BOSTON, MA - MAY 3: Ben Simmons #25 of the Philadelphia 76ers dribbles against the Boston Celtics during the second quarter of Game Two of the Eastern Conference Second Round of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden on May 3, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The Sixers hosted the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday night, short both Joel Embiid and Josh Richardson. Philly (29-17) was looking to get back on track following a road loss to the Raptors. The Lakers (36-9) were looking to finish off an East coast trip on a positive note.

Timeout

The Sixers were very jittery in the early-goings of the contest, while the Lakers just executed as they have all season long. The Sixers appeared a bit fearful in the opening four minutes–high effort, but inexplicable turnovers and defensive mistakes. The Lakers took advantage, taking an early six point lead before a timeout was called.

Calmed following the reset, the Sixers applied pressure to the Lakers’ interior defense, courtesy of excellent ball movement and difficult finishes around the rim from Ben Simmons. Having found an offensive rhythm and a sense of confidence, the Sixers began to seize control of the affair. Lazy turnovers from the Lakers and perimeter shooting provided by Tobias Harris, Furkan Korkmaz, and Matisse Thybulle built the Sixers a ten-point lead at the end of the first.

Weathering The Lakers’ Storm

Following in line with a recent trend of playing Korkmaz and Raul Neto together, Brown inserted Neto while Ben Simmons re-charged. With two defensive weaknesses to take advantage of, the Lakers tightened up their defense, forced the Sixers into sloppy turnovers, and pressured Philadelphia’s transition defense into giving up easy points. A barrage of Anthony Davis post scores over Al Horford brought the Lakers to within five points. The Sixers would answer, however, and lead by nine going into halftime. 

In The Presence Of A King

Philadelphia opened the third quarter on a 15-2 run to build the lead up to a game-high twenty-two points. A frustrated Frank Vogel was granted a timeout, and the game slowly began to flow back towards the Lakers.

In the midst of the Lakers’ push to get back into the game, LeBron passed Kobe Bryant for the NBA’s third most points of all time on a layup over an outstretched Shake Milton. Riding the impressive feat, the Lakers appeared rejuvenated and climbed back into the affair.

Brett Brown failed to call a timeout to break the momentum as the Lakers chipped away at a then-16-point deficit. That, along with his election to keep Neto in the game, allowed the Lakers to find an offensive rhythm and target the weak link in the Sixer defense. 

What had been a twenty-two-point deficit with eight minutes remaining dwindled to a twelve-point differential heading into the fourth quarter.

The Team Dad

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope stepped into a foul-line jumper and cut Philadelphia’s lead to five with 5:21 remaining. The Wells Fargo Center grew restless. Everyone could feel the game slipping into a road win for the Lakers.

Brett Brown called a timeout.

With the pace and momentum broken up a bit, the Sixers reset. It was a 5:21 ball game. All they had to do was execute. However, the offense began to stall. Possessions were dribbled away on the perimeter as the ball-handler waited for an off-ball action to open someone up. After trading a series of missed shots on both ends, Al Horford (16 points, 6 rebounds) stabilized a team that appeared to be falling apart. Horford scored seven consecutive points to push the Philly lead back up to twelve with 3:15 remaining. Now with a bit of breathing room, the Sixers loosened up after lapsing into a period of fear for the first time since the first quarter. 

Tobias Harris (29 points, 8 rebounds) buried a turn-around jumper to push the lead to sixteen with 2:05 left, and the ball game was effectively over. 

Ben Simmons

The Sixers knocked off the Lakers (20-5 on the road, 36-10 overall) in large part due to Ben Simmons’ continued superstar play in the absence of Joel Embiid. Simmons (28 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists, 4 steals) engaged himself on offense by setting the tone with his individual defensive play. His propensity for creating turnovers allowed him to get downhill in transition, where he wreaked havoc on the Lakers with beautiful, controlled finishes at the rim or kick-outs to teammates for triples (13 for 37 — 35.1%). 

Since Embiid went down with the dislocated ring finger, Simmons has been elevated to the focal point of the offense. With a style of play that is most conducive to his skillset, Ben has shown that aggressive drives to the basket are far more effective for him than would be attempting jump shots. Brown has also maneuvered his offensive scheme to bring Ben off-ball. Simmons has served as a post-up facilitator or a pick-and-roll roller. When the pace slows down, putting the ball in the hands of a creator–such as Josh Richardson–has provided an interesting scheme potentially conducive to an environment in which both Embiid and Simmons can coexist and be maximized. It allows Simmons to be a factor in the offense with lobs at the rim. Simultaneously, it enables Embiid to methodically score his points in the half-court setting.

X-Factor

The under-manned Sixers were able to seize control of this game by taking away the three-point line for the Lakers.

By running the Lakers off of the three-point line, the Sixers were able to control the Laker offense, making it difficult for the purple and gold to function in the half-court outside of James (29 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists) and Anthony Davis (31 points, 7 rebounds). Containing the space within which the Lakers were seeing success, the Sixers were able to force twenty-one Los Angeles turnovers. Philadelphia, however, allowed the Lakers to stay within striking distance by committing twenty-one turnovers themselves.

The 76ers (30-17) will host the Golden State Warriors (10-37) on Tuesday night. The Lakers (36-10) host the Clippers on Tuesday, as well.