The Philadelphia 76ers (24-12) were back in action in Chicago after a week off for the All-Star break. They were looking to pick up where they left off, having gone into the break on a two-game winning streak. The Bulls (16-18) were looking to make their playoff push with a victory that would elevate them to a two-game winning streak. Philly’s bench poured in 55 points to propel the Sixers to a blowout of the Bulls, 127-105.
Before we get to the action, some notes.
The Sixers were without Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, who were adhering to the league’s health and safety protocols after being in contact with a barber who had tested positive for COVID-19. Before the game, Rivers anticipated that Embiid would return for Friday’s game against the Wizards, while Simmons would return on Sunday against the Spurs. While no exact time frame for their contact with the barber has been made public, it has been reported that it took place before the two departed for Atlanta to appear in the All-Star game. According to the league’s procedures for safely attending the All-Star events, that is believed to be some time before 7 PM EST on Saturday (March 6th).
Doc Rivers started Seth Curry, Danny Green, Matisse Thybulle, Tobias Harris, and Tony Bradley.
The Bulls were without Devon Dotson, who was nursing a sprained right knee.
Billy Donovan started Coby White, Zach LaVine, Patrick Williams, Lauri Markkanen, and Wendell Carter Jr.
There are two ways of looking at how Tobias Harris started this game. On one hand, just yikes. Harris started the game missing each of his first five shots and committed one turnover in eight first-quarter minutes. Don’t quote me on this, but that’s probably not how he would’ve liked his second half to begin. On the other hand, you could feel Harris’ demeanor turn towards anger with his rough opening. It was quite encouraging to see him approach the rim with the type of fury that says, ‘you’re going to foul me or I’m going to stuff this’. Harris got to the line for a quartet of free throws. That doesn’t seem like much, especially considering that his best teammate can easily get to the line 8-10 times per quarter. But, Harris averages less than four freebies per game. You’ll take that degree of aggressiveness from Harris any day.
An especially appropriate symbolism for the way the first half unfolded for the Sixers was a step-back triple from Furkan Korkmaz to beat the shot-clock buzzer in the first quarter. It was the quintessential ‘No, no, yes!’ play from Korkmaz. Viewers could feel the play straying farther and farther away from the proverbial light as Korkmaz dribbled the seconds down before creating space for the shot. Sometimes, you hit the jackpot when you go to casinos, and Korkmaz got the right combination on that slot. It really was a token of the whole first half for Philadelphia. The Philly bench scored 19 points in the first half, and the Sixers held seven at the break.
“He works every single day on his body and on his skill.”
We must do a toast to Tony Bradley, who was better than your wildest dreams would’ve been for him in place of Embiid. Bradley connected on all five of his field goal attempts en route to a ten-point first half. It wasn’t just his scoring that was great, either. He didn’t try to do too much in his role. Bradley played to the low post and operated around the block. He was effective at picking up put-backs, scoring off of tight footwork, and quick dives from pick-and-roll passes. On the defensive end, he made his presence felt, altering a number of shots around the rim. In a game where you’re without both Embiid and Simmons, you need every surprise you can get out of your role players.
After the game, Rivers commended the work Bradley has put in this season. “Tony has lost a good 25 pounds since the season has started,” Rivers said. “He works every single day on his body and on his skill. Just because he doesn’t play doesn’t mean the other guys don’t notice what he’s doing. I thought the entire bench, eveyone, was so happy for him as he was playing. Those first two baskets, Dwight was running around the floor celebrating because they see the work. A lot of the fans aren’t able to see the work that the guys don’t play do. So, that was good tonight for all of us.”
Matisse Thybulle often falls by the wayside due to his typically lacking offensive game. But, the defensive mastermind was critical to the Sixers’ second half push. Thybulle connected on three triples in the third frame to keep the Bulls at an arm’s length. Thybulle could very easily play himself into a critical role for the Sixers, this season and for seasons to come, by really locking in on the spot-up triples. His defensive profile is so impressive that you don’t even need him to hit 40 percent of those looks (of course, you’ll take it if it gets there). But, his career would have a different trajectory if he could connect on 36-37 percent. The efficiency with which he shoots right now, 26.2 percent, simply won’t cut it.
“Even if he didn’t get the shot, it led to the next action.”
Rivers spoke on the importance of Thybulle burying triples. “It’s huge for us,” Rivers said. “The other thing we did with Matisse a lot when they tried to put Markkanen on him, we used Matisse as a picker. I thought that was very effective. Even if he didn’t get the shot, it led to the next action. He was laughing because he’s never really done that pick-and-roll like a five but it was very effective for us.”
Thybulle is just happy to contribute, it seems. “Honestly for me, if I’m a part of an action that results in a score like it feels like it was my bucket,” Thybulle said. “I just get just as excited about one of my teammates scoring as if I do it. So if me setting screens ends up in us getting a point, like I’m gonna be pretty excited.”
The Sixers were able to put their feet down on the Bulls with an outstanding performance from the second unit in this game. The bench scored 36 points in the second half to nail down an outstanding victory.
The short-handed Sixers certainly earned every bit of this victory. But, the Bulls have much to be ashamed of. They completely overlooked their competition and assumed it was a guaranteed victory. Following the game, Rivers mentioned that teams typically have turnover issues when their two best players are unavailable. The Sixers turned the rock over just ten times. The Bulls committed nineteen of their own errors. Chicago did not pressure the Sixers into mistakes. They then gave Philly additional possessions with their own sloppiness. There was no reason for the Bulls to lose this game. But, they just weren’t prepared to play.
“Him and Tobias yesterday set the tone.”
The Sixers, obviously, were prepared to play. Rivers credited Curry and Harris for the team’s level of intensity. “Him [Curry] and Tobias yesterday set the tone,” Rivers said. “We had a hard practice yesterday and make a choice as a coach. I don’t really know what the right answer is after All-Str breaks. Back in my day, everyone called it ‘the garbage can practice’ where you could practice for three or four hours and then just put a garbage can out until the first guy threw up practice was over. You can’t do that these days. But, we went hard and I thought Seth and Tobias, in particular, set the tone of the pace of practice and I thought that carried over to today.”
The Sixers are typically the ones to overlook short-handed opponents and lose in disappointing fashion despite being at full strength. So, the fact that they were able to turn the tables was quite pleasant, and surely something for them to be proud of moving forward.
The Sixers (25-12) will head to Washington for a date with the Wizards (14-21) on Friday. Tip-off is set for 8 PM EST. You can watch the game on NBC Sports Philadelphia.