DALLAS, TX – It was another close finish, and this time, the 76ers hung on.
Yogi Ferrell drew a foul on a drive into the lane with 0.2 seconds to go, but his miss on the front-end of two free throws (at that point, just his second miss on 26 attempts) essentially sealed the Dallas Mavericks’ fate, as the Sixers managed to escape American Airlines Center with a resilient 112-110 victory.
The victory marked the Sixers’ first in Big D since 2005.
Before we dive into the contest’s key performers, and there were a couple, Saturday’s collective result was what mattered the most. Three days removed from a harsh loss at the buzzer to the Houston Rockets, the Sixers prevailed under similar late-game duress.
“It’s the evolution of this young team,” Brett Brown said afterwards. “The good news is, we did things we work on in relation to closing out a game.”
Things like succeeding in executing in-bounds plays, getting the ball to the team’s 7-footer, and recognizing when to call timeouts. Brown took these signs as cues of a young club making progress.
“Those types of things grow a team,” he said. “We need to be grown. We have complete youth all over the place, and I hope that this will help us move forward.”
As for Saturday’s standouts, we know well and good that hopes have always been high for Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. That shouldn’t diminish, however, just how impressive the duo has been – separately and together – in the early stages of the 2017-2018 campaign.
The two blue-chip prospects each went for 23 points against the Mavs, and did a whole lot more on top of that.
“It’s good,” Simmons said about Saturday’s win, the Sixers’ second in three tries.
His scoring output represented a new career-high. Between lay-ups, jams, and a few jump shots, the 2016 No. 1 pick cranked out 7 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 steals, and a block, too.
“We made a lot of mistakes our previous game, but we made up for them. We’re getting better each game. As long as we’re getting better, that’s all we’re really asking for.”
Simmons and Embiid both had their moments crunch time. Heading into the final three minutes of regulation, Simmons followed up a ridiculous one-handed putback dunk with a 12-foot jumper to string together four necessary points in succession. Later with 15 seconds remaining, Embiid powered inside for a vital lay-up that moved the score to 111-107.
Dallas subsequently scored on a Harrison Barnes trey, but Jerryd Bayless tacked on a free throw with 6.6 seconds left for what ended up being the difference.
“We won, so it was good,” Bayless said. One of his two 3-pointers capped a critical 15-2 Sixers’ run that closed the third quarter. He netted 9 points in all.
“Obviously, there’s things we can do better at, but overall, we won. That’s all that matters.”
On multiple occasions throughout the night, the Sixers, boasting advantages over Dallas in respect to size, length, athleticism, and speed, threatened to pull away. The Mavericks, however, refused to go away.
That Dallas couldn’t ultimately come up with answers for Simmons and Embiid loomed large.
From the outset of Saturday’s affair, the 21-year old Australian asserted himself as a force to be reckoned with. He had 8 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 steals by the time he subbed out with 2 minutes left in the opening frame. At that juncture, the Sixers were enjoying a game-high 13-point cushion.
Three quick fouls kept Simmons on the sideline for most of the second quarter. Upon the point man’s returning to action after intermission, his presence brought undeniable ripple effects. Right off the bat, he generated a steal, slammed home a runout jam, spread the ball around, and boarded. Things opened up, and the Mavs had no recourse.
“Look at Ben Simmons’ numbers…how he impacts a game, all over the place,” said Brown. “Tonight, he was a four-man, a three-man, a point guard. He switched out on effectively everybody, and just beats up on a stat sheet like we see, that’s a hell of a game.”
“There’s still a lot of stuff we need to work on, but he doesn’t look like a rookie out there – he’s just playing basketball,” Embiid said of Simmons. “He looks like a vet out there. He’s just doing whatever he wants to.”
Said Simmons about his mindset Saturday, “I had three early fouls, so I was just trying to keep myself in the game, mentally. Second half, come out strong, and be aggressive.”
He did, and he was.
Embiid, meanwhile, had the touch going all over the floor. He drained three 3-pointers in a game for the sixth time in his 36-game career, and also got the ball inside when the Sixers needed insurance.
“I thought my teammates did a great job of looking for me, and make sure they were feeding me,” said Embiid after churning out his third 20-point outing in a row, and of the season. “It was team effort, and we got a win.”
T.J. McConnell’s contributions Saturday couldn’t be overlooked. He spearheaded a productive bench effort, notching a season-high 15 points, plus 8 assists and 4 rebounds.
“It just confirms to all of us why we have the affection and fondness that we do for him,” Brown said. “He coexists with our guys, our guys love playing with him. He plays with a spirit that we want our team to be recognized for. Tonight, he played big minutes, and was a significant contributor in the win.”
“Any time you can get a win on the road, it’s big,” said McConnell. “We’ll take it. We got to watch film, and move on to Houston.”
The Sixers shot 49.4 percent from the field Saturday, a season-high. They also connected on 16 3-pointers, the top total in 6 games, while out-rebounding Dallas by 9 (the Sixers were plus-8 on the offensive glass).
Even on the off chance we were able to whip together our most detailed, adjective-filled description of all the moves Ben Simmons unfurled amidst this successful transition dunk, it still probably wouldn’t do justice to everything the rookie did on this third-quarter sequence.
On the heels of a stinging loss to Houston at the buzzer last Wednesday at The Center, the Sixers aren’t going to have to wait very long for a re-match. The two clubs will ink up Monday at Toyota Center for their second and final meeting of the season. In Round 1, JJ Redick paced the Sixers with 22 points, while Joel Embiid and Robert Covington scored 21 and 20 points, respectively. James Harden tallied 27 points for the Rockets, but Eric Gordon, with his 29 points, emerged as the hero, connecting on the decisive triple from the sideline as time expired.