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The injury-riddled Sixers beat Brooklyn in Ben Simmons’ first game back

The injury-riddled Sixers beat Brooklyn in Ben Simmons’ first game back

3 observations after depleted Sixers pull off impressive team win over Nets originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

How’s that for a team win?

With Tyrese Maxey, James Harden, Joel Embiid and Jaden Springer all sidelined, Tuesday night’s game against the Nets at the Wells Fargo Center was far from a lost cause for the Sixers.

They improved to 9-8 this season with a 115-106 win. Tobias Harris, De’Anthony Melton, Paul Reed, Georges Niang and Shake Milton all scored 16 or more points.

Kyrie Irving posted 23 points, Kevin Durant 20.

In the first game at the Wells Fargo Center since the Sixers’ Game 7 playoff loss to the Hawks on June 20, 2021, Ben Simmons recorded 11 points, 11 assists, seven rebounds, three blocks and three steals.

The Sixers will travel to Charlotte to play the Hornets on Wednesday night. Here are observations of their win over Brooklyn:

Simmons vs. Sixers…

As anyone familiar with Simmons’ Sixers history could have predicted, he received loud boos every time he had the ball. The crowd also sprinkled in a few “F— Ben Simmons” chants.

The night started brightly for both Simmons and Brooklyn. Nicolas Claxton had eight of the Nets’ first 10 points, all in the paint, and Brooklyn took an early eight-point lead.

Harris thought he blocked Simmons’ first field goal attempt, but he was called for a foul and Simmons went to the free throw line, where the fans had a sustained chance to unleash their arcs. He muted the volume with a 2-for-2 trip. Much to the crowd’s delight, Simmons was unable to replicate that effort in the third quarter. His subsequent miss at the foul line meant free chicken nuggets through the Sixers’ “Bricken for Chicken” campaign.

Simmons didn’t overwhelm the Sixers by evaluating long-range jumpers, but he did show off his various skills. Early in the second quarter, the 26-year-old blocked a Niang floater and then put in a dunk on the ensuing possession. A perfectly weighted outlet pass to Royce O’Neale in the third period was another impressive moment for Simmons.

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Although he is a former teammate of Simmons, Niang never actually played a game with him last season. He gave Simmons a cushion defensively, while occasionally poking the ball and adding some physicality. He pushed that approach too far with an off-ball push late in the second quarter that the refs deemed a flagrant 1 foul.

The Sixers built a big enough lead that Hack-a-Simmons wasn’t on the board late in the game. Simmons checked out with 3:08 left and the Nets trailing by 14 points.

Sixers with a big edge beyond the arc

PJ Tucker dropped a screen nicely on the Sixers’ first possession, but he came up short on a close-range shot, missing a chance to score for the first time since Nov. 12.

Quite a few Sixers possessions lasted late into the shot clock, but their shot production was decent in those spots. Harris made a difficult turnaround jumper and Melton drained a three-pointer. He pitched the first inning as well.

The Sixers introduced a zone defense in the middle of the first quarter, and it didn’t speed up the Nets. On the second Brooklyn possession against the zone, Simmons found room for a proper layup. Durant also hit two mid-range jumpers. Without Embiid, the Sixers’ formula for adequate defense is likely a combination of well-timed aggression and opponents lacking jumpers.

At least the Sixers had Brooklyn trading twos for threes. Furkan Korkmaz made a corner three on his first attempt, giving the Sixers their first lead of the night at 21-20. Milton dished out a lefty wraparound pass to Niang for a triple. When Niang rumbled in for a layup on the Sixers’ next possession, Harden and Maxey’s smiles stood out on the Sixers bench. The Sixers eventually led by seven points after one quarter, largely because they were 5 for 8 from long range and the Nets were 0 for 3. Brooklyn didn’t make a three until 8:24 remained in the second quarter.

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Matisse Thybulle, who has recently been plagued by an ankle injury, checked in for the first time with 5:58 left in the second. Rather improbably, his first touch was a made corner post just before the shot clock expired. Thybulle tried twice from the same spot soon after, but he came up empty.

As for Tucker, his scoreless streak simply would not end. He had been very efficient at his typical low volume to start the season, making 57.4 percent of his field goals and 11 of his 24 threes through 13 games. However, he fell to 0-for-6 from the floor late in the third quarter Tuesday when he airballed a corner. He will surely score again soon enough.

Reed rises to the moment, Harris steps up after injury scare

Harrell wasn’t always smooth with the ball in his hands, but he eventually provided six points, four rebounds and his usual high-energy peskiness around the paint. He helped the Sixers finish the night with a 20-4 advantage in offensive rebounds.

Reed also chipped in with a tip-in during his first stint, which was long because he played so well. Reed’s ability to hang with perimeter players defensively was also valuable. He contested a Seth Curry miss, blocked a Joe Harris layup, played solid post defense to force Simmons into a missed right hook, and broke up an O’Neale lob intended for Simmons. At his best, Reed’s ability to do something productive on almost any player is not unlike Melton’s. He took full advantage of the available minutes with Embiid out and had an excellent showing overall.

Reed had one of the better stretches this season rolling on Tuesday night. Brooklyn’s defense was often flimsy, but Reed dove hard and efficiently to the rim. His layup with 8:45 left in the second quarter put the Sixers up 42-30. At that stage, the Sixers had 19 bench points and the Nets just four. The final margin there was 47-29.

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It looked like the Sixers’ depth might be tested further when Harris lay on the court in agony with 11:19 left in the third quarter. He finally got up and carefully walked with lead athlete Kevin Johnson into the locker room.

Harris returned a few minutes later. He was sharp too. The 30-year-old forward took advantage of a Nets transition defense breakdown, driving in for a dunk.

When the Sixers isolated him against O’Neale, Harris methodically backed him up in a way the Sixers don’t tend to encourage when everyone is healthy, sinking a short jumper that capped a 7-0 run. He embraced being the Sixers’ No. 1 offensive option in the second half. Harris made a key pull-up jumper with four seconds left in the third, giving the Sixers an 85-82 lead.

In the fourth, Harris extended the Sixers lead to 10 points with his first three of the game. Harris also showed off a fair amount of his old tools, playing a physical, grind-it-out game. It was entirely appropriate under the circumstances, and the Sixers were wise to recognize that Harris deserved touches on just about every possession.

Milton then took the reins to snuff out any Nets comeback hopes, drilling two jumpers and scoring a put-back layup that prompted Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn to call a timeout and deploy his deep reserves.

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