PHILADELPHIA – As Patty Mills went through his meticulous pre-game routine at the Wells Fargo Center, a familiar face came bursting across the hardwood to interrupt his preparations. The intruder had his hand outstretched, and was grinning from ear to ear.
Ben Simmons was the one who disrupted Mills an hour before the pair would face off. The duo smiled, exchanged pleasantries and went their separate ways. Both had work to do, and on a night where the Sixers pulled off their most exciting victory of the season, both Australians played some of their very best basketball.
Simmons was the best player on the court tonight. In what is becoming a ritualistic phenomenon, his stat line – 21 points, 15 assists and 10 assists – looks like something out of a video game. Such is the ease at which the Melbournian can impact basketball games and while racking the numbers up.
His 15 assists tonight match a career-high, and is a total Simmons has reached six times in the NBA. It was also Simmons' 20th career triple-double. And yet, the most impressive anecdote from Simmons' night came without the basketball in hand.
On the Spurs' final possession, Simmons played defence with the intellect and energy that Brett Brown has been foreshadowing all season. He expertly executed Philadelphia’s switching scheme and knocked the ball away from Marco Belinelli to seal the game.
Simmons’ final stand punctuated a near perfect three minutes of basketball from the Sixers. With 2:48 remaining, the Spurs held a 120-112 lead and had every right to assume victory was theirs. Philadelphia, who had been unable to get stops consistently all night, would need a tremendous finishing kick to secure victory in their last home game for two weeks. It looked unlikely, but the Sixers were able to deliver the best parting gift to their home fans, finishing the game on a 10-0 run.
“I think for us, we just have to stay calm and make plays defensively and offensively,” Simmons said postgame. “I think offensively, JJ [Redick] made big plays, Joel [Embiid], Landry [Shamet] down the stretch. Then defensively, obviously Wilson [Chandler] had that huge block and our communication was great towards the end of the game.”
Brown was asked to describe what happened over the game’s final moments and, as he is prone to do, the defensive end of the floor took his focus.
“They didn’t score a point from [the 2:48 mark] on, they didn’t score a point. I think when you go back at it, Ben [Simmons] had a steal for a dunk, [Landry] Shamet hits the corner three, we run a play that we sort of save for the end with JJ [Redick] and ends up getting a three and fouled. It all sort of stemmed from our defence.”
Mills, who finished with an efficient 17 points in a losing effort, provided the Spurs with a sparkplug off their bench. Speaking pre-game, Gregg Popovich lauded Mills’ shooting abilities and compared his diminutive point guard to a “little jitterbug." The Sixers got a first hand view of his talents tonight.
As for where the game was lost, Mills pointed to the defensive end. It has been an issue for San Antonio all season – the Spurs have the 22nd ranked defence in the NBA – and it once again hindered them in a game where they scored 120 points on 57% from the field.
“We made mistakes and they made us pay,” Mills said postgame. “Credit to them the way they hung in there all game, just as much as we did, but they were able to execute crucial parts of the game.
“I think offense is always going to be okay for us,” Mills said. “It’s the defensive end that we’re riding our defensive roller coaster at the moment. We have some good games, some bad games and we’re just not able to be consistent and tonight was a good test for us to come off a tough loss last game, but we just weren’t able to do it.”
- Jonah Bolden also made an impact in his brief outing tonight, pouring in seven points in 10 minutes of action. His game was highlighted by a wonderful two block and dunk sequence in the second quarter.
- Simmons now has 20 career triple-doubles, making him the third-youngest player in league history to reach 20 triple-doubles, behind Oscar Roberson and Magic Johnson. With this being the 129th game of his career, Robertson (45 games) is the only player in league history to reach 20 triple-doubles in fewer games.
- Patty Mills speaking on the Spurs mindset heading into the All-Star break: “There’s a sense of urgency within the group to understand how important these games are leading into the All-Star break. We can’t afford to wait until after All-Star break to be able to make a run.
- Philadelphia now heads out west for their toughest road trip of the season. Starting Saturday, the Sixers will play Denver, Los Angeles, Golden State and Sacramento across a seven day stretch. Here are Simmons’ thought about the week ahead:
“I think, just taking it one game at a time and not really getting caught up in how many games or who we’re playing. I think once you really settle in and focus on one team at a time and really buy in to what we’re doing, each day and each game, it’s easier for us to come out and be prepared instead of really looking at it as a 10-game span, whatever it is, or the long road trip, because it will be tiring, but we’re going to stay in gear.”
- Joel Embiid finished with 33 points, 19 rebounds, three assists and one block. He became the first Philadelphia player since Charles Barkley in 1986-87 to post at least 40 double-doubles within the first 46 games of a season.
- Embiid’s postgame press conference was interrupted by a strange sound coming out of the ceiling. Our best bet is that a rogue rat was running around the Wells Fargo Center, but regardless of what caused the commotion, Embiid’s reaction was priceless.