Remember when the season started and Ben Simmons was driving hard into like four defenders and then he would turn around while in the air near the baseline and let go of a pass that was seemingly not intended for any one person? I definitely remember that, but it's becoming an increasingly distant memory. Now, when Simmons is down in the paint and surrounded by the defense, it seems like it he more aware of his height than he was before. Simmons is more thoughtful and deliberate just 49 games into his NBA career and that says a lot about how quickly this kid can learn and grow. Simmons finished with 20 points, six rebounds, five assists, two steals, and one block.
He's the guy that called for the Sixers to play more bully-ball. He thrives on scrapping and pushing through defenders. But Dario Saric can not get the officials on his side. Saric is visibly frustrated and I can understand why. He is pushed around and tangled up probably more than any other guy on the Sixers and is often not rewarded in any way by the officials for his positioning and determination. He finished the game with 17 points, 14 of which came in the first half when the Sixers desperately needed someone to score, and never made a trip to the free throw line.
He's often the guy that is knocking down three's and jumpers left and right during warmups but rarely has the minutes or opportunity to find a rhythm during the game in order to get it going. He's had more of a chance lately because of injuries to JJ Redick and Jerryd Bayless and it's continuing to pay off. He came into the night averaging just over 20 minutes and nine points over the last five games. He had 11 points in minutes off the bench (nine coming during the Sixers third-quarter run) against Miami and continues to prove he's a valuable option. For right now, we're going to ignore the late-game missed free throws.
With a 10-point lead at halftime, nobody thought the game was anywhere near decided, but the Sixers came out of intermission with no intention of letting the Heat back into the game. The Sixers outscore Miami 35-19 in the third, forced three Miami turnovers, and had 11 assists on 13 made field goals. They played with speed but also passed with precision committing just one turnover in the 12-minute span that let them open up a 27-point lead. The Sixers extended that lead to 28 early in the fourth but the lead dwindled into the single digits. Had the Sixers not created such a large amount of separation in the third, the Heat may have won. There were fouls, missed shots, turnovers, and all the bad things that could have happened in a collapse. Simmons steal on a Miami inbounds play with 21 seconds left was as much a saving grace as the third quarter was.
The Wells Fargo Center was littered with Green on Friday night. The first 10,000 fans snagged a green shirt with the Eagles and Sixers logos side by side, the Sixers intro video included highlights from the Eagles, Brett Brown spoke in front of a banner that was fashioned much like the t-shirts, and there was no shortage of Eagles themed time-out entertainment. With so little time between the NFC Championship and the Super Bowl, the Sixers really impressed and went all out, partnering with the Eagles to make the Sixers a game that Philadelphia fans could truly appreciate. Things were of course made even more memorable because the Sixers beat the East's fourth-seed Miami Heat.