Sixers Defeat Timberwolves, Pick up 4th Win of Season
After starting the season with a 1-30 record, the Sixers have now improved to 3-3 since acquiring Ish Smith after defeating the Minnesota Timberwolves 109-99 Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
The victory, which came on the first game of a six game home stand, improved the Sixers to 4-33 on the season.
The 109 points the Sixers scored was the fourth highest total the Sixers have scored this year, with the 55.2% they shot from the field the best mark of the season.
The Sixers were led by Ish Smith, who rebounded from a couple of tough outings in Los Angeles to record 21 points on 9-16 shooting from the field to go along with 11 assists. Smith was big for the Sixers down the stretch, recording 8 of his team-high 21 points in the fourth quarter, including a couple of tough pull-up jump shots to help the Sixers pull away.
“He just brings a different level of intensity and confidence to our team,” rookie big man Richaun Holmes said about Smith after the game. “He is comfortable with the ball in his hands, is comfortable making plays, and he makes the game so much easier for everybody else.”
“We have such a young team that his personality pairs up with their youthful spirit a lot,” head coach Brett Brown said about Smith. “He can get those guys wound up, and they follow his charisma. He has a big personality.”
The Sixers also got huge performances off the bench from Richaun Holmes (17 points in 18 minutes) and Carl Landry (16 points in 18 minutes).
“When you have Carl [Landry] come in and make those 18 to 20 footers at the rate that he does, it sure loosens things up,” Brown said after the game. “The ball moved well, and I think we made some shots.”
The Sixers struggled at times defensively, allowing the Wolves to shoot 53.4% from the field, including 20 points on 8-11 shooting from Shabazz Muhammad. Still, the Sixers were able to record 10 blocked shots and force 17 turnovers, allowing them to get out in transition and get easy scoring opportunities.
“When we play like that defensively and we’re flying around and blocking shots, then we fuel our offense,” Smith said. “That’s the key. Once we figure that out then we’re going to be really good on both ends.”
For a team that has had so much trouble closing out close games, tonight was a sight for sore eyes. After the Wolves pulled to within three points with 7:41 remaining the Sixers used a 10-2 run to give them an eleven point cushion with 3:31 remaining.
After a strong third quarter where Jahlil Okafor, the third overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft, scored 8 points, the rookie did not see the court during the fourth quarter, in large part because Richaun Holmes (4 points in the quarter) and Carl Landry (8 points) were playing so well.
“You see [Jahlil Okafor] not play in that 4th period and he’s the first guy off the bench swinging a towel. That’s a team. I don’t play Isaiah Canaan at all in the first half, and I put him in and he hits a big three in the corner. That’s a team,” Brett Brown said. “I look at this as confirmation that we’re doing okay. At the start of this middle third [of the season] I think that we’re playing some decent basketball.”
While the Sixers will play their next five games at the friendly confines of the Wells Fargo Center, they will do so against the Atlanta Hawks, Toronto Raptors, Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls, and Portland Trailblazers, all difficult opponents. Picking up the victory was big for the Sixers.
* The Sixers played one of their cleaner quarters of the season to start the game, as they shot 60.9% from the field in the first quarter, while recording 10 assists on their 14 made field goals and turning the ball over only 3 times. Of course, the Wolves shot 71.4% from the field in the frame.
* New(‘ish) point guard Ish Smith had a much-needed good game after struggling from the field over the last two, as he shot just 5-28 in the two LA (Lakers and Clippers) games to end the road trip. Against the Wolves, however, Smith shot 9-16 from the field for his 21 points, and hit some absolutely huge shots down the stretch as the Sixers pulled away from what had otherwise been a pretty tight game. More importantly, Smith created easy scoring opportunities for big men Nerlens Noel (10 points), Carl Landry (16), and Richaun Holmes (17).
* Outside of Smith, rookie big man Richuan Holmes was the story of the game for the Sixers, finishing with 17 points on 7-10 shooting from the field. While head coach Brett Brown has mostly been staggering Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel since Okafor returned to action, tonight’s game against the Timberwolves afforded Brown more of an opportunity to play a two-big man lineup, which opened up extended minutes for Holmes.
* In addition to Holmes, the Sixers also got a big spark from reserve big man Carl Landry, who finished with 16 points in just 22 minutes of action. Outside of being the king of the long-two, Landry also crashed the offensive glass hard, finishing with 3 offensive rebounds on the night. In 5 games with the Sixers Landry is shooting 56.8% from the field.
* The battle between Jahlil Okafor (drafted 3rd overall in last year’s draft) and Karl-Anthony Towns (1st overall) started off quietly, with both big men scoring just 2 points on 1-3 shooting from the field in the first half. Okafor exploded in the third quarter, scoring 8 of the Sixers’ 33 points in the frame, giving the Sixers a much-needed spark.
* Kendall Marshall continues to be behind Ish Smith and T.J. McConnell in the Sixers’ point guard rotation, as Marshall received a DNP-CD. Before the game Marshall talked about his decreased playing time. “Personally, I’m more frustrated not that I’m not playing, but more so that I’m not playing well,” Marshall said. “I feel like once I start playing better, it will take care of itself.”
* For his part, T.J. McConnell played well as the Sixers’ main point guard off the bench, finishing with 9 points, 6 assists, 4 steals, and 0 turnovers in 18 minutes off the bench.
*The Sixers’ wings struggled mightily on the night, with Jerami Grant (1-3 from the field), Nik Stauskas (2-6), JaKarr Sampson (1-3), and Robert Covington (0-1) struggling from the field.
* Robert Covington‘s struggles of late continue to hurt the Sixers, and Covington received only 6 minutes of playing time tonight. Covington has reached double figures in scoring in just one of his last ten games.
* Nerlens Noel had a solid night, finishing with 10 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 blocked shots on the night, with 8 of his 10 points coming in the first half.
* The Sixers shot just 4-20 from three point range on the night, which kept the game close. With the exception of the Clippers game, the Sixers have shot 32% or under in 4 of the past 5 games.
Derek Bodner covers the 76ers for Philadelphia magazine. Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.