In their first test of the season – and by test, I mean a legit playoff team – the 76ers defeated the Toronto Raptors 100-93. What was different about this win is that is wasn’t a blowout or a wire to wire finish.
The Sixers were trailing (as much as 14 points) the entire game, up until the 4 minute mark in the 4th quarter. An Aron Baynes 3-pointer, at the shot clock buzzer, was reviewed and overturned, giving the Sixers a 2 point lead and they held on until the end.
“These are the types of wins you love,” an excited Doc Rivers stated after the comeback win.
Here are the five takeaways from the big win:
1. Slow Starts
Slow starts have been a takeaway after every game so far this year. I mentioned previously that I believed a slow start vs a contender was going to end badly, and for a while, it looked to be true.
Halfway through the third, the Raptors took a 14 point lead after an OG Anunoby dunk put them up 70-56. At the time, the Raptors made a combined thirteen 3-pointers and it seemed as if anything they threw up was going in. The Sixers, on the other hand, had four made 3-pointers on 18% shooting from behind the arc.
The Raptors were looking to run away with the game behind some hot shooting, until Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris (yes, Tobias Harris – more on that later) took over the rest of the game.
I said we shouldn’t worry about the slow starts due to circumstances out of their control, but now it is starting to get a little worrisome. It is only December 30th so I haven’t hit full panic mode yet, but talk to me in a month or so if these slow starts are still happening.
2. $180 million man
Tobias Harris is the most hated man in Philadelphia. $180 million contract, subpar shooting, passing up open shots, the list goes on and on. However, Tobias Harris has been playing very well since his forgettable opening night.
Over the last 3 games, Harris has been averaging 19.6 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 3.3 assists. You might look at that and say “okay, he averaged that same thing last year, so what has changed.” Well, last year he shot the ball at a 47-36-80 clip (overall % – 3 point % – free throw % for those that don’t know), while the last 3 games he’s shooting at a 52-50-83 clip.
Is this sustainable? I doubt it, but to expect his LA Clippers stat line of 20 points per game at a 48-42-84 clip isn’t unreasonable to ask. We all said that Harris playing with his old Clippers coach, Doc Rivers, was going to bring a new comfort to his game. And while there have been some rough patches, Tobias looks like a completely different player as of late.
Last night may have been his best overall game as a Sixer, tallying 26 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks, while shooting 55-40-100. His defensive effort was spectacular, as well, something he’s been struggling with in this early season.
Tobias Harris woke up today and was finally able to check social media without having to worry about the critics. He is playing his best basketball yet and the Sixers will need this version of him, every game, as they make this championship push.
3. The Bench Mob
Doc Rivers loves his bench. They consist of Shake Milton, Tyrese Maxey, Dwight Howard, Furkan Korkmaz, Matisse Thybulle, and Mike Scott. He even went so far as to say that the bench will win a lot of games for the Sixers this year.
After a stellar first two games, the bench unit has been struggling mightily as of late. Over the first two games, the bench unit was averaging 35 points per game combined and was one of the bright spots on the team. The last two, they have averaged 14.5 points per game (stats adjusted due to “garbage time” vs Cavaliers), including only 7 last night – all from Shake Milton.
Having a consistent bench unit is what separates the contenders from the pretenders. Unless you have Lebron James on your team, it is difficult to rely on the starters constantly producing 90 point games every night.
The excuse, once again, is early season chemistry and adjusting to roles, but this bench is a lot better than they have shown the last few games.
4. Clutch Newcomers
When Daryl Morey made offseason trades to acquire Danny Green and Seth Curry, the idea was to surround Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons with as much shooting as possible.
Seth Curry has held up his end of the bargain, shooting 45% on 5 attempts per game. Danny Green, however, continues to struggle dating back to last season with the LA Lakers. He is shooting only 20% on 4 attempts per game.
Last night, in the 4th quarter, our new sharpshooters hit two 3-pointers at key moments in the game.
The first was Danny Green, coming at the 5:24 mark, which cut the Raptor lead to 2.
The other was Seth Curry, coming at the 1:05 mark, which sealed the win for the Sixers by putting them up 5.
Despite the early season shooting woes as a team, these are two guys I am not worried about when it comes to shooting. The statistics show that they are among the best at their craft, they are vets, and (for mostly Danny Green) won’t let these early season struggles get to their heads.
5. Ben Simmons Defensive Player of the Year
I can throw out a million random statistics such as points saved, deflections, turnovers caused, etc. and what most people will respond is “I don’t care, he needs to shoot 3’s.” Once you understand that Simmons just won’t shoot like he’s Steph Curry, the happier you’ll be when watching him play.
In the Sixers 3 wins, his primary matchups have shot: Westbrook 9/22, Barrett 2/15, and Siakam 8/23. You can make an argument that Westbrook has always been inefficient and Barrett isn’t that good but last night, Simmons put on a clinic vs Siakam and guard, Fred VanVleet.
In 30 possessions defending Siakam or VanVleet, Simmons held them to a combined 3-13 shooting and 1-6 from 3. They also went to the free throw line a combined ZERO times.
Ben Simmons has flaws, we all know he needs to take the open shot when he has it. However, you can’t continue to underrate him because of the one thing he doesn’t do. He performs every other part of the game at an elite level. Prediction: at this current pace, he will be your 2021 Defensive Player of the Year.
The Sixers play the undefeated Orlando Magic and former Sixer, Markelle Fultz, on New Year’s Eve. See you all then. #HereTheyCome