PHILADELPHIA - The New York Knicks played the role of palate cleanser for the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
Philadelphia stormed out to a commanding early lead, and for the first time all season finished with a stress free night at the office. The Sixers ran out 117-91 winners, with the 26 point margin being their biggest of the campaign.
Despite sitting third in the Eastern Conference entering tonight, Brett Brown has constantly lamented the spotty play of his team. His concerns have been especially focused on the defensive end of the floor, as the Sixers had conceded an average of 119.8 points per game over their last five games. Improving the defence has been a focus and tonight was progress.
New York entered the game with the 21st ranked offensive rating in the NBA at 107.8, per Cleaning the Glass. While the Knicks in their current incarnation will never be confused with an offensive powerhouse, the fact Philadelphia was able to hold an NBA team to an offensive rating of 90.7 - through three quarters, being the competitive portion of this game - represents progress. A baby step, for sure, but a step in the right direction nonetheless.
"I think we did a pretty good job with rebounding, defensively," Brown said postgame. "I think we did a pretty good job with turnovers; there was that stretch in the third that we got sloppy, I think we had three possessions and three turnovers in a row.
"Usually when leads swing and things quickly evaporate, to me, the connection of the dots is that, it’s turnovers and probably making some threes at the other end of transition. Easy baskets after the turnovers and do they punish sort of if you don’t have a first shot defence like you need to and they get put backs. I thought we did those two things and therefore could easily maintain the lead."
The Sixers defence has been anaemic since Jimmy Butler was acquired, ranking 26th in the NBA since Butler debuted in Orlando on 12 November.
Ben Simmons left the game for good with 2:55 remaining in the third quarter. The reigning rookie of the year finished with 14 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in 24 minutes.
"I think we’re staying aggressive on defence," Simmons said. "Obviously tried to rebound at a higher rate because of the elite rebounders on their team. I think we did a pretty good job boxing out and pushing the ball and getting to offence."
The Sixers have been chasing a full 48-minute performance all season. It took 23 games, and one of the worst teams in the NBA for this happen, but tonight is more in line with what the franchise expects to see this season.
"I thought it was a good start to both the first quarter and the third quarter," J.J. Redick explained post game. Obviously, getting out to a big lead is important.
"Then we were able to maintain that lead the whole game and that’s just as important for us. We’ve had some double-digit leads in the third and fourth quarter that we’ve relinquished. In our group to start there in the third, just talked about getting off to a good start and I think we pushed it from 20 to 25 in those first five minutes, which is what we wanted to do and they never really got close."
Philadelphia now has a day off before the Washington Wizards visit on Friday night.