Ben Simmons and the Philadelphia 76ers defeated Matthew Dellavedova and the Cleveland Cavaliers 128-105 on Sunday afternoon in Cleveland.
With Simmons playing his best basketball of the season, and Dellavedova continuing his career revival in Cleveland, it was an impressive day at the office for both Australians. Here are three takeaways from the Sixers victory.
1. Simmons’ first half masterpiece
Ben Simmons’ first half of basketball ranks among the best offensive stretches of his young career. Objectively, you can look at the box score – 15 points, nine assists and six rebounds - and get an idea of his dominance, although numbers alone will not do Simmons justice. He was a one-man offensive system, and elevated above what amounted to another shaky defensive effort from Philadelphia.
Everything started with the Australian driving and attacking the paint, with intent to score the basketball. Simmons’ 13 first half shooting possessions are a season high for any half of basketball. The majority of these shooting possessions came from offence initiated at the elbow and the high post. Philadelphia made a concerted effort to run their offence through Simmons on isolation. The physically unimposing Cavaliers front line failed to deter Simmons in any way.
Interestingly, Philadelphia only attempted two three-point field goals in the 10 first quarter minutes Simmons played. This is atypical of a Brett Brown-led outfit, which strives to generate shooting opportunities for outside gunners, especially J.J. Redick and Landry Shamet. A lack of three-point attempts barely mattered, however, as Simmons, and Joel Embiid also, bullied the Cavaliers. The 76ers finished with 14 paint points in the first quarter, and 32 for the first half.
Littered within Simmons’ glowing offensive performance were multiple teaching points for the Sixers offence.
In response to the first quarter paint parade, Cleveland started sending multiple bodies at Simmons. This was especially true in transition situations. The theory is nothing new. Boston similarly stifled Simmons last postseason, but the Cavaliers lack the Boston’s discipline on team defence. Simmons was able to accept the increased attention and find his weakside shooters.
In a two minute stretch within the second quarter, the above play was replicated three times. Wilson Chandler (twice) and Jimmy Butler were the recipient of wide-open attempts from Simmons’ handy work.
Speaking of Butler, for one of the first times all season we witnessed a Simmons-Butler pick-and-roll in the first quarter. Rejoice!
It may seem simplistic --the play itself certainly was-- but Philadelphia utilising a staple of modern NBA offence, with their best players, is uncharacteristic. The Sixers rank last in the NBA for total pick-and-roll possessions, and their starting unit is especially trained to avoid the play type. This one possession ended with Simmons driving to the basket and finishing through contact for a three-point play.
With stiffer opposition awaiting Philadelphia in the postseason, allowing Simmons to initiate pick-and-rolls with Butler and Embiid is one wrinkle at Brown’s disposal that should be utilised more.
Simmons finished with 22 points, 14 assists and 11 rebounds, for his third triple double of the season and 15th of his career. That withstanding, his most impressive achievement today came in a box score category where nothing was recorded. Simmons finished with zero turnovers and that is the most impressive takeaway of all.
“I’m happy,” Simmons said postgame, of his zero turnovers. “I didn’t know that, but I am happy.”
2. Historical context for Simmons
Here are a flurry of statistical notes after a historically impressive game from Simmons (with all historical milestones coming courtesy of Basketball Reference):
His 15 career triple-doubles is tied with Chris Paul for seventh-most among active players.
Playing in his 111th career game, Simmons joins Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson as only NBA players ever to record at least 15 triple-doubles in that few games.
Simmons has recorded 478 points, 272 rebounds and 238 assists through his first 30 games this season. He is only the fourth player in NBA history to post those totals through a player's first 30 games of a season. He joins Russell Westbrook, Magic Johnson and Robertson as the only players to achieve the feat.
Simmons’ triple double was the 13th points-assists-rebounds triple double with zero turnovers this decade. He is the only player to achieve this twice, having replicated the feat against Charlotte in March.
3. The Matthew Dellavedova resurgence continues
Dellavedova, playing in his fourth game back with the Cavaliers, continues to impress after his trade from the Milwaukee Bucks. He finished with 13 points and seven assist in just 22 minutes of action.
Since returning to Cleveland, Dellavedova has regained his place within an NBA rotation and is showing value to the Cavaliers. He is averaging 12.3 points (including 53% shooting from three-point range) and 4.8 assists per game, having scored in double-digit scoring in every game. For context, his single game scoring high in any game as a Buck this season was six points.
Placing sentiment to the side, the Cavaliers acquired Dellavedova because his overpriced contract (and the draft capital Milwaukee offered their way for accepting it). Dellavedova’s value around the NBA was at an all-time low when he was traded. If he continues the level of performance he has shown during his Cleveland return, then this could change quickly.
He is eligible to be traded again before the February 7 deadline, and this is very much on the table if Dellavedova proves to the NBA he can contribute as a reliable role player. This is just something to watch over the coming months, but it is great seeing Dellavedova back on an NBA floor at his very best.
Philadelphia now fly out to San Antonio for a match-up with Patty Mills and the Spurs on Monday night. Dellavedova and the Cavaliers will head to Indiana and play the Pacers on Tuesday night.