The Philadelphia 76ers have been “star hunting” and “star developing” since the start of this past offseason. It’s been talked about ad nauseam throughout Sixers world – on social media, in the local bars, and even on this website. For the majority of the first few weeks of the season, many have felt like these two endeavors have been a failure up to this point. But for at least one night, last night to be exact, we saw the star developing begin to take shape. Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Markelle Fultz led the 76ers (5-4) to a 122-113 victory over the visiting Los Angeles Clippers (4-4) on Thursday night.
Of course, as we know, basketball is a team game, and even with all the “Big Three” (or more in the case of the Warriors) teams that are out there, depth is vital to a team’s success. The Sixers got solid production last night from more than just their three stars. Robert Covington, JJ Redick, and Landry Shamet combined for 41 points on an incredibly efficient 8-14 from three. After a third quarter collapse by the Sixers, Mike Muscala hit a massive go-ahead three while getting fouled, knocking down the free throw for his only four points of the game.
However, while the role players did a solid job handling their particular responsibilities, this game was about the Sixers’ three stars. So we might as well just go ahead and do this hockey style. Here are last night’s three stars of the game.
Third Star: Ben Simmons
Ben Simmons was coming off easily his worst game of the year and arguably one of the worst of his career. Following 11 turnovers against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night, Simmons bounced back with only two turnovers to go along with 11 assists in this game. He was noticeably more aggressive from the opening tip, and as we’ve seen many times, Aggressive Ben > Passive Ben.
As Simmons himself said of his performance in comparison to his last time out, “I think it’s a lot better. My turnovers are lower; I tried to make that a focus tonight. I tried to control the game a bit more.” This was apparent throughout and will obviously be a key for the Sixers’ success game in and game out. Ben finished with 14 points and the aforementioned 11 assists to pick up his seventh double-double of the season.
Second Star: Markelle Fultz
There’s been a lot of frustration recently as we use our hindsight 20/20 vision to look back at the trade that led to taking Markelle Fultz #1 overall in the 2017 NBA Draft. And while one game certainly won’t wipe out those frustrations, this game was quite possibly Fultz’ best game of the season to date. We saw more flashes of Husky Kelle (a nickname referring to his college days at the University of Washington c/o our very own Jason Blevins) than we had since his triple-double game at the end of last season.
While Markelle’s overall numbers (12 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, only 1 turnover) may not blow anyone away, he was a team-high +16 in just 21 minutes of play. That number can sometimes be misleading, but in last night’s game, it was certainly indicative of the impact Fultz had on the flow and outcome of the game. After the Clippers stormed back from a 15 point halftime deficit (72-57) to take the lead in the third quarter, Markelle Fultz provided the spark the 76ers so desperately needed. Brett Brown summarized it well postgame saying, “The Clippers came out and had a 24-8 run; Markelle comes in, and we close on a 10-2 run. You just felt the building change, you felt our team’s mood change. We needed that injection of energy.”
If Fultz can continue to impress with games like this, maybe that whole “star developing” thing won’t feel quite as far-fetched as it did even last week at this time. Postgame, Fultz had this to say about his game:
Markelle Fultz post game after stopping the bleeding in the third quarter. pic.twitter.com/IRUuSjd5uX
— Philly Front Office – Sixers (@PFOSixers) November 2, 2018
First Star: Joel Embiid
“MVP! MVP! MVP!” The chants could be heard echoing throughout Wells Fargo Center on Thursday night, as Joel Embiid continued his early season ravaging of the rest of the league. In what felt like a relatively inefficient struggle for him at times (especially against 7’3″ Boban Marjanovic down low), Embiid still finished with 41 points and 13 rebounds to rack up his league-leading eighth double-double of the year. It was also his NBA-high sixth game with 30-plus points and 10-plus rebounds. Before the season, Embiid did not shy away from proclaiming his intentions to win MVP and Defensive Player of the Year this season, and last night’s game was just another step in the process (pun intended).
Embiid used a wide array of moves and spots on the floor to get off an unusually high 32 shots, including eight from beyond the three point line which forced Marjanovic out of the paint a little more. That level of aggression was exactly what the Sixers needed last night, however. Brett Brown commented postgame, “[Joel] was just dominant, you know 32 shots. I think him trying to pull out Boban – Boban is so unique to our league, he came in and really changed the game for them – I think that Joel, the volume of points, the volume of rebounds, pulling Boban out towards the end with some threes. He was all of that, especially as the game wore down.”
“That’s my job as a leader… I can get any shot I need to” Joel Embii after a huge game against the Clippers. pic.twitter.com/5dNNWp3KH6
— Philly Front Office – Sixers (@PFOSixers) November 2, 2018
Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz have the potential to be great, but Joel Embiid showed us all once again last night that he is already great and seemingly improving his game and growing his leadership each and every game. That should be a scary thought for the rest of the NBA…and something in which Sixers fans can take comfort, even on those inevitable days in the future when the frustrations of living all the ups and downs of this team seem to take over. All in all, last night was a very good win against a very average team at home in the 76ers’ first matchup against a Western Conference opponent this season. The flashes of greatness are there. Stay the course. Trust the Process.
- The 76ers are now 5-0 at home and 0-4 on the road. This is a sign of a relatively young team still developing chemistry and unity. Sixers fans also deserve a little nod for giving the team a boost through the home court advantage. Embiid did just that during the postgame interviews, saying, “It’s great. We did the same thing last year. It’s Philly, these fans can be tough on you, so when they show up to the games, you have to play to win and you have to play for them. You have to satisfy them, and that’s what we are doing.”
- Just yesterday, Philly Front Office’s very own Vin Fosh wrote an article highlighting the importance of Ben Simmons developing – and then using – a jumpshot. Prior to last night’s game, Brett Brown spoke with the media regarding this and other topics. PFO’s Jason Blevins was there: Brett Brown Pregame Presser