Six vs. Nets: The injury-strapped Sixers beat Brooklyn in Ben Simmons’ first game back

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 anything but 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 had 16 or more points.

Kyrie Irving scored 23 points, Kevin Durant 20.

In his 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 and play the Hornets on Wednesday night. Here are the observations on their victory over Brooklyn:

Simmons vs. the Sixers…

As anyone familiar with Simmons’ Sixers history could have predicted, he got very angry whenever he had the ball. The crowd even splashed in a couple of “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 the Nets snapped to an early eight-point lead.

Harris thought he had cleanly blocked Simmons’ first field goal attempt, but it was called for a foul and Simmons went to the free throw line, where the fans had a sustained chance to blow the boos. He silenced the volume with a 2-for-2 drive. To the delight of the crowd, Simmons couldn’t match that effort in the third quarter. His consecutive foul line errors meant free chicken nuggets through the Sixers’ “Bricken for Chicken” promotion.

Simmons didn’t stun the Sixers considering long-distance jumpers, but he did show his variety of skills. Early in the second quarter, the 26-year-old blocked a floater from Niang and then slammed into a dunk on the ensuing possession. A perfectly timed pass assist from Royce O’Neale in the third period was another impressive moment for Simmons.

Though a former teammate of Simmons, Niang never played alongside him last season. He gave Simmons a cushion defensively as he occasionally hit the ball and added some physicality. He took that approach too far with an off-the-ball drive late in the second quarter that the officials ruled a flagrant foul.

The Sixers built a large enough lead that Hack-a-Simmons was not on the table late in the game. Simmons checked out with 3:08 left and the Nets trailing by 14 points.

Sixers with large border beyond the arc

PJ Tucker slid a screen well on the Sixers’ first possession, but came well short on a close-range shot, missing a chance to score for the first time since November. 12.

Several Sixers possessions have lasted until the shot clock ended, but their shooting was decent in those points. Harris made a tough forward jump in the first quarter and Melton drained a 3-pointer. He also beat the siren of the first half.

The Sixers introduced a zone defense midway through the first quarter, and it didn’t confuse the Nets. On Brooklyn’s second possession against the zone, Simmons found room for a fair layup. Durant also hit two midrange jumpers. Without Embiid, the Sixers’ formula for proper defense is likely a combination of well-timed aggression and missing jumpers to opponents.

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

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 unlikely, the first touch from him was a corner three just before the shot clock expired. Thybulle tried twice from the same spot soon after but came up empty.

As for Tucker, his scoreless run simply wasn’t over. He had been very efficient with his typical low volume to start the season, hitting 57.4% of his field goals and 11 of his 24 3-pointers in 13 games. However, he fell to 0-of-6 from the floor late in the third quarter on Tuesday when he hit a corner three into the air. He will definitely score again soon enough.

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

Montrezl Harrell wasn’t always smooth with the ball in his hands, but he ultimately provided six points, four rebounds and his usual high-energy hauling around the paint in his first moto. He helped the Sixers end the night with a 20-4 offensive rebounding lead by knocking down six in just 16 minutes.

Reed also contributed a tip during his starting stint, which was a long one because he played so well. Reed’s ability to hang with perimeter players defensively was also invaluable. He contested a Seth Curry error, 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 nearly every play is not dissimilar to Melton’s. He made full use of the minutes available with Embiid out and had a strong overall performance.

Reed had one of his best stretches this season as a roller on Tuesday night. Brooklyn’s defense was often flimsy, but Reed dived hard and effectively to the rim. His layup with 8:45 left in the second quarter put the Sixers up 42-30. At that point, the Sixers had 19 points on the bench and the Nets only four. The final margin was 47-29.

It looked like the Sixers’ depth might be further tested when Harris lay on the field in pain with 11:19 left in the third quarter. Finally, he got up and cautiously walked with head fitness trainer Kevin Johnson to the locker room.

Harris returned a few minutes later. He was also very sharp. The 30-year-old forward capitalized on a breakdown in the Nets’ transition defense, driving for a dunk.

When the Sixers isolated him against O’Neale, Harris systematically backed O’Neale in a way the team doesn’t tend to encourage when everyone is healthy, then sank a short jump that capped a 7-0 run . He agreed to be the no. 1 offensive option in the second half. Harris hit an important pull-up jumper with four seconds left in the third to put the Sixers ahead 85-82.

In the fourth, Harris extended the Sixers’ lead to 10 points with his first three of the night. Harris also showed off a fair amount of his old-school tools, playing a physical, grind-it-out game. He was entirely appropriate under the circumstances, and the Sixers were right to acknowledge that Harris deserved touches on nearly every possession.

Milton then took the reins to extinguish any Nets comeback hopes, drilling two jumpers and scoring a layup that prompted Nets coach Jacque Vaughn to call a timeout and insert his deep reserves.

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