BROOKLYN – Brett Brown instantly knew what the play call would be.
With his Philadelphia 76ers down one point in dying moments of Sunday’s game against the Brooklyn Nets, Brown called timeout to ready his charges for one final play. The Sixers had one chance to steal a game they had zero right winning. Fair or otherwise, they had an opportunity and Brown had a plan.
“When we called the timeout, it didn’t take long to decide what we are going to do,” Brown said. “We had a reference point from Charlotte and we did it.”
What happened in Charlotte, you ask? Well just eight days ago, Brown placed the basketball in Jimmy Butler’s hands and asked the newly minted Sixer to secure victory at the buzzer. Butler delivered, converting on a walk off, 27-foot step-back jumpshot from the right baseline. On that night, Butler was the Sixers trump card.
So tonight, with Philadelphia trailing 125-124, when Brown called his final timeout with 14 seconds remaining, there was an obvious choice to be made. Butler was getting the basketball.
“You give [Jimmy Butler] the ball and you win, or you lose,” Brown said postgame, of his mindset in that final timeout.
What followed was a phenomenon that can only be described as deja-vu.
Butler received the inbound pass from Ben Simmons, he then isolated on Brooklyn’s Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, calmly initiated his dribble, stepped back from 27-feet on the right baseline and took the exact same shot that completed his Sixers initiation.
And on this night, one where many of the concerns that hover over Philadelphia’s ability to contend this season were starkly brought back into the consciousness, Butler delivered just as he did in Charlotte. His last second field-goal attempt was good, conveying the Sixers a euphoric 127-125 comeback over the Nets at Barclays Center.
“I got to the spot that I wanted,” Butler explained, “rose up and knocked it down.”
“Jimmy did what Jimmy does,” Brown added postgame, with a grin that symbolised the boldness with which Philadelphia secured victory.
There are many ways to unpack everything that occurred during the Sixers’ 14th win of the NBA season. For large stretches, Philadelphia played like a team devoid of motivation. They allowed a lottery bound opponent to run away with a hefty first quarter lead, for the third time this week.
Philadelphia’s defensive performance through the first 36 minutes can best be described as lacklustre. At worst, embarrassing is the descriptor for a defensive output that allowed Brooklyn to score 102 points through three-quarters, on an offensive rating of 128.6, per Cleaning the Glass.
Wrapped up in the Sixers defensive woes was the fact that their playing roster looked narrow. A lack of bench depth forced Brown into shortening his rotation tonight, as he played just eight players in the second half and all starters at least 17 minutes. The Sixers sacrificed depth to acquire Butler, as that was the cost of doing business. But the payoff was nights like tonight.
In moments where Philadelphia needed a big shot, the franchised hoped Butler could be the man to close games. For the second time in his brief Sixers career, the four-time All-Star made Brown, Elton Brand and the Sixers front office look prophetic.
“It was another play drawn up by coach,” Butler said, of his match winning shot. “My teammates have a lot of confidence in me to take shots late, hopefully I make shots late as well.”
Such positive early returns on the Butler trade are why Brown can choose to gloss over the negatives that led to his team being down 22 points in the second quarter. Instead, he can focus on the immeasurable positives that come from riding with one of the NBA’s best late game shot makers.
The Sixers head coach distilled everything down to such a sentiment postgame, opening his media conference by confirming this was the very reason his franchise gambled on a Butler trade.
“I was proud that we came back,” Brown added. “It’s a tremendous experience for these guys that haven’t played that much basketball together. I was happy for them.
“My immediate thought was happy for the win but I am happy for them. Experiences like that matter and it certainly can expedite bonding when you have a reference point that, when you are down in other games, that you can come back."
Simmons finished with 13 points, nine assists, five rebounds and three steals in 38 minutes. The Australian was unable to articulate a reason for his team’s slow start to the game, but could pinpoint the motivation behind their comeback.
“I think it was being desperate, playing desperate. We needed that win. Obviously coming off a loss to the Cavaliers wasn’t something we wanted.
"So coming into Brooklyn, where we already had a loss here at the start of the season, we wanted to come here and make sure we got the job done.”
Philadelphia heads home with two nights off and an opportunity digest their most hectic victory of the season. Butler’s shot provides the goodwill, but there remains plenty to work on for these Sixers.