The Philadelphia 76ers rode strong performances from the core four to a road victory over the Utah Jazz.
Playing the first of a five-game west coast trip, the Philadelphia 76ers defeated the Utah Jazz in thorough fashion. After a difficult loss on Christmas Day, the Sixers needed to bounce back on national television. That’s what happened.
The Jazz were up for the entire first quarter, riding some momentum-swinging Kyle Korver shots to a 29-22 lead. The second quarter marked a shift in momentum, as the Sixers punched their way back to a 57-52 halftime advantage.
In the first quarter, it was T.J. McConnell leading the Sixers with six points. The second quarter was when Joel Embiid and J.J. Redick broke through, finishing the half with 15 points a piece. Embiid scored 10 in the second frame.
Ben Simmons struggled early, with Derrick Favors playing excellent interior defense. As the game progressed, however, Simmons got more comfortable, dropping impressive dimes, pushing the pace and making his impact felt on the defensive end.
The second half was all Philadelphia, with the Sixers jumping out to a 16-point lead after three. The core four put together strong performances, but Simmons was the set-up man as Embiid and Redick carried the scoring burden.
After notching just two free throws in the first half, the third quarter was a virtual parade to the free throw line for the Sixers. Philadelphia entered the bonus with 6:32 left in the quarter. Jazz fans — and players — weren’t too happy with the whistles at that point.
The lead ballooned to 23 in the fourth quarter, with the Sixers comfortably notching their 23rd win of the season. At 23-13, the Sixers are half a game behind Indiana for the third seed.
Embiid was active on both ends, posting one of his better defensive performances in recent weeks. Along with five blocks, Embiid heated up in the second and third quarters, using his size to score underneath and using his gravity to find open teammates. He also made some nice efforts on the glass, leading to 15 boards.
Simmons put together a strong outing after his struggles in Boston on Tuesday. While turnovers were an issue and the Jazz defended him well in the paint, Simmons still managed to pace the offense, grab rebounds and defend the perimeter at a high level. The Simmons-Butler connection was on full display, with the former finding the latter on three separate lobs. It was Simmons’ fifth triple-double of the season.
Redick led the team in scoring and plus/minus, as Utah’s defense had few answers for the sharpshooting 34-year-old. With efficiency being an issue for Redick this season, his 6-for-9 performance from three-point range is a promising sign. A pair of and-one attempts made up the Sixers’ only two free throws in the first half.
There are times where Butler needs to be more assertive on offense. His willingness to let Embiid and Simmons run the show is admirable, but he’s one of the 15 best players on the planet. In certain spots, it would be nice to see Jimmy take some isolation shots, run the pick-and-roll, and initiate the offense. Nonetheless, he was solid all-around, posting 18 points and once again showcasing his chemistry with Simmons.
Bolden’s first half minutes didn’t go well. He was out of position numerous times, leading to quick fouls and a Kyle Korver four-point play to end the first quarter. Five fouls in 13 minutes screams youth. There were, however, some positives late in the game. Bolden redeemed himself with active defense next to Embiid, including an impressive spike-block underneath the rim.
Also of note, the Sixers gave Jonah Bolden legitimate minutes tonight — something to keep an eye on as the road trip progresses. It was an up-and-down ride for the rookie big man, but that’s to be expected. There were definite positives, especially late in the contest.
Depth and perimeter defense remain an issue for the Sixers — Dante Exum dropped 20 off the bench — but this game serves as a reminder of how dominant Philadelphia can still be. Not every team is the Celtics, and not every overtime road loss is cause for questioning the viability of a young core.
The Sixers’ next game is in Portland on Sunday, with another semi-late tip at 9 PM E.T.