3 Observations: Undermanned Sixers beat Nets in Ben Simmons’ return to Philadelphia

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia 76ers, without Joel Embiid, James Harden and Tyrese Maxey, still managed to beat the Brooklyn Nets in an electrifying 115-106 win at the Wells Fargo Center.

Tobias Harris made his return to the lineup after a two-game absence due to hip soreness. He led the way for the Sixers, scoring 24 points with 18 of them coming in the second half. He suffered a brief injury scare after rolling his ankle in the third quarter, but he returned to the game. De’Anthony Melton also had a season-high 22 points in his third straight start. Paul Reed scored a season-high 19 points to go along with 10 rebounds, three steals and two blocks. In a night where everyone needed to contribute, the Sixers filled up the box score. They shot 50% from three-point range and out-rebounded Brooklyn 49-35 (20-4 on the offensive glass). The Sixers simply out-worked a more talented Nets team.

The Nets were led by 23 points from Kyrie Irving and 20 points, five rebounds and five assists from Kevin Durant. Ben Simmons, in his first time on the court in Philadelphia since being traded last season, finished with 11 points, seven rebounds, 11 assists, three steals and three blocks. The fans heartily booed him ever time he touched the ball.

The Sixers, now 9-8 on the season, next take on the Charlotte Hornets on the road on Wednesday. Here are three observations from the win.

De’Anthony Melton deserves starter minutes 

Over his last three games as a starter, Melton is averaging 17 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists while shooting over 56% from beyond the arc. Offensively, Melton did not have the best start to the year, struggling to shoot the ball from three for his standards. However, over the last few games, he has seemed to find his place with the team and operate comfortably. In the process of doing so, he has hit some ridiculous three-pointers. 

On numerous occasions against the Nets, Melton hit a deep three to beat the shot clock. All of which were either momentum shifters or savers, most notably his three-pointer to end the first half and extend the Sixers lead to 63-57 heading into the halftime break. He is a perfect glue guy for the Sixers, someone who can step in and produce in multiple areas while guys like Maxey and Harden are out of the lineup. Against the Nets, his three-point shooting and defense led the way. On other nights, he can lead the team in assists.

While his offensive production has been off the charts recently, it is not even the best part of his game. So far through 15 games, Melton is averaging 1.8 steals per game. This is good for sixth in the league. Throughout the season thus far, Melton has been a defensive anchor, especially on the perimeter.  His all-around game is just what the doctor ordered for the Sixers and he has been by far their best offseason addition.

The Sixers’ guard rotation at full strength has the capability of being among the best in the league. Everyone knows what Maxey and Harden bring to the table. Melton has been playing perfectly so far this season. The shock has been the production the team is receiving from Shake Milton. He finished with 16 points, six rebounds and five assists against the Nets. In the second half, he knocked down multiple tough mid-range pull-up jumpers. If he continues to play with confidence, he should definitely receive consistent minutes even when the team is fully healthy.

The Sixers are best when playing as a team

When Embiid is in the game, they generally run their offense through him. This works for the most part as he has managed to lead them to the playoffs in each of the last five seasons. That being said, the Sixers put on full display just how deadly they can be when they play team basketball. 

Their ball movement at times against the Nets was truly unbelievable. They swung the ball around, making the extra pass necessary to get open looks from all over the floor. The team played an efficient style of basketball, turning the ball over only 10 times.

The Sixers were lethal from beyond the arc against the Nets. Melton led the team, shooting 6-of-11 from deep. However, Georges Niang was the most efficient shooter on the team against Brooklyn. He finished with 16 points and five rebounds while connecting on 4-of-5 attempts from three-point range. He also injected some more juice into the game by trash talking with Durant on multiple occasions.

This game also showed how much better Doc Rivers is at coaching this style of basketball. Rivers has had his struggles to start the season, causing a lot of people to want him fired. However, in a game without his star players, he coached the best game of his tenure in Philadelphia. This should be very encouraging for the Sixers’ fan base as they now have something to build off of coaching-wise. When the big three comes back, they should make an attempt to play with this style, and see how much success they can have with a lineup full of elite passers and scorers.

Sixers get physical with Simmons throughout

In a game that the Sixers could have easily given up on, playing without their three stars, the Sixers did the exact opposite. They came out and gave it their all to win this game. It just so happened that this was Ben Simmons return to Philadelphia and first time playing the Sixers.

Simmons and the Nets had the first laugh, pulling out to a 10-2 lead with Simmons dishing assists on the Nets’ first three buckets. However, the Sixers went on to respond and get the last laugh by getting the victory.

Niang got chippy with Simmons during the game, even picking up a flagrant foul after an exchange of shoves. Reed also seemed to be attacking Simmons when he got the ball on offense, absolutely tearing up the Nets’ soft interior defense.

As far as the fans go, they would boo every time Simmons got the ball, and cheered every time he missed a shot. The running joke leading up to this game is that Simmons would get Philadelphia plenty of Chick-fil-A nuggets due to the Sixers’ “Brickin’ for Chicken” promotion. If there is anything Philly fans can appreciate Simmons for, it is that he did just that. This was the cherry on top to an already amazing win.