Last night, the Philadelphia Sixers spent their Monday evening taking the Utah Jazz to the woodshed at the Wells Fargo Center, cruising to a not-as-close-as-it-looked 103-94 victory. Though the final score only showed a 9 point win, the Sixers led by as many as 26, and were effectively in control of the game from early in the first quarter. The Jazz, who came into this game in 6th place in the Western Conference, had defeated the Sixers in Utah earlier this year, but were unable to muster up enough shooting to compete against a staunch Philadelphia defense this time around. But all things considered, this game says significantly more about the Sixers than it does the Jazz, who were finishing the last leg of a 5 game road trip. It seemed that last night we saw – apart from an ominously effective late comeback attempt – a performance indicative of a powerhouse team truly starting to come together.
Last night’s stat line seems almost counterintuitive to what the “bully ball” Sixers are designed to do. Philadelphia tallied only 5 more total rebounds than Utah (47-42) and were outscored in the paint by a whopping 24 points (60-36). So how in the world did the Sixers dominate this game? Well for starters, going 13/26 (50%) from behind the arc certainly doesn’t hurt. At a quick glance it’s easy to discount this as an outlier from a team that is still searching for a legitimate NBA shooter, but let’s take a real look at how Philly compiled their 13 threes. Al Horford led the starters, going a perfect 3 for 3 from deep. Horford is a career 36.8% 3PT shooter, serviceable for a big man but certainly not burning the nets down. Take a look at the Sixers bench, however, and the standout has to be rookie Matisse Thybulle joining Horford with another perfect 3 for 3 performance. While Thybulle was touted for his defense coming out of college, he is now the proud owner of a 43.2% 3PT average through his first 20 games in the league. Steph Curry’s rookie year average? 43.7%. Now of course it’s not reasonable to expect Matisse to turn into the second coming of the best shooter in NBA history, but it seems that while Brett Brown was trying to grow a bomber, an unexpected one may have been born. Coupled with James Ennis (42.6%), this team may end up having more shooting than they originally got credit for.
Even with some pleasant surprises on the offensive side of the floor, however, the Sixers’ path to The Finals still runs through their defense. This matchup was no different, as the Jazz were held to an abysmal 5 for 22 from 3 (22.7%) and were forced into 20 turnovers to the Sixers 15. The Wells Fargo Center has emerged as a den of thieves, where opponents passes are stolen almost at will. Ben Simmons was once again the lead bandit with 4 steals, and his young apprentice, the aforementioned Thybulle, tallied 3 more steals off the bench. Even with another defensive stud – Josh Richardson – still nursing a hamstring injury, Philly looked like the basketball equivalent of Fort Knox at points in the game. With the ability to roll out a lineup consisting of Simmons, Thybulle, and Richardson to defend the perimeter, and then to have two monsters like Horford and Joel Embiid lurking in the paint, the task of ousting this team in a 7 game series appears more daunting by the day. So there is one warning, above all others, to offer to any NBA opponent that hopes to compete with this team come April: Don’t let the Sixers get home court advantage. A 10-0 home record shows that Philadelphia’s ever-increasing skillset is even more deadly in their own building. As scared as Ben Simmons and company may be to lose in front of the home crowd, the rest of the NBA should be growing even more terrified to have to visit South Philly.