perfect storm for us to be able to try to get a little bit more back on track and some fist bumps and high fives.
"Forty assists is a big number, that’s my memory of tonight.”